Central Failure: A list of the Northwestern big men under Bill Carmody

In case it weren't obvious already, Northwestern has a problem at the center position. And it seems as though this is a problem every year; since the graduation of All-American Evan Eschmeyer in 1999, Northwestern hasn't had a center come anywhere close to All-Big Ten honors, and the position is nearly always a question mark going into each new season. So I decided to delve deep into the NUsports.com archives in search of why this problem still persists, and the results were interesting. The problem didn't actually start when Eschmeyer graduated; Kevin O'Neill recruits Tavaras Hardy (a 2002 graduate) and Aaron Jennings (a 2003 graduate) both developed into at least competent Big Ten centers by their senior seasons. It actually began after the disastrous 1999-2000 season, when Kevin O'Neill was replaced by Bill Carmody.

During his 10+ years at Northwestern, Carmody has recruited 11 players (who've seen the court) who could be described as centers, and let's just say the results haven't been pretty. Here they are , in chronological order:

Thomas Soltau

Country of Origin: Denmark

Size: 6'11", 225 pounds

Time at Northwestern: 2001-02

Best season of career: 8 games, 17 total minutes, 9 points

Soltau was part of Carmody's first recruiting class, and played a grand total of 26 minutes in 1.5 years before leaving school to play professionally in Denmark. So not the best use of a scholarship.

However, Soltau has been ballin' in Denmark: he averaged 23 points and 9 rebounds for SISU Copenhagen during the 2010-11 season.

Davor Duvancic

Country of Origin: Croatia

Size: 6'8", 235 pound

Time at Northwestern: 2001-05

Best season of career: 30 games, 6.5 points/game, 4.4 rebounds/game, 47.8% field goal percentage

Duvancic had the same below the rim game as Luka Mirkovic, except he was smaller, softer, and traveled even more often trying to make basic post moves. And in Northwestern big man tradition, he never once had 10+ rebounds in a game despite playing 30 minutes a night as a junior and a senior. He is, however, one of only two Carmody big man recruits to ever score 20+ points in a game, as he dropped a career high 22 in an upset of top 25 Illinois in 2004.

Ivan Tolic

Country of Origin: Croatia

Size: 6'9", 285 pounds

Time at Northwestern: 2002-2007

Best season of career: 9.3 minutes/game, 1.6 points/game, 1.3 rebounds/game, 22 of 33 field goal shooting

While Tolic was in Evanston for 5 years, he essentially played only 2 of them, as he redshirted as a freshman and missed nearly his entire sophomore year and all of his junior year due to injury. And even when he was healthy, he didn't bring much to the table. Let's take a look at the first season of his career game by game, per his NUsports.com bio:

- First collegiate appearance came in season opener vs. Colorado (11/21/03); had assist on backdoor layup on his first collegiate touch.

- Grabbed two boards in five minutes at UIC (12/20/03) note: NU lost that game by 19 points

- Played 14 minutes and scored first collegiate point in Big Ten opener at Michigan (1/7/04)

- Scored two points, dished out five assists without a turnover at Iowa (1/10/04)

- Hit first collegiate field goal and snared four rebounds in 26 minutes at Indiana (1/17/04

So yeah, it took him almost 2 months into the season to make a shot from the field. I'll always remember Tolic for two things: his incredible lack of foot speed, and his slight resemblance to Shrek.

Vince Scott

Country of Origin: United States of America

Size: 6'11", 240 pounds

Time at Northwestern: 2003-2007

Best season of career: 28 minutes/game, 6.7 points/game, 2.9 rebounds/game, 1 block/game

All you need to know about Vince Scott's game is he was 6'11", 240 pounds and took more threes than twos during his college career and never once had 10 rebounds in a game despite starting for 2.5 seasons. It would be difficult to create a softer big man. Scott was a decent 3-point shooter, hitting 36.7% as a senior, but when his 3-point shooting was off he would completely disappear in games, such as a 0 point, 0 rebound performance in 20 minutes against Illinois as a senior. Scott was so bad as a senior that Carmody was often forced to play freshman Kevin Coble at the center position in 2006-07, which was a large part of why NU was the worst rebounding team in the country that year.

The highlight of Vince Scott's career, a moment he will surely tell his grandchildren about, was when he rejected Ohio State's Greg Oden in a game at Welsh-Ryan Arena in 2007. I hope he has the video of this because no one will believe him otherwise.

Mike Thompson

Country of Origin: United States of America

Size: 6'10', 250 pounds

Time at Northwestern: 2004-05

Best (only) season of career: 13 games, 27.5 minutes/game, 10.2 points/game, 4.8 rebounds/game

The only 5-star recruit in Northwestern basketball history, Thompson transferred to NU after 1.5 disappointing seasons at Duke, and was being heralded as the savior of the program. I remember being giddy with excitement to watch Thompson's debut, a nationally televised home game with DePaul. After winning the opening tip, Thompson ran the floor beautifully and was fed for a lay-up about 7 seconds into the game. All-Big Ten honors seemed like a lock.

But that was probably the highlight of his career. Thompson was an improvement over Scott and Duvancic, but he missed some time with injuries, and then pulled a Coble and quit before his senior season, yet stayed on scholarship and graduated. I'll just let Fire Bill Carmody give his thoughts:

michael thompson turned out to be a much bigger puss than i could ever dream (and believe me, i thought he was a HUGE pansy before he quit the team)

So there you go.

edit: apparently an irregular heartbeat forced Thompson to retire

Bernard Cote

Country of Origin: Canada

Size: 6'8", 230 pounds

Time at Northwestern: 2005-06

Best (only) season of career: 16 minutes/game, 4.2 points/game, 2.3 rebounds/game, 37.7% field goal percentage

Cote warmed the bench at Kentucky for two years before transferring to NU, and Bill Carmody was optimistic :

Bernard sat out last year but he worked hard on his game and I expect him to step in and contribute immediately. He proved to be one of our best long-range shooters in practice, but he also has some nice post moves and has a knack for getting to the line. He has been working hard on his dribbling and his shot. Plus he has experience from playing two years at Kentucky, so he will not be in awe when he steps on the floor this season—he understands what it takes to play at the highest level in college and succeed.

