By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 28, 2013
The Northwestern basketball team that will walk into Crisler Center on Wednesday to take on No. 1 Michigan looks completely different than it did in October, and it’s all because of one player.
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The player is the Wildcats’ best, senior forward Drew Crawford, who was expected to be their big contributor this year. But in December, Crawford was forced to get season-ending surgery on a torn labrum in his right shoulder, throwing Northwestern’s early season plans in a completely different direction.
The Wildcats have had an inconsistent season, but with a matchup against No. 3 Indiana on Saturday looming for the Wolverines, the potential for a trap game and another Northwestern upset exists.
At Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody sat down with the Daily to discuss the upcoming season.
The Michigan Daily: Is there something about this year in particular that makes the conference so strong?
Bill Carmody: It just seems like there are a lot of good guys back. You have some very good veteran players back on some of these teams, and then you have this influx of very talented freshman. There are some freshmen who are All-Big Ten caliber already. There aren’t any bad teams. We used to be one of those teams five, six, years ago, but we aren’t now. Some other teams who were in the same position have gotten better and better. I just think top to bottom, the conference is tough.
TMD: You return four starters, but you are losing a big fifth starter in Jon Shurna. What’s it been like this off-season preparing for the season without him and not having that type of player return?
BC: I think guys had to start accepting different roles. You might get more out of Drew Crawford, who might have deferred to Jon at times. Then we have four freshman, two transfers, and two guys who redshirted last year — we have to play a little differently, but I think we have some guys who can score in different ways. We have to figure that out as a staff, how we are going to go about that, but I like the fact we have gotten bigger.
TMD: Last year, you guys played at Michigan and suffered a tough loss in overtime. Was that one of those games where you looked back on it at the end of the year and said, “If we had won that game … ?”
BC: I think we had to win a couple more to make the NCAA Tournament, to tell you the truth. I think we would have had to win at least two in the Big Ten Tournament. We had the 19th-best strength of schedule in the country, but you can’t be 8-10 in the conference. We needed to be 10-8. Only then does the 19th rank help you.
TMD: I have to ask, how annoying is it to have to keep answering questions about Northwestern never making the NCAA Tournament? Does it get old?
BC: Yeah, it gets old. But the program is right at that point — we are at a much better point than we have ever been. The level of players that we have gotten here has improved, we’ve got some good players here, and good players make good coaches.
TMD: Was there something you had to do about the culture when you got to Northwestern? Is that something you can change right away?
BC: Anytime you have an athletic program, it’s a university program. You have to get support from the top down, all the way from the president to the athletic director, and I think we got that support and are getting that support. I think that’s necessary, all the support staff that help you with the market, put some money into that just to raise the consciousness of everyone in the area. Then the Big Ten Network comes along and people can see you play teams like Ohio State. It levels out to be a university-wide decision to support us.