Men’s Basketball: Carmody explains bench use

Matt Forman

Few things are as certain.

When coach Bill Carmody jots down his starting lineup, it’s going to include Kevin Coble, Craig Moore, Michael Thompson, John Shurna and Kyle Rowley.

Carmody’s strategy for choosing who comes in off the bench, however, is a nightly guessing game.

“You always have your starters, and then you have three or four other guys,” Carmody said of the method to his madness. “I always tell them that it’s a meritocracy. Whoever the guys are who will help us win, those are the guys who are going to play.”

When sophomore forward Ivan Peljusic stepped on the floor Sunday against Michigan, he hadn’t played in the Wildcats’ previous three Big Ten games.

Peljusic played 29 minutes off the bench against the Wolverines, scoring four points, while totaling five rebounds, three assists and two steals in the 70-67 overtime loss. Peljusic played 35 minutes in the previous seven games combined.

“Nobody knows how much they are going to play,” Peljusic said. “It just depends on how the game goes and how the game is flowing.”

Peljusic is only one of the 11 players on Carmody’s roster who has seen significant playing time this season. Just three nights earlier against Illinois, Carmody’s first two players off the bench were the freshman center, Rowley, and sophomore forward Mike Capocci. Against Michigan, Rowley started and Capocci did not play.

In 22 of Northwestern’s 23 games this season, Carmody has used the same starting five.

When game planning for opponents, Carmody looks at three main things – height of the opponent, speed of the opponent, and who has the hot hand – to decide which eight or nine players will play on any given night.

“Other than that, it’s just gut,” Carmody said. “Going with how I feel.”

Given that Ohio State boasts 7-foot, 275-pound freshman center B.J. Mullens, Carmody expects Rowley, the biggest player on NU’s roster, to play increased minutes on Wednesday at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Despite needing to pick favorable matchups for his team, Carmody has consistently given his players one message: Don’t fall into a distinct role.

“Instead of fitting into a role and being someone else on the court, you just have to be yourself,” senior guard Sterling Williams said. “Coach always says you’re a ballplayer, so do that.”

Williams, who started 28 of the team’s 30 games a season ago, said the ultimate goal of a bench player is to do whatever he can to help the team win.

Nine players on Carmody’s roster average double-digit minutes per game, while three others average more than five minutes per contest. But the Cats haven’t always had the same depth.

“In past years, I’d look down the bench and I didn’t feel comfortable,” Carmody said. “I thought there would be a drop off, so I would leave certain guys in there too long.”

With six conference games remaining on the schedule, plus the Big Ten Tournament and potential postseason play, Carmody doesn’t plan to make many changes to his rotation.

Ultimately, having 11 contributing players may make Carmody’s life increasingly difficult, but it comes with the territory.

“That’s what I do,” he said. “It’s a really good problem to have.”

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