It is very much apparent, after losing Drew Crawford for the season to injury, that Northwestern will once again not make it to the NCAA Tournament. Crawford was their best player; a senior leader who could create offense on his own. He was averaging 14 points a game and 5 rebounds. Without him Northwestern will struggle to be mediocre in the Big Ten.
Now comes the question: if Northwestern once again misses the NCAA Tournament under Bill Carmody, will he stay?
I strongly believed, heading in to the season, that Carmody should be fired if the Wildcats fail their goal. This is the coach’s thirteenth season at the helm. In his first eight years at the school, they surpassed 15 wins just once. Since then, hey have been much improved. They have won 17, 20, 2o and 19 games respectively over the last four seasons.
To simplify, Carmody took a historically terrible program, was bad for nearly a decade, and then was good for four years, without making the NCAA Tournament. It is pretty clear that Carmody has plateaued in Evanston. He raised the standards of the program, to that fans actually expected to make it to March Madness the last few years. Each season’s disappointment has started to build up. They are not cute anymore, instead Northwestern has become underachievers.
Before Crawford even went down, I did not believe they were good enough to make it to the dance. If Northwestern was not going to make it to the NCAA Tournament in the last few years with their best player ever John Shurna, then they would not make it their first year without him.
A thirteenth NCAA Tournament free season by Carmody should not be acceptable at any major conference school.
There will surely be excuses. Plenty of them. Many will say that they lost their two best players. One to graduation, in Shurna and another to injury in Crawford. That ignores the bigger issue. The last three seasons Shurna and Crawford have been together, with no real results. This year, as I argued, they were not looking like they would make it anyways with a healthy Crawford. They have lost three of their last four games, and are stumbling.
The other big excuse is that Northwestern’s academic standards are too high to get good recruits. That is simply ridiculous. Sure, their raised academic standards might make it more difficult to get top players. I understand that they are not going to be able to compete for recruits with the likes of Kentucky, but look who else is getting top players. Schools like Stanford, Duke and Vanderbilt, with comparable academic reputations to Northwestern, have all had success. They have combined for 25 NCAA Tournament selections in the twelve year Carmody era. Northwestern: Zero. Academics is not a fair excuse.
At the end of the day, Northwestern is going to be with a coach who has never made it to the NCAA Tournament in thirteen years. Results are everything, and well over a decade without any substantial results should mean everything. Sure, I commend Carmody for building the program in to one that garners expectations of success. That alone is an achievement. But, at a certain point, Northwestern fans have to wonder if Carmody has hit his ceiling. If these excuses are the reason he is brought back next season, then this program will really have to look itself in the mirror and understand they are in for the same old story.