Northwestern Basketball Coaching Search: Dave Paulsen?

Michael Hickey

After winning his third consecutive Patriot League title at Bucknell this season, Dave Paulsen is certainly going to attract interest from high-major programs, and Northwestern will probably be one of them

Given Dave Paulsen's success as a head coach and his connections to Northwestern, you'd have to think he'll get a call from Jim Phillips. He's done great at his last two jobs, first at Division III Williams College (when current NU president Morton Schapiro was the Williams president), and most recently at Bucknell.

In eight seasons at Williams, Paulsen posted a 170-53 record, won the Division III national title in 2003, and lost in the national game in 2004. His 2004 team also went on the road and beat Division 1 Holy Cross. After the 2008 season, he left his alma mater to become head coach at Bucknell.

After an ugly first season at Bucknell with a depleted roster, Paulsen has posted an impressive 46-10 record in Patriot League play over the last four years, including winning the regular season title and at least 25 games each of the last three. And this year he appears to have his best team yet, going 28-5 and locking up an NCAA tournament auto-bid.

Paulsen's type of defense would make a welcome contrast from what Northwestern has done for the entire Bill Carmody era.

While I've seen very little Bucknell basketball, a quick look at their KenPom statistical profile, especially on defense, leaves me intrigued. His teams have excelled at forcing opponents into low effective field goal percentages (ranking 23rd, 50th, and 5th nationally the last 3 years) and at rebounding those missed shots (ranking 53rd, 1st and 2nd nationally the last 3 years). Although these numbers obviously haven't been against Big Ten caliber competition, his type of defense would make a welcome contrast from what Northwestern has done for the entire Bill Carmody era.

Would he take the job?

Almost certainly. Paulsen's decision to leave his alma mater Williams indicates that he's interested in climbing the coaching ladder, and the Northwestern job would be a substantial increase in both salary and prestige compared to Bucknell. The only way I see him not taking the NU job is if Bucknell goes on a very deep NCAA run a la Virginia Commonwealth two years ago and he becomes too hot a candidate. This is obviously unlikely, but this Bucknell team is ranked higher in KenPom than that VCU team was going into the tournament, so who knows.

Can he recruit well enough to compete in the Big Ten?

This is the major question. He's certainly gotten good players to come to Bucknell, led by their star big man Mike Muscala, who KenPom ranks as the nation's 10th best player. ($$$$) You may remember Rodger's post a couple years back about how John Shurna incredibly ranked in the top 500 in 13 of the 15 KenPom categories; well Muscala is also in the top 500 in 13 categories, including being #1 nationally in defensive rebound percentage. He's a beast and may be a first round pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

To win consistently at Northwestern he's going to have to out-recruit other Big Ten schools for guys everyone thinks will be good college players, and there's no evidence to indicate he can do that.

However, Muscala was certainly not a top recruit as a Minnesota high-schooler, as he chose Bucknell over the likes of Cal Poly and North Dakota. While it's great that Paulsen was able to identify a diamond in the rough, and even better than he was able to develop a big man (unlike the past coach), to win consistently at Northwestern he's going to have to out-recruit other Big Ten schools for guys everyone thinks will be good college players, and there's no evidence to indicate he can do that. In fairness, there's also no evidence to indicate that he can't, it's just that he's completely untested at the highest levels of recruiting, and that could be a concern going forward.

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