The off-season for Northwestern basketball is upon us, and the biggest story this spring and summer promises to be the future of head coach Bill Carmody. He just completed his 10th season at NU, and has an overall record of 140-163, including 55-115 in Big Ten play. Also, his contract expires at the end of next season, so AD Jim Phillips has stated publicly that he would like to negotiate an extension with Carmody. That announcement has drawn the ire of many NU fans, who don't think Carmody's overall body of work warrants an extension; in fact a lot of those fans want him fired immediately. Personally, I don't think it's quite that simple. While I have been very critical of Carmody at times this season on this blog, I also think he did a lot of things well this season, so I'm not as bloodthirsty as some. The biggest reason for my angry rants has been that I've posted right after frustrating losses, I've found that posting while overly emotional can lead to posting stuff you'd like to have back. My recaps of the Iowa and Minnesota losses this season would certainly fall into that category, and this post from another site has the opposite problem. I'm all for believing in your team, but when you throw out things like NU has "mastered the 1-3-1 defense" and "might just have the best defense in the Big Ten" because they beat Northern Illinois, you've gone too far. In the immortal words of Bob Lobel, I'm gonna give you a mulligan on that one.
So to avoid overly emotional posting, I've decided to wait a few days before getting into the Carmody situation. I have a lot to say, so I've broken up my analysis into multiple parts. Part one, below the jump, is just a recap of each of Carmody's 10 years at Northwestern. As I've sat around watching the NCAA tournament (and I'm still in shock from that UNI upset, didn't see that one coming), I've gone deep into the archives and refreshed my memory of what those seasons were like and the general vibe around the team. This helped me trace the arc of public opinion surrounding Carmody, and hopefully will give more recent fans an NU hoops history lesson and help older fans remember years past.
2000-01: In Carmody's first year at Northwestern, he inherited a program in disarray. The previous season, the 'Cats went 5-25 (0-16), leading to the transfer of several key players. Carmody's NU career began with an embarrassing 53-43 home loss to Arkansas-Little Rock, but the team showed improvement throughout the season, winning 3 of their last 6 conference games after losing the first 10. NU even managed to beat two nationally ranked and eventual NCAA tournament teams at home (USC and Iowa). The final record of 11-19 (3-13) was nothing to write home about, but it was a big step up from the previous year and Carmody appeared to have the program headed in the right direction.
2001-02: After starting the season 7-1 vs. an incredibly easy schedule, NU traveled east to take on Fordham at Madison Square Garden. This game is only relevant because it was the first time I saw the 'Cats in person, and they got killed on the glass and had no answer for the legendary Smush Parker, eventually falling 63-60 when Tavaras Hardy air-balled a three at the buzzer. NU would head into Big Ten play at 8-3, and looked dead after losing their first 3 conference games, but then went on an impressive run, winning 8 of their next 11 (7 Big Ten wins plus a weird non-conference road game at Buffalo) to get to 16-9 and into the NCAA bubble discussion. However, they promptly lost their next 4 games, capped off by an ugly 20 point loss to 10-18 Michigan in the first round of the conference tournament. Despite a 16-13 (7-9) record, the 'Cats were left out of the NIT and done for the year. Still, Carmody was named Big Ten coach of the year, and deservedly so, as he'd gone from arguably the worst team in Big Ten history to a competitive team in just 2 seasons. The future seemed bright, as he was bringing back do-everything guard Jitim Young, 3-point sharpshooters Winston Blake and Vedran Vukusic, and had talented recruits T.J. Parker and Mohamed Hachad coming in.
2002-03: This season saw all of Carmody's previous momentum come to a crashing halt. Against the usual fraudulent non-conference schedule, NU suffered home losses to IUPUI and Illinois-Chicago, with their only respectable win coming at Kansas State. And when Big Ten play started, the 'Cats lost their first 7, most by double digits. They did manage a win over Mike Davis and Indiana to snap that streak, but it was a very disappointing and forgettable season. The highlight was probably an upset win in the first round of the Big Ten tournament that knocked Minnesota and Rick Rickert off the bubble, but that was followed by a 30 point blowout at the hands of Illinois. It wasn't all Carmody's fault, as Vukusic missed the entire season with a shoulder injury and Blake completely forget how to shoot (24% from three after being one of the league's best shooters the year before), but Carmody failed to replace the inside presence of Tavaras Hardy, so his team was too small and lacked offensive firepower, finishing 12-17 (3-13).
2003-04: This was probably the most bizarre season of the Carmody era. For once, NU actually played a reasonable non-conference schedule, but went just 5-6, including 0-6 against teams with a winning record. So it looked like it would be another long year. However, the 'Cats bounced back in Big Ten play, finishing 8-8 thanks in large part to Jitim Young, who was named to the All-Big Ten first team, the only player in the Carmody era to receive that honor. Vukusic returned from injury and played well, and Parker and Hachad were solid role players, but once again the huge weakness was the lack of a big man. Carmody rotated Davor Duvancic, Vince Scott and Ivan Tolic at the center position, which was probably the worst group of centers in Big Ten history. Home wins over Illinois and Wisconsin were impressive, but my favorite win came in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, when Young and Hachad completely dismantled Penn State's backcourt with their full-court pressure, helping NU set a tournament record with 22 steals. Of course, NU barely won because they shot just 36% and got killed on the glass, but I don't think I have ever seen a team dominate defensively like the 'Cats did in that game, it was something to behold. Sadly, the season ended the next day at the hands of Michigan State, and at 14-15 (8-8), Northwestern fell short of the postseason.
