For 12 seasons, Bill Carmody brought a bit of deception and slight of hand to Northwestern basketball. A 1-3-1 defense here, an offense that ran through a three-point shooting center there, Carmody knew he was going to have trouble – due to academic standards and just a general lack of historic success in his program – competing in the Big Ten if he just lined up toe to toe with the Michigan States of the world, so he improvised.
The fact that he had made it more than a decade speaks to at least the limited success Carmody had, and in 2009-10 and 2010-11 a bounce here or a break there could have seen the Wildcats finally break their 75-year NCAA tournament hex. Northwestern ended up winning 20 games in both of those seasons, but found themselves on the wrong side of the NCAA tracks. Two years later, Carmody’s bag of magic tricks was finally empty and he was dismissed.
Carmody, of course, had his roots at Princeton as a long-time assistant under Pete Carill before replacing the legend in 1995, so before he left Northwestern, he (and the school, obviously) signed a 2-for-1 non-conference deal with Brown; the Bears traveled to Chicago last season and will next, but Monday night we had the rare treat of a Big Ten team at the Pizzitola Center.
With Chris Collins, who grew up with an NBA coach (and a successful one at that) for a father and has spent the majority of the last two decades at Duke, first as a player then an assistant, the mirrors and magic wands are gone from Northwestern basketball, a fact Brown found out the hard way Monday night.
The Wildcats showed nothing but a solid, physical man-to-man defense for 40 minutes, and Brown, quite frankly, just couldn’t deal with it for most of the night, having to settle for tough, contested looks most of the evening as Northwestern cruised to a 69-56 road win that wasn’t as close as the final indicated.
“You have to credit Northwestern (for us not being able to get good shots),” Brown coach Mike Martin said, “and I think it was a little of us, too. We’re young and we have to mature a little bit as far as understanding when we can hit or spots a little bit better offensively and trusting ourselves to be there. We’ve got a lot of work to do offensively. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to be a good defensive team, although we weren’t very good tonight. We have to spend a little more time just playing with each other offensively and moving the ball and moving our bodies.”
Brown, who also showed no alternatives to a solid, half-court man-to-man look, never led, and their situation was not helped by a tough night by junior Cedric Kuakumensah, who fouled out in just 13 minutes, recording just two points and a single rebound. But Northwestern’s size and athleticism – superior to the Ivy Leaguers, as you’d expect – made sure every cut was thrown off course and just trying to get near the rim was going to be a brutal task.
The Wildcats committed 26 personal fouls and 7-footer Alex Olah was limited to 18 minutes, but otherwise their defense was superb.
“We really defended their actions well,” Collins said. “The last couple days, we were really locked in on preparation. Certainly, their front line is really good with (Leland) King, Kuakumensah, and (Rafael) Maia, those three guys can really play, and I thought the key to the game is how we defended (Tavon) Blackmon. When he’s playing well, they become really tough to stop, so I think our defense on him was a big key.”
Blackmon was harassed into five turnovers and an 0-for-5 shooting night by Northwestern’s guards. King finished with a game-high 17 points, but Martin took him out briefly a couple of times to talk to him about his poor shot selection. After the Wildcats started the second half with a 15-4 run and open its lead to a game-high 21 (53-32), Martin was angry enough to render the clipboard he was using at the time obsolete in the ensuing time out.
“They were just much more crisp offensively than we were,” Martin said. “I thought we got a little too stagnant. I thought their defense dictated to our offense, and we didn’t dictate anything to them at the other end. Full credit to them, they were very good, but I thought we were very good.”
As with all non-conference games, especially with Brown, is how these teams will improve going forward. The Bears will not have to deal with teams who have Northwestern’s size in the Ivy League (although Harvard will be close), and should be able to fare a little better on the glass (39-25 Northwestern). Meanwhile, can the Wildcats manhandle Big Ten opposition as they were able to do with Brown Monday night?
The Wildcats started two freshmen (point guard Bryant McIntosh looks like a classic Indiana shooter), but were led by veterans JerShon Cobb and Sanjay Lumpkin. And if Brown thought Northwestern and Collins might take them a bit lightly, sadly for them it didn’t happen.
“I have a great respect for this league (the Ivy),” Collins said. “One of my mentors was Tommy Amaker and he gave me my first job and recruited me when he was at Duke, so I know that there’s great basketball being played in the Ivy League.”
Brown faces a relatively difficult non-conference road ahead with Holy Cross, Indiana St., Illinois, and possibly Stephen F. Austin in the next 10 days, all away from Providence, so if Martin wants his team to learn some lessons, they’ll be in the right place.