A Decade Of Carmody: Where NU Hoops Has Come From and Where It Can Go

Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse more stories
A Decade Of Carmody: Where NU Hoops Has Come From and Where It Can Go
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Northwestern's men's basketball's official history page does not have a year-by-year wins and losses section, probably for good reason.

Since their last outright Big Ten title in 1931, (and retroactively a national title! ) NU has been losing a whole lot more than they've been winning. They shared the Big Ten title in 1933, but since then it's been a vast wasteland of awfulness.

Wikipedia has the year-by-year carnage if you really want to see it.

Lots of well known basketball names, from Tex Winter to Bill Foster to Kevin O'Neil have tried to turn things around in Evanston, to no avail. Rich Falk came the closest; the 1982-1983 Wildcats currently hold the single season team record for wins...with 18.

Not only has the program been awful, it's been rocked by both tragedy and scandal .

The greatest irony of all is that NU actually played host to the first NCAA Final Four in 1939.

They've never been invited to March Madness and they've only made the NIT 4 times. But they never made it in the era when the NIT actually meant something.

NU's most recent coach before current head man Bill Carmody was the previously mentioned O'Neil. His teams were lifted the first couple of years by NU's last All-American—center Evan Eschmeyer—who almost single-handily put the 'Cats on his back on their way to the 1999 NIT.

But in 1999-2000, O'Neil's only year without Eschmeyer at the helm of NU's men's basketball program, the Wildcats won a grand total of zero Big Ten games.

He left out of frustration to join the Knicks (remember when people wanted to go to the Knicks?!), and a few days later, NU announced the hiring of Carmody.

Carmody cut his coaching teeth under legendary Princeton coach Pete Carril.

You can't say expectations were high, how could they be, but fans were definitely intrigued by the unique offense Carmody brought to the Wildcats.

Perhaps, the famed system that once upset defending national champion UCLA would lead the Wildcats to the elusive Big Dance. (Watch that video, it features current NU assistant Mitch Henderson as a player, and you get a couple of brief glimpses of Carmody. It also was the game that made Gus Johnson famous.)

It's now been a decade for NU hoops under Carmody, and it hasn't been easy, that's for sure. His peers in the Big Ten respect and even admire him, but 'Cats fans everywhere are divided about whether or not he's been a success.

At any other school, the answer would be no, but this is Northwestern we're talking about here.

His first seven years were the most successful seven seasons in terms of total wins in NU hoops history.

Carmody was named Big Ten Coach of the Year thanks to his 2003-2004 campaign, which saw NU finish tied for 5th in the Big Ten with an 8-8 record.

That was the best Big Ten finish for NU since the Vietnam War.

But after a couple middling 6-10 years, Carmody's program seemed to hit rock bottom, as they won 3 combined Big Ten games during my freshman and sophomore years.

Two years ago, when NU won a lone Big Ten game, many were calling for his dismissal. I'll admit I once too thought his time in Evanston was up.

But my opinion has changed 180 degrees since 2007.

First of all, as a member of the student media, I've gotten the chance to take trips with the team to both Brown and Stanford.

I can tell you this, there is no coach out there these guys would rather play for than Carmody. Plus, Carmody is perhaps the most genuine, honest, and nice coach Northwestern has to offer. (Women's hoops coach Joe McKeown runs a close second.)

Of course, your employment in the world of big time college basketball is not based on how nice you are.

His struggles in Evanston are certainly not with the X's and O's or the relationships he has with his players; they've been centered on recruiting the right kind of talent to succeed here.

But even that has turned around, and a lot of credit there goes to former NU player and current assistant Tavaras Hardy.

Hardy has helped land John Shurna, and he recruited both of this year's freshmen: Alex Marcotullio and Drew Crawford.

He's also made in-roads into Georgia, of all places, as NU already has a rivals.com 4-star recruit in Jershon Cobb signed to a letter of intent for next season. Not only that, but word on the street (and by street I mean Wildcat Report ) is that even more top-tier talent from Georgia might be considering coming to Evanston to hoop it up.

In the past, Carmody's NU teams seemed to rely on stars such as Jitim Young and Vedran Vukusic to carry them to victory. Even last year's NIT team relied heavily on Kevin Coble and Craig Moore for their points.

That's why what they're doing this year is so impressive. Shurna and Thompson are the stars, that's for sure, but for the first time in recent memory...this is a true TEAM.

Last year the offense was basically Kevin Coble hoisting up wild, amazing shots that somehow went in, or Craig Moore bailing them out as the shot clock ticked towards zero with a huge three. Yes, the occasional back-door cut would take the opposing team off-guard, but it was a team that relied heavily on two players, with limited scoring from others.

This year, we're finally seeing the Princeton Offense run like it's supposed to be run.

The two freshmen, Alex Marcotullio and Drew Crawford have adjusted surprisingly quickly, and in recent games we've seen sophomore center Luka Mirkovic finally look comfortable on the floor. Jeremy Nash has finally developed a three-point shot, and continues to be perhaps the best defender NU has ever seen.

Meanwhile, the rebounding, which NU has been borderline incompetent at in recent years, has seen a HUGE leap in improvement as well. Shurna is pulling down boards like a maniac, averaging 7.2 per game, and others are chipping in as well.

All this adds up to is their best start since that 1931 national championship.

So now the question is, can they finish off the decade on a high note December 30th at Illinois?

The Fighting Illini have struggled this year, recently losing to un-ranked Missouri, so it's definitely a winnable game. A win there would also set the pace nicely for a good Big Ten season, and a run to the Big Dance.

It might have taken 10 years, but Bill Carmody and the Wildcats are finally relevant...and headed towards making some long-awaited history.

Load More Stories
Northwestern Basketball

Subscribe Now

We will never share your email address

Thanks for signing up.