By Luke Pasch, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 9, 2012
Could this be the year for Northwestern?
The program has never made an NCAA Tournament appearance, and it hasn’t won a regular season conference championship since 1933. At Big Ten Media Day in October, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody was bombarded with questions about missing the Big Dance yet again last season.
With Wildcat point guard Michael “Juice” Thompson graduating after last season, many dismissed Northwestern (1-2 Big Ten, 11-4 overall) at the start of this season, but Carmody’s squad has not been an easy team to beat so far. Senior forward John Shurna is leading the conference in scoring (18.7 ppg) and junior guard Drew Crawford comes in at third (17.3 ppg).
Of the four Northwestern losses this season, three have come against ranked opponents, and the last was a one-point loss against unranked but well-respected Illinois. No. 13 Michigan (3-1, 13-3) will have its hands full on Wednesday night when Northwestern hopes to rebound at the Crisler Center.
At Big Ten Media Day, Carmody and Crawford sat down with the Daily to discuss the upcoming season.
The Michigan Daily: What do you tell people who say that there’s no basketball tradition at Northwestern?
Drew Crawford: That’s kind of upsetting. We talk to former players all the time — they’re really involved in what we’re doing now. Whether it’s internships, whether it’s on the court, whether it’s in academics, they’re really supportive of us. And we really appreciate the trail they’ve blazed for us. We’re trying to improve every year.
Bill Carmody: I say traditionally, we have not had much success in basketball. But I think we’ve certainly improved. And I think good players make good coaches. I think we have some very good players in the program, and we’re getting involved with more and more good players, so I think that good things are on the horizon. Or near horizon. Is there such a thing as a near horizon? I don’t know, help me out.
TMD: Hmm, not sure, Coach. Is this the year you make the NCAA Tournament?
DC: It’s got to be soon. It’s something we think about. It’s kind of like a motivation for us, works us hard every day. ... It would be huge for our school, huge for the community and huge for our Athletic Department. It’s something we’re really working toward.
TMD: How strong can the team be without Juice Thompson?
DC: There’s a little bit more uncertainty this year just because we don’t have Juice. He was our leader last year. But at the same time, we’ve got seniors now that are really stepping up to lead this team, so we’re confident in them leading this team and really helping us achieve our goals.
BC: Mike Thompson leaving creates opportunities there for people to fill in that gap. Leadership is one of those areas where Mike, he wasn’t that talkative. But in practice, he’s as hard a worker as you could get. And he had so few bad practices in four years, that just by osmosis, you see the way a guy works, and you’re around him, and you watch his behavior, and that rubs off on guys. So Shurna, Crawford, Mirkovic, Curletti, Marcotullio, those veteran guys — there’s an opportunity for all of them.
TMD: What do you see in Michigan this year:
DC: Michigan is tough, they’re tough every year. They’ve got great coaching, they’re bringing in great recruits every year and they’re constantly a threat in the Big Ten. … It’s going to be an experienced team. Losing Darius is tough, but they’re going to be tough this year.
BC: They have a lot of good players. Good coach, good program. It’s a very good team. Michigan has a rich tradition of success in a number of sports, and you have a great coach there, so I think good things are probably to follow.