In the aftermath of the Penn State debacle, the NU blogosphere is finally taking notice of how bad the defense has been. I've heard some wildly different theories on what's causing the problem, and some interesting suggestions on how to fix it. So let's break them down:
NU doesn't have the athletes to play good defense against other Big Ten teams: I find this explanation way off base. For one thing, NU hasn't had much trouble scoring in Big Ten play; if they didn't have good athletes then they'd struggle on both ends. Secondly, it doesn't explain why a last place team like Penn State can cut them up; a much less athletic Iowa team was able to slow them down, so NU should be able to as well. When Evan Turner blows up against you, that can be explained by a lack of athleticism, but the idea that Carmody is doing the best he can with inferior athletes is ridiculous.
NU isn't playing defense with enough heart: I don't really buy this one either. This has been the problem for brief stretches, most notably from Sunday's game, but for the most part I think this team is playing hard. The "they showed no heart" argument is usually only used retroactively to explain losses; many fans are unwilling to admit that the other team was simply better that day and use cliches like the other team "just wanted it more". In fact, I think a lot of times Northwestern's players try too hard on defense, in that they aggressively go for a steal, don't quite get there, and then leave their man wide open. Or an NU player will sprint out to contest a perimeter shooter, but won't close out under control and either fouls the jump shooter, or falls victim to a shot fake and leaves the man wide open. Mistakes like that aren't because of a lack of effort, it has more to do with a lack of discipline and/or poor coaching.
NU is fatigued because the starters have played so many minutes: I find this argument compelling. With the exception of Michael Thompson, none of the other starters have ever played anywhere close to the number of minutes they've played this season. Also, Drew Crawford has reportedly been playing hurt for the past few games, which would certainly explain his poor defensive play. Some people have criticized Carmody for not going to his bench enough, but I'm not one of those people. Because of the injuries and some ill-advised scholarships, there is a massive drop-off from the starting 5 at every position, and since NU has been in so many close games Carmody has had to stick with his starters for 30+ minutes a night. This should be less of a problem next season as long as there aren't more injuries.
Speaking of next season, I've heard a couple theories on how to improve the defense for the future:
NU should hire an assistant coach who specializes in teaching man to man defense: This was proposed by Ryan over at welsh-ryanramblings.blogspot.com. It makes a lot of sense on paper, as Carmody has shown he can't get his teams to play man to man effectively. However, I'm not sure how practical an idea it is. I don't think there's much of a budget for the assistant coaching positions at Northwestern, so it's highly questionable they could get a coach who knows what he's doing. Also, Carmody would have to swallow his pride, admit that other coaches have solved the 1-3-1 trap, and fully delegate to this defensive specialist assistant. So unfortunately I don't see it happening, even though it's an idea with potential.
The NU coaching staff will break down the films in the off-season and correct the problems: This optimistic idea came from Dave Revsine of the Big Ten Network, in an interview he did with Lake the Posts, and drew the ire of frequent commenter buckyor, who said Revsine was merely shining us on. I have to say I pretty much agree with buckyor here, because if it were simply a matter of looking at film and making a couple of adjustments, the problem would have been fixed already. Coaches spend countless hours in the film room during the season, so the issues run much deeper. And since the defense wasn't all that great last year (106th in the country accoring to KenPom), you'd think that would have been a focus during last off-season, yet the defense has gotten significantly worse this year (currently 164th in the country). So forgive me for being a bit skeptical.
People are probably tired of hearing me talk about this, hell I'm tired of writing about it, but the awful defense Northwestern is playing needs to be discussed until it changes. Sadly, I don't see it changing this season. Due to the lack of depth, this is a tired team, and the combination of being tired and poorly coached isn't going to make for defensive dominance. The former problem should correct itself next season, and the latter could be corrected if the coaching staff devotes the off-season not to studying film, but to tirelessly working in practice to make everyone on the roster a more fundamentally sound defender. With the talent on next year's roster, it's certainly possible the defense will improve, but I'll be skeptical until it happens.
Onto tonight's picks. Despite my love of college basketball betting, I am getting closer and closer to .500 on the season. Very disappointing.
Minnesota at MIchigan (PK), 6 PM central, BTN
MIchigan played pretty well at Ohio State this weekend, and beat Minnesota at the Barn earlier this season, but the Gophers are in desperate need of a win and are a better team.
Illinois at Ohio State (-10), 8 PM central, ESPN
The Illini find themselves back on the bubble after losing at home to Minnesota, while Ohio State is now in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title. Illinois is so inconsistent that I'm hesitant to pick them, but I can't resist getting 10 points.
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Overall Record: 41-40-2
Northwestern games: 15-5