2004-05: Although NU lost Young to graduation, excitement was high around the team because Carmody had brought in the first McDonald's All-American in school history, Duke transfer Michael Thompson (no relation to the current NU point guard). Thompson was a 6'10" center with a lot of talent, but he had to sit out the first 6 games due to transfer rules. In his absence, the 'Cats started 2-4, low-lighted by an awful loss to a New Mexico State team that would finish 4-24, but won 6 of 7 when Thompson became eligible, including wins over DePaul and Indiana. However, NU would struggle the rest of the way, finishing a mediocre 6-10 in Big Ten play. This season was also the start of Ed DeChellis' domination of Bill Carmody, as Penn State got its only conference win of the season over Northwestern. That game illustrated a recurring theme of the Carmody era (getting dominated on the boards), as Penn State's Aaron Johnson out-rebounded NU's entire team by 6. Also note softest 7 footer in NCAA history Vince Scott, who had 1 rebound in 33 minutes.
The highlight of the year was an overtime victory over Iowa, when Michael "Gary Coleman" Jenkins hit a three at the buzzer. In the Big Ten tournament, NU managed a win over Michigan, but were blown out by Illinois the next day to once again finish one win short of post-season eligibility at 15-16 (6-10). Thompson missing the last 11 games of the season with an ankle injury didn't help matters, but there was still optimism for the future, as next season the 'Cats would have a strong senior class of Vukusic, Hachad, Thompson and Parker.
2005-06: This was the season where the anti-Carmody movement began gaining momentum. The problems started in the off-season when Parker decided to forgo his senior season in favor of playing professionally in Europe. That left Northwestern without a point guard, so they were forced to use a rotation of freshmen Craig Moore and Sterling Williams and senior walk-on Michael Jenkins. Needless to say, that didn't work out too well, as Moore was not a point guard and Williams and Jenkins were not Division 1 caliber basketball players. The hits kept coming when Thompson quit the team in December without ever playing a game that season. I am hazy on the details because there weren't any NU blogs around in those days, but I want to say it was a combination of academic problems and laziness. So the 'Cats had no point guard and no center, and thus struggled. They were 9-4 in non-conference play against a soft schedule, and lost to Illinois-Chicago for the third time in four years. NU actually managed to win their first 2 Big Ten games, but then lost at home to a bad Penn State team, a loss that led one angry fan to start a Fire Bill Carmody blog. Home wins over Iowa and Wisconsin kept the season from being a complete disaster, and NU managed to beat Minnesota in their last regular season game to get to .500. The only thing standing in the way of NIT eligibility was the Penn State Nittany Lions in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, but the 'Cats quit in the second half of that game and were blown out, finishing 14-15 (6-10), one win short of .500 for the third straight season. It was their third loss of the season to Penn State, and with his two best players Vukusic and Hachad graduating, Carmody's future looked bleak.
2006-07: The season started terribly for NU, as they lost their first game of the season at home to Cornell (this was before Cornell was any good). Although they bounced back to finish non-conference play 11-3, including a win over Miami in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the lowest point of the Carmody era came in mid-December. The 'Cats were hosting Division 3 Wheaton College, and were absolutely pathetic, barely escaping with a 41-39 victory after Wheaton missed a wide-open three at the buzzer. Despite a big advantage in size and athleticism, NU was out-rebounded 36-19, and Vince Scott managed zero rebounds in 33 minutes despite being 6 inches taller than anyone on Wheaton, cementing his status as the biggest pussy in Northwestern history (and excuse my language, but I hate Vince Scott as though he had a 0 point, 0 rebound in 20 minutes performance in a crucial game against Illinois that season; oh wait, he did, more on that later). Adding to the humiliation, Wheaton brought a busload of students up to Welsh-Ryan and made 10 times more noise than the NU fans in attendance. What a disaster.
In conference play, Northwestern crashed and burned, finishing an ugly 2-14. Carmody did manage to snap his losing streak to Ed DeChellis, but other than that there wasn't much to get excited about. The highlight of the conference season was probably a loss to Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and eventual national runner-up Ohio State, a game that was close for 35 minutes before Oden took over down the stretch. In that game, the unthinkable happened and Vince Scott actually blocked a Greg Oden shot. I still cannot believe this occurred, but trust me, it did. Tim Doyle did the best he could with the minimal ability God gave him, and freshman Kevin Coble showed a lot of promise, but it was a flat-out ugly season. Doyle criticized the few remaining NU fans for not showing up for home games, Craig Moore struggled with his outside shot, and Vince Scott went out with a whimper, grabbing 0 rebounds in three of his last 4 career games, and that doesn't even include the aforementioned Illinois debacle. NU finished 13-18 (2-14), a season that would get a lot of coaches fired, but Carmody survived.
