Northwestern has had some stinkers this season, namely the narrow escapes over awful Tennessee State and Texas-Pan American, and the first half against Ohio State. But all those pale in comparison to tonight. After weeks of deluding ourselves into thinking Northwestern was an NCAA tournament team, reality finally set in, as the 'Cats were blown out by lowly Iowa in a game that was never close after halftime.
The Hawkeyes had no problems with full court pressure, matchup zone, 1-3-1 zone, man to man defense, or anything else Northwestern threw at them, shooting 50% from the field, hitting 12 of 24 3-pointers, and only turned the ball over 8 times. They also attempted 30 free throws compared to NU's 13.The defensive effort in this game was flat-out embarrassing. It's one thing to get carved up by Michigan State or Ohio State, it's quite another to make the worst offensive team in the Big Ten look like the '86 Celtics. It wasn't like Iowa was raining in 25 foot fade-aways either, they pretty much got what they wanted on the offensive end. When they weren't taking open threes, they were getting the ball inside with little resistance. Of course, calling a timeout to stem the tide might have been a good idea, but Bill Carmody kept his timeouts in his pocket almost the entire second half, not using one until the game was well in hand with under 2 minutes left. A lot more on his terrible coaching later.
The offense for Northwestern certainly wasn't awful, as they shot 44% from the field and only turned it over 6 times. But they hit just 8 of 26 three pointers and only 7 of 13 from the line. Michael Thompson led all scorers in the game with 20, and John Shurna added 16, but other than that the cupboard was pretty much bare. The 'Cats had trouble getting into a rhythm offensively the entire night, and most of the blame for that has to fall on the shoulders of Bill Carmody and his completely idiotic player rotations. First off, he decided it was going to be musical chairs at the center position the entire night. He yanked Luka Mirkovic in favor of Kyle Rowley less than 3 minutes into the game, and Rowley promptly committed two of the ugliest turnovers I have ever seen a basketball player make. So Carmody went back to Mirkovic, then to Davide Curletti, then to Ivan Peljusic, then back to Mirkovic, back to Rowley, back to Mirkovic, and on and on and on and on. All 4 of them played poorly, and it's easy to figure out why; when you're only in for 2 minutes at a time, you can't get into the flow of the game. There is absolutely no reason to go that deep into the bench except in the case of foul trouble, which wasn't the problem. Mirkovic has established himself throughout the season as by far the best center on the roster. Yes, he'd missed a couple easy lay-ups. It happens sometimes. Mirkovic is still a good rebounder, and a good passer who knows the offense well. He also could have used his size advantage to slow down the Iowa front line of Aaron Fuller and Jarryd Cole, who combined for 26 points and 18 rebounds. I really don't want to hear any Carmody apologists talking about how "he was looking for a spark" or "trying to mix things up". Please. Instead, Carmody should have tried actually being a teacher and a motivator, and helped Luka regain the solid form he's shown the last couple games. Ivan Peljusic belongs with Nikola Baran in Division 2, he is not a Big Ten center, yet he was on the court for 11 minutes tonight while one of the top rebounders in the league was warming the bench.
And as bad as Carmody botched the center rotations, that wasn't even close to the biggest substitution problem. Hey Bill, there's a player on your roster from Naperville, Illinois, who is considered by many to be the favorite for Big Ten freshman of the year. His first name is Drew. His last name is Crawford. His name is Drew Crawford. Where the hell was he in the second half? Explain it to me. The last time Northwestern fell way behind on the road against a weaker Big Ten team, Crawford almost singlehandedly brought the 'Cats back against Michigan. And tonight, he was trying to do the same thing, with 5 second half points capped off by a layup in transition to cut the deficit to 11. But then, Carmody decided to put him on the bench in favor of Mike bleeping Capocci. Now look, I'm not blaming Capocci here. The kid plays hard, and he contributed a little off the bench against Indiana. However, his offensive game is limited to lay-ups; he has no jump shot. You know how many 3-pointers Capocci has hit in his 3 year career at Northwestern? Three. In 56 career games. Crawford hit 3 in about 2 minutes in the Michigan game. Capocci is good for 5 minutes a night off the bench to provide energy and give one of the starters a brief rest. He should not be anywhere near the court when you need offense, and yet he was, providing nothing on defense with his only field goal coming on a fluky putback off an Alex Marcotullio air ball. He got 15 minutes tonight, while Crawford played a mere 22 despite not being in foul trouble. Just awful Carmody, why don't you put Reggie Hearn and Auston Nichols into the game too?
Carmody is certainly not the only reason they lost tonight. Nobody played any defense the entire game, and that's on the players. But the coaching did not give the team the best chance to win, and I can't accept that. This isn't like last year, where it was often unclear who the 5 best guys were on a given night. The 5 best players on this roster are the 5 starters, and unless there's foul trouble, they should be getting the majority of the minutes. I don't care if you're playing a high school team, when you're running out two offensive black holes down the stretch, you are not going to overcome a double digit deficit.
Overall, this game just sucked from the get-go. There are no positives to discuss, and nothing to build on. It's now going to take a miracle for Northwestern to get into the NCAA tournament, but there are still plenty of games left on the schedule, and hopefully the 'Cats can somehow right the ship and keep things from completely falling apart.