Yeah, not quite. Cote did absolutely nothing in 2005-06, then left school with his degree rather than stay on as a fifth year senior.

Nikola Baran

Country of Origin: Croatia

Size: 6'7", 225 pounds

Time at Northwestern: 2007-08

Best season of career: 30 games, 16 games started, 13.5 minutes/game, 3.1 points/game, 1.1 rpg, 29.8 FG%

One of the great mysteries of the Bill Carmody era is why in the world he decided to give a scholarship to Nikola Baran, who was a complete disaster during his one season in Evanston. Baran lacked the size, athleticism, toughness and shooting ability to compete at the Division 1 level, much less the Big Ten level. In fact, the only thing he wasn't lacking was a full head of hair, as he grew out a Croatian afro which, at its peak, rivaled Wisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz in size.

Cro-Fro would see his minutes decrease as the season went on, eventually being benched in favor of Ivan Peljusic, and he ended up transferring to Division II Rollins College after the season. As a senior at Rollins:

Moved into the starting lineup midway through the season, playing in all 33 games and starting 19...aveaged 8.1 points and 3.0 rebounds a game in 22.8 minutes a night

That's at Division II, and this dude was starting in the Big Ten. Depressing.

Ivan Peljusic

Country of Origin: Croatia

Size: 6'8", 220 pounds

Time at Northwestern: 2007-2011

Best season of career: 13.6 minutes/game, 3.9 points/game, 2.5 rebounds/game, 40.3% field goal percentage

Peljusic had a strange career arc, as his minutes went down each of his four years at Northwestern. This was largely due to Carmody recruiting a trio of centers with Big Ten size starting in 2008-09, but Peljusic's game seemed to regress over the years. As a sophomore, he scored 10 points off the bench to spark an upset over Florida State and made occasional contributions throughout the year.

By the time of his senior year, Peljusic only played in garbage time with the walk-ons, and generally looked clueless as to how play basketball. He played nearly the entire second half in a blowout win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and played defense like a kid in an under-8 league: all he did was chase after whoever had the ball.

Kyle Rowley

Country of Origin: Trinidad and Tobago

Size: 7'0", 280 pounds

Time at Northwestern: 2008-10

Best season of career: 13 minutes/game, 3.6 points/game, 1.8 rebounds/game

The most amazing part of Rowley's NUsports.com profile is the part that says:

Chose Northwestern over Indiana, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Oregon State.

Rowley played two ineffective years at Northwestern before transferring to Saint Mary's, where he is currently riding the pine for the top 25 Gaels. It's hard to fault Carmody for bringing in Rowley, as he was a highly touted local big man and NU was in desperate need of size at the center position, but the Rowley era was quite the disappointment.

Luka Mirkovic

Country of Origin: Serbia

Size: 6'11", 245 pounds

Time at Northwestern: 2008-12

Best season of career: 25 minutes/game, 7.3 points/game, 5.7 rebounds/game

Mirkovic's demise this season into a complete liability on both ends of the court has been difficult to watch. Luka's never exactly been good, but he's been a key factor in NU winning games against good teams in the past (to cite but one example, as a freshman he did a great job off the bench in an upset at Purdue). He also put up 20 and 12 in a win over Indiana last year, and he remains the only Bill Carmody recruited center to get 10+ rebounds in a game, which he first accomplished in February of 2009 (yes, it took 8.5 years for one of Carmody's bigs to get 10 rebounds). His Serbian finger guns three point celebration was the stuff of legends.

But now, Mirkovic has become a laughingstock. I'll just leave it to Down With Goldy:

Luka Mirkovich [sic] is the least mobile person I've ever seen. His defense is very similar to this lamp I'm sitting next to. His best offensive move is somehow using his fat slowness to trick the guy guarding him into thinking he's not actually moving and then suddenly make a lay-up. If he and Stephen Hawking had a good ole fashioned athletic face-off the line would be Luka -120.

So, yeah.

Davide Curletti

Country of Origin: United States of America

Size: 6'9", 230 pounds

Best season of career: 19 minutes/game, 4.5 points/game, 3.4 rebounds/game

Curletti didn't see much playing time until last year, when he served as the backup to Mirkovic, but he's recently taken over the starting spot (mostly due to Mirkovic's struggles). After randomly exploding for 17 points in the upset over Michigan State, Curletti has regressed to the mean rapidly, culminating in Saturday's debacle against Purdue where he was unable to post up six foot-nothing guard Ryne Smith without turning the ball over. He's a decent perimeter shooter but his complete lack of post moves or athleticism have largely rendered him a liability.

So that's the entire depressing list. The overwhelming problem here is recruiting, as the vast majority of those big men simply aren't any good. Thompson and Cote must have had talent to be recruited by Duke and Kentucky, but if Mike Krzyzewski and Tubby Smith respectively couldn't get anything out of them, then Carmody wasn't going to either. Carmody has managed to recruit talent at other positions, but until NU manages to bring in a center who's at least competent, it's hard to imagine NU making the NCAA tournament.

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