2007-08: As bad as 2006-07 was, it merely foreshadowed the carnage that was to come. The big news going into the season came off the court, as Coble's mother was diagnosed with cancer, and Kevin decided to stay at home with her during the first semester. Without him, NU was just 5-4, with 5 wins over cupcakes and two humiliating losses, one at home to Brown (Carmody's second year in a row with a home loss to a mediocre Ivy League team) and a 94-52 loss to a bad Virginia team. In conference play, the 'Cats lost their first 14 games, the first 12 coming by double digits, including a 70-37 embarrassment at the hands of Illinois. NU finally got a conference win at Michigan thanks to Moore's hot shooting, but that was their only conference win of the year. The season ended in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, when they blew a 13 point halftime lead to Minnesota. Two wins over familiar cupcakes Chicago State and Texas Pan-American in the midst of conference play left the final record at 8-22 (1-17). The only highlight of the whole season was Mrs. Coble recovering from cancer.
Carmody really did an awful job with this team, most notably by not even having a Division 1 caliber center on the roster. To replace Scott, he somehow managed to find two players even worse than Scott; Ivan Peljusic and Nikola Baran. Current fans know Peljusic; he was the 4th string center on this year's team, and two years ago he was much worse. As for Baran, Carmody putting him into Big Ten games constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Unlike Scott, who had talent but lacked heart, Baran was just hopelessly overmatched, shooting under 30% from the field for the season while playing center, and no I am not making that up. So with these two manning the post, the 'Cats were one the worst rebounding teams in the country and allowed easy basket after easy basket inside. Coble, Moore and freshman point guard Michael Thompson formed a solid trio, but there was so little talent around them they had no chance. Thompson even ripped Carmody's recruiting publically, saying "we don't have a 6'10" guy who can rebound" after yet another loss. It was absolutely unfathomable that Carmody didn't get the boot after this season, it was almost as ridiculous as Isiah Thomas lasting forever as GM of the Knicks or Matt Millen surviving for years as the Lions GM.
2008-09: With bloodthirsty NU fans demanding his head, Carmody turned things around against all odds. NU went 9-2 in non-conference play, highlighted by a win over a very good Florida State team, and for once had no bad losses. It seemed like the same old story to start Big Ten play, as the 'Cats started 0-4, but managed 2 straight upset wins over nationally ranked Minnesota and Michigan State to salvage their season, and when they pulled off another upset at Purdue to move to 8-9 in the conference, they had a chance to get on the bubble and into their first ever NCAA tournament. But they lost to Ohio State to end the regular season, then fell to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament to send them to the NIT for the first time in the Carmody era. Their postseason didn't last long, as NU fell at Tulsa in the first round to finish 17-14 (8-10).
While it was certainly a huge improvement over the previous year's disaster, Carmody befuddled fans with inconsistent player rotations, often leaving his top players on the bench for long stretches. Also, two epic collapses down the stretch against Purdue and Illinois and a couple other close losses led some to question Carmody's coaching strategies late in games. Still, Carmody deserves credit for finally bringing in players with Big Ten size in Kyle Rowley and Luka Mirkovic, and his extended 1-3-1 zone wreaked havoc for a while in conference play, led by Jeremy Nash, whom Carmody helped turn into a solid Big Ten role player.
2009-10: In Carmody's 10th season, expectations were perhaps the highest they've ever been for a Northwestern basketball team. NU lost only Craig Moore to graduation, and were bringing in highly touted recruit Drew Crawford to join Coble, Thompson, and sophomore John Shurna. But the 'Cats suffered a crushing blow when Coble broke his foot 3 days before the first game and was out for the season. And in the season opener, 6th man Jeff Ryan tore up his knee and was also out for the season. With so little depth, many expected a losing season. However, NU stormed out to a 10-1 record, highlighted by wins over Notre Dame and Iowa State. The only blemish came to a top 10 team in Butler, so the 'Cats entered conference play ranked #25th in country, in the top 25 for the first time since the late sixties. The conference schedule was heavily front-loaded, with most of the leagues iron coming early on. NU started 3-6, but that included a win over #6 Purdue and no bad losses. In the second half, NU would just have to take care of business against the bottom of the conference, but instead they finished conference play 7-11, getting swept by lowly Penn State and losing on the road to bottom feeders Iowa and Indiana. A loss to Purdue in the conference tournament quarterfinals left NU on the NIT bubble, and they were the last team into the field, playing at Rhode Island, a game they lost.
Much like the season before, Carmody received mixed reviews from many NU fans. He kept the team together early on despite the injuries, and Shurna and Crawford both established themselves as excellent Big Ten players. However, he continued his trend of odd substitution patterns, and was unable to get his team to guard anyone, as the 'Cats finished last in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency. Most fans expected a lot worse than 20-14 (7-11), but all the bad losses down the stretch left everyone feeling disappointed.
So that should give everyone plenty to think about, and I'll be back soon with more detailed analysis of Carmody's pros and cons and what to expect in the future.