There isn't much to say about how bad this game was, but I'm going to rant for about 1000 words anyways. I thought the pitiful defensive effort Northwestern put forth last week at Iowa couldn't possibly be out-done, but tonight's showing on defense proved me wrong. Penn State shot 56% from the field, and had five players in double figures despite having only 1 player on the roster who averages in double figures. It's just embarrassing to be as bad on defense as Northwestern was tonight, as they would have won the game had they been even average. The 'Cats did a fine job on offense, shooting 48% and only turning it over 9 times. Free throw shooting was a big problem as NU was just 4 for 11, which was entirely to blame on Luka Mirkovic who was 0 for 6. However, Mirkovic was one of the few people who played hard tonight and this loss has very little to do with him, as he finished with 13 points and made some nice moves in the low post. Last time out he was perfect from the line, it was just one of those nights that can happen to even the best of players (see Duke's Jason Williams, one of the greatest guards in college basketball history). Whoever said during the game thread that Mirkovic should quit the team because of his free throw shooting is the one who should be embarrassed, not Luka. I understand that disappointing losses can lead to hyperbole, but get a grip on yourself please, they lose by 20+ with Rowley or Curletti getting Mirkovic's minutes.
I'm guessing that people were expecting me to rip Bill Carmody for tonight's loss, but I'm not really going to do it. His in game coaching was fine tonight; he kept switching up the defenses to no avail, and his rotations were fine. Instead, I'm going to go off on Drew Crawford, and it has nothing to do with him only scoring 5 points. I saw guys playing tougher defense in Sunday's All-Star game than Crawford did in this game. At least twice that I counted, he didn't even try to fight through screens and left his man wide open for threes. I can't remember being this angry at a Northwestern basketball player since the days of Vince Scott aka the softest 7 footer in the history of Division 1 basketball. I can understand a kid making freshman mistakes like being out of position or being too aggressive going for a steal or a block, but I can't forgive not even trying to guard people. If I were Carmody, I would have pulled a Herb Brooks and made Crawford run sprints as soon as the game was over. Crawford should be ashamed of himself, seriously.
Ok, I lied, I'm now going to take some shots at Carmody. While he didn't do anything wrong during the game, I'm becoming more and more skeptical by the day of his abilities as a defensive teacher. His teams just do not play fundamentally sound defense, and haven't been able to get stops consistently for years. When Kevin Coble went down for the season, everybody expected Northwestern to struggle offensively. But the offense has actually gotten better since last season, at least according to Ken Pomeroy's rankings. They were 49th in the country last year, and have improved to 36th this year. However, the defense hasn't improved at all and still ranks outside the top 100 nationally. In past seasons the 'Cats haven't had Big Ten athletes, so their inability to stop teams was understandable. But now, the excuses need to end. This team has the talent necessary to be a good defensive team, and it's not happening. I touched on this a few weeks ago, and it appeared they'd turned the corner after solid defensive showings vs. Michigan and Indiana, but clearly that was a mirage. The defense for this team is a huge problem and I don't see it getting better any time soon unless there is a change in philosophy. Most fans seem to think Northwestern will finally break through to the NCAA tournament next season, and while there's no doubt the offense will be way better with Kevin Coble, I don't see a replacement for Jeremy Nash and his defensive skills on next year's roster, so it will be even tougher to get stops. Carmody has to get credit for the offense doing well this season, but he deserves even more blame for the appalling lack of defense.
Bill Carmody needs to send a message to his team, starting right now, that defense will be the priority for the rest of the season and that the five best defenders will play. If Crawford, or anyone else, isn't going to hustle on defense, he can ride the pine until he figures it out. It's not like there's much left to play for besides NIT seeding, so it's time to start building for the future, and Northwestern's future will be just as terrible as their past if this crap continues.