Nadkarni: Northwestern makes statement with Minnesota win

Rohan Nadkarni, Sports Editor

Bill Carmody is Keyser Soze.

The embattled Northwestern coach might have trouble pushing his team over the hump into an NCAA Tournament and might look like an excited Conan O’Brien on the sidelines, but his coaching job this season is nothing short of genius.

Carmody first had the undersized, outmanned Wildcats fighting toe-to-toe with then-No. 2 Indiana while coaching circles around Tom Crean. And now, against No. 12 Minnesota, the Wildcats pulled off an upset that has opposing coaches seeing Carmody as nothing short of diabolical.

Carmody may lull you to sleep with his soft-spoken press conferences or confuse the hell out of you with jokes drier than a Hinman vegan brownie, but on the court, he’s not afraid to turn on his own family and single-handedly take down the mob.

I’ve been critical of Carmody in the past. I’ve said he should step down or even be relieved of his job. However, this season, dealing with a slew of injuries, Carmody has the Cats competing in a grueling Big Ten, soaking every drop out of his broken roster.

Seven-foot freshman center who won’t dunk? Former walk-on player turned into team’s best player? Point guard with a nose for the basket who struggles with free throws? Missing last year’s second-leading scorer? Carmody doesn’t care.

On Wednesday, it was Carmody’s 1-3-1 zone that had the Golden Gophers baffled. Although Tubby Smith is at fault for not having his players prepared for NU’s defense, Carmody had the guts to turn his boys loose.

Senior guard Alex Marcotullio wreaked havoc at the top of the key, and his combo defense with graduate student Jared Swopshire rewarded their coach’s faith in throwing the kitchen sink at Minnesota.

Will this team make the tournament? Probably not. But you can’t stop watching them for nights like Wednesday, and that says something about the job of this coaching staff.

It’s tough to fault Carmody for this team’s losses. Sometimes you wonder how NU even competes with its mash-up of young players, newcomers and maxed-out veterans.

Yet the Cats have proven they can hang with some of the best when following the lead of their coach.

I guess this is usually the point in the column where I have to come out as either a Carmody supporter and list the reasons why he should stay or brandish my pitchfork and yell about why he should be fired. (Although I guess as a Northwestern student, if I really wanted him gone, I’d have to set up some kind of panel at Deering and circulate a petition before starting a firestorm in The Daily’s Forum section.)

Instead, I just want to savor this one. For once concerning NU basketball, let’s not make this about the tournament, Carmody’s future or what this means for the program.

Let’s make this one about the coach. Let’s make this one about the athletes who represent us on the court and in the classroom.

As far as Keyser Soze, the greatest trick he ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

Bill Carmody’s greatest trick?

Convincing the world (or this sports editor) the Cats will have something to say in the Big Ten before the season ends.

And like that, the Cats are back.