Ryan: Bill Carmody rises

Dan Ryan, Columnist

Bill Carmody may not be the coach Northwestern deserves, but he certainly is the one it needs right now.

Never was this more evident than on Sunday, when the outgunned, undermanned Wildcats welcomed the No. 2 team in the nation to Welsh-Ryan and proceeded to hang with Indiana until the bitter end.

The Cats didn’t just make it a game; they made serious threats to down the Hoosiers.

Alas, it was not to be, but something emerged from the contest more important than the outcome: another clear reason why Bill Carmody is the right guy to (eventually) take NU to the NCAA Tournament.

The Cats went into the half looking listless, likely a result of the slow pace forced by Carmody, and down 31-17. Keep in mind they were also down Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb. Indiana could smell a blowout brewing.

Instead, the Cats stormed out of the gate, making smarter decisions, cuts and passes while cutting the lead to 5 at one point. They also outscored the Hoosiers 14-10 in the paint – unheard of for recent NU teams – and were only outrebounded by a Cody Zeller-led Indiana team by 1.

Carmody switched to the zone and made Indiana shooters uncomfortable at just the right time. He successfully controlled the pace of the game as Tom Crean struggled to adjust. He gave NU a chance, something they really should never have had.

On paper, the Cats had no right to be in this one. I couldn’t even find the game streaming online. Cut and dry: blowout. And yet Carmody scouted, schemed, gameplanned his team to a near win. And that got me thinking.

Last season NU upset then-No. 6 Michigan State in an early stunner, then later went to grab an important victory against the Illini at Assembly Hall. They brought Michigan to OT – twice – and were THIS CLOSE to taking down Ohio State – just ask Gus Johnson.

But then ask yourself this: In what universe does a team featuring John Shurna at center hang with a team boasting Jared Sullinger? The answer? One in which Carmody is the Cats’ head coach.

I’ve heard the criticism of Carmody: He’s had more than enough time to show us that he can make the Tournament. His teams play a bland, pass-heavy style. The 1-3-1 zone is used by maybe four teams in the NCAA. He doesn’t wear ties.

But last season was exciting. NU was THIS CLOSE to a Tournament berth. It’s a phrase Cats’ fans are all too used to throwing around, and the recent uptrend in NU athletics has us wanting more. However, Carmody is the reason the team is as close as it is.

The Big Ten is far and away the best conference in the NCAA. And NU is hanging right there with the big boys with a roster that leaves me feeling a little sick to my stomach. This is mostly because Carmody fully understands his roster and plays to its strengths: throwing the 1-3-1, the Princeton offense and the kitchen sink at teams to keep them off-balance.

The dawn is coming. Maybe not this year (and if not, so be it), but soon, Carmody will have the benefit of a healthy roster full of depth and height. He deserves a chance to show us what he can do with it.