2001: A hoops oddity

Glenn Kasses

Nov. 18
Ark.-Little Rock 53
NU 43
For starters: Carmody wanted a new roster and a heart transplant after this effort. Who could blame him? NU made 6 of 30 threes.
Nov. 22
Md.-Eastern Shore 33
NU 56
Nov. 25
Vermont 42
NU 64
Nov. 28
NU 44
Clemson 57
Dec. 2
Miss. Valley State 62
NU 83
Dec. 10
NU 44
LaSalle 62
Dec. 13
St. Peter’s 56
NU 83
Dec. 16
NU 53
Pepperdine 55
Dec. 20
NU 58
Kent State 67
Dec. 21
Iona 67
NU 69
Dec. 22
Evansville 52
NU 68
Coming up aces: Last year vs. the Purple Aces: 8 first-half points. This year, in Puerto Rico: 7 turnovers, redemption.
Dec. 27
Southern Cal 61
NU 63
The upset : After NU beat No. 16 USC with a 15-0 game-opening run and 23 assists on 28 baskets, one player said it was as close to a perfect game as NU could play.
Jan. 3
NU 56
Ohio State 73
Jan. 6
Purdue 69
NU 61
Jan. 10
NU 53
Michigan State 84
Jan. 13
NU 66
Penn State 73
Jan. 17
Illinois 63
NU 49
Jan. 20
NU 59
Purdue 78
Jan. 24
Michigan State 74
NU 58
Jan. 27
Michigan 72
NU 65
So close …: NU proved in this game just how adept it is at finding a way to lose, blowing a halftime lead and choking late.

Following a season-opening disaster against the “vaunted” Trojans of Arkansas-Little Rock, new coach Bill Carmody blasted his team, saying they needed “heart transplants” and lamenting, “If I had five other guys, I would have thrown them in there.” At that point, 0-28 seemed reasonable.

But the fire-and-brimstone speech seemed to give the Cats a much-needed jolt, as they jumped out to a 7-5 nonconference record, including a shocking win over the truly vaunted Trojans of Southern California (minus their top player, of course.)

Then came the Big Ten season: eight losses, two player defections, one academic suspension and a modern record for consecutive conference losses. Now, 0-for-Big Ten seems reasonable.

It’s enough to make Carmody — who left Princeton for NU — long for New Jersey.

Here’s a look at Carmody’s rough first season to this point. We combed for a few highs, but found mostly lows.

MIDSEASON MVP: Winston Blake

Junior center Tavaras Hardy deserves mention, simply because he has shouldered the responsibility of defending the paint despite standing only 6-foot-7. But while Hardy has been the warrior, Winston Blake has been the star. The sophomore swingman averages a team-leading 12.7 points per game and is the team’s lone outside weapon. He is second in the conference with three treys per game. When Blake scores, the Cats stay close. When he falls flat, so does the team.

Player to watch: Ben Johnson

As an 0-8 conference record illustrates, Blake alone hasn’t been enough to make the Cats competitive. NU desperately needs another outside threat, and that player could be guard Ben Johnson, last season’s leading scorer. He tallied 19 points against Michigan on Saturday and has to keep it up if the Cats are going to win a Big Ten game.

Biggest surprise: Blake

Blake has boosted his scoring average by 8.8 points from a year ago. To put that in perspective, only two other players even average 8.8 points per game.

Blake went from reserve to go-to guy, surprising NU coaches, fans and opponents by capably filling departed swingman Steve Lepore’s shoes.

Blake is sure to see more and more double teams as his jumpers continue to fall.

Worst moment: Jason Burke’s missed dunk

Blowing a 14-point lead in the second half to Penn State was pretty bad, but all that did was leave the Cats winless in conference play. Hey, no big deal. But Jason Burke’s bricked dunk with less than eight seconds left in a 16-point loss to Michigan State on Jan. 24 was much more catastrophic.

Why? The spread was 15.

Stat of the year: 490

Most people know the Cats are in the midst of a record-setting 30-game Big Ten losing streak dating back to Feb. 6, 1999. But all those ugly games have kind of blended together into one big lump of losing. So the pick for stat of the year is 490 — the total number of points the Cats lost by in those 30 games. That works out to an average of more than 16 points per loss. Yikes.

Fan favorite: Langston Hughes

How could you not pick third-string point guard Langston Hughes for this honor? Sure, the former walk-on has played only 11 minutes and scored just two points this year. Sure, he won’t be leading an Evanston renaissance anytime soon.

But every time he touches the floor, it’s poetry in motion — perfect for the erudite NU faithful.

What’s ahead

After Buffalo, it’s Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin. A Big Ten record of 0-13 is likely and would leave NU only three games to steal that elusive first win.

At least Carmody can snag career win No. 100 — one he’s been waiting to get since the Cats’ last win Dec. 27 — if NU tops Buffalo tonight.

Mark Lazerus contributed to this report.