We all have that one meal that our mom or dad made from our childhood that we all liked. Perhaps irrationally so.
Maybe it was putting ketchup on anything and everything. Or the carbo-nightmare of a fluffernutter sandwich. Maybe it's something too beyond the pale for someone from the outside to come in and slap a description on. But it was there. You remember it fondly, even if you wouldn't poke it with a stick if someone plopped it down in front of you. It's a part of you, no matter how offensive to your present senses it may be.
To me, that dish was Bill Carmody and Northwestern basketball. I fully acknowledge that the nostalgic feelings I have towards that era of Wildcat hoops is objectively ridiculous. There isn't much of an explanation to be had for why I miss half-blind Collier Drayton, or loose-cannon Mohamed Hachad, or, yes, even Mr. "I Put My Mouthguard Behind My Ear While I'm On The Bench" Luka Mirkovic.
Bill Carmody's Northwestern was an anachronism, a team pig-headedly tied to its calling cards. There was no other option than the Princeton Offense. Northwestern would run its backcuts, its single high ball screens, and those weird dummy-screen-to-pop-off-threes that Juice Thompson got so damn good at for 40 minutes. Full court pressure? More Princeton Offense. 2-3 zone? Probably some more standing around, and then probably some less effective Princeton Offense. It was slow. Painfully so at times, like in Tim Doyle's senior year where Northwestern's adjusted tempo checked in at 333rd in the country.
Defensively it was a struggle, but a really fun struggle to watch. The lack of athleticism omnipresent in Carmody's Northwestern was readily apparent on that end of the floor. Carmody would try and mask it with a 2-3 amoeba every bit as weird as Chris Collins' new invention, or a 1-3-1 zone, that every once in a great while would actually work. The most fun I've had as a Wildcat fan was watching Jeremy Nash dictate the game from his perch atop the 1-3-1. It won Northwestern games, like on the road against Michigan State in 2009, when Sparty's 18 turnovers were every bit as important as Kevin Coble's 31 points.
I distinctly remember a true freshman Tre Demps playing under Bill Carmody and calling himself an iso with about 8 seconds on the shot clock. Bill Carmody lost his mind and pulled Demps from the game. I think the next day it was announced Demps was having season-ending shoulder surgery. And even if I am misremembering this story (and there is a VERY good chance that I am), it feels so right I'm not going to fact check it. It was peak Bill Carmody. Whether or not the shot went in didn't matter. The game would be played his way. The right way. Isolation plays were akin to blasphemy, and I bought in 100 percent.
On the day he was fired, Bill Carmody was the only basketball coach I knew in my entire basketball fandom. The Chris Collins era brought with it a promised uptick in pace (yet to see it) and an uptick in athleticism (visible every single day). The needle for this team is still pointed skyward as the recruiting coups keep stacking up. But here I am, still cheering at the top of my lungs whenever a backcut goes for two points, whether it's from my team or anyone else's.
Which brings us, some 600 words into this article, to the point. While scrolling through college games trying to figure out how I would waste my Saturday afternoon, I happened upon Navy vs Holy Cross, 184 and 315 in KenPom rankings respectively. It was must see TV.
Anyone who rooted for Northwestern during the Carmody era knows about Ed DeChellis. More specifically, they know about his 2-3 zone. There was nothing special about it. There was really nothing special about Ed DeChellis. He was a fine enough coach at a bottom tier Big Ten program.
Bill Carmody cannot beat Ed DeChellis.
In the 2011 year where NU took Jared Sullinger's Ohio State team to OT in the Big Ten Tournament and might have gotten in to the tournament if they pulled off the win, the Wildcats lost to DeChellis's Penn State twice.
The 2010 team that made the NIT lost to Penn State twice.
It lost to Penn State three times in 2006.
Ed DeChellis left Penn State to coach Navy. Bill Carmody was hired by Holy Cross this season. Navy and Holy Cross are both in the Patriot League. The DeChellis-Carmody rivalry is alive and well. And I'll be damned if I was going to let the opportunity to watch it one more time slip through my fingers.
The game started with a Holy Cross back cut for an and-one. The next series, Holy Cross brought out a 1-3-1. Navy shredded it for an easy layup. And so it went for 40 minutes. Every single thing I grew up watching in Evanston transplanted to Worcester, Massachusetts. Navy would commit dumb turnovers against the 1-3-1. Holy Cross would go 20 seconds before getting the ball inside the three-point arc against the 2-3. Holy Cross wouldn't rebound. On either end. Ever.
The players were not Holy Cross players. There was an off-brand Vince Scott, a poor man's Jitim Young, and like eight Kale Abrahamsons. The players fought to close the gap. Joe Kennedy was on a Bill Carmody bench clapping along, this time not as a walk-on, but as an assistant coach.
The script had already been written. Through the 432p connection of PatriotLeague.tv, I could see the fans begin to realize the same thing. Every midshipmen penetration, every corner three against the 1-3-1, every Holy Cross forced three over the zone made the inevitability of the upcoming defeat all the more clear. I had seen it too many times to count. And then, all of a sudden, the script was flipped. It was Bill Carmody making the right moves down the stretch. It was Ed DeChellis's players who couldn't hit a foul shot. The game went to overtime, and Holy Cross started getting offensive rebounds, 3 in one possession. And then it was over. Holy Cross had won.
And it was so much damn fun to watch. This was my rivalry. A terrible one, perhaps, but it was mine. There will always be a soft spot for admittedly bad, but more importantly familiar, basketball.
No matter where, or when the next Carmody-DeChellis duel is taking place, I'll be following it, watching it with the same eyes as I did as an 8-year old, sitting in the corner of the lower bowl of Welsh-Ryan with my dad, nervously munching on styrofoam Welsh-Ryan concession popcorn, entirely convinced that this would be The Year.
Having one foot in college and one foot in the "real world" as a senior, those moments of childlike fandom are so few and far between. Maybe those moments are gone now. But for a spurt of time, terrible Patriot League basketball brought it back, at least for about 15 minutes.
Getting older sucks.