They may have no influence on Bill Carmody’s ultimate fate but Northwestern players say they’ve still got their coach’s back.
The Wildcats held what could be their last practices at Welsh-Ryan Arena this week in preparation for a Thursday date with Iowa at the Big Ten tournament. A loss ends Wildcats’ season and possibly Carmody’s 13-year Northwestern career.
“All we can do is play as hard as we can,” said Wildcat sophomore guard Dave Sobolewski. “We all playing for him; he’s a real good coach. [The rest] is up to [athletic director Jim] Phillips. Hopefully it will work out.”
Senior guard Alex Marcotullio praised Carmody’s resiliency as injuries and losses piled up this season.
“[All] the guys who have played for coach the last couple of years don’t want to see him go and I certainly don’t,” Marcotullio said. “He’s done a terrific job here this year given the circumstances and he’s put us in positions to win. I don’t think he should be at fault for that. We just keep fighting and playing for ourselves and each other and he’s included in that.”
Phillips was quoted earlier saying that he would move swiftly to decide whether Carmody stays or goes.
A serene Carmody met with reporters prior to Tuesday’s practice, but his status came up only indirectly when he expressed appreciation for his players’ comments. The 17-year coaching veteran has raised the level of success at Northwestern with four winning seasons in the last five and four straight postseason trips. But there were no Big Ten championships or NCAA bids -- although there were a couple of near misses to the Big Dance.
As Carmody’s one-year extension nears an end, the Wildcats stand 13-18 overall (4-14 Big Ten) and have lost eight straight -- 10 of their last 11. As many as seven players have been lost for the season or missed time due to injuries or other issues.
Among notables was the loss of JerShon Cobb last September for violations of team policies. Drew Crawford went down Dec. 20 with a season-ending shoulder injury. Jared Swopshire was lost with a knee injury and subsequent surgery last month. Alex Olah was knocked out for a while with a concussion. Reggie Hearn was sidelined briefly with a mid-season ankle injury but ended up the Wildcats’ leading scorer among active players.
Despite adversity, the No. 11 seed Wildcats aren’t ready to call it quits.
“We’re ready, the last couple of games we’ve been playing better than we had previously,” Sobolewski said. “The morale should be okay and we’ve got nothing to lose.”
Northwestern played even with Michigan State most of the way before falling 71-61 in last Sunday’s regular season finale. The game was tied 53-53 with five minutes to play before the Spartans pulled away.
“I did like the way we played against Michigan State at their place,” Carmody said. “I was especially happy with the freshmen and the way they came on and played pretty nicely. I think the guys are in a pretty good spot actually, considering that we’ve lost all these games in a row,” he added.
Hearn tops the Wildcats with a 13.2 point scoring average, Sobolewski is next with 10 points and a team-best 122 assists. For the season, the Wildcats averaged 60.8 points per game while give up an average 63.4.
But Big Ten stats were more revealing with opponents outscoring Northwestern by nearly 11 points per game and a lop-sided 700-491 advantage on the boards. Iowa (20-11, 9-9) swept both meetings, a 70-50 decision on Jan 9 at Welsh-Ryan Arena and a 71-57 result on Feb. 9 at Iowa City.
Third-year Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said preparation includes closely studying both of those games.
"We have to show them those games so we see what worked for us and what they tried to do to us," he said. “It’s one thing to say (Kale) Abrahamson is playing better. Well, how? What's he doing? What's [Tre] Demps doing? Olah, he got hurt in our game and he didn't shoot much. What do you mean he's more aggressive? Where is he getting the ball? We show them all that kind of stuff and it'll be plain to them that they're a different team, and I think in many ways maybe a more difficult team to guard.”
Iowa, the No. 6 seed, is expected to be back at full strength with the return of freshman guard Mike Gesell, who hasn’t played since Feb. 21.
The Hawkeyes, who have won two straight, six of their last eight and average 70.7 points per game are led by third team all-Big Ten Roy Devyn Marble -- a junior guard who averaged 14.1 points. Aaron White (13.6 points) is an All-Big Ten honorable mention and sophomore forward, also tops the team with a 6.2 per game rebounding average.
Iowa and Northwestern have met just once in Big Ten tourney play -- a 72-55 Iowa win on March 8, 2001.
Thursday’s winner faces No. 3 seed Michigan State in Friday’s quarterfinals.