"Bill Carmody is under contract to be our men's basketball coach and has the full support of the athletic department and university," Phillips said in a statement March 22. "We had another solid season competitively, but let me be perfectly clear: We are not satisfied. We are, however, optimistic that our program will continue to get better on the court while always maintaining a standard of excellence in academic success, NCAA compliance, social behavior and the development of young men."
There had been suggestions that Carmody was in jeopardy after the Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament. The program has never reached the NCAAs. Carmody has a 179-191 overall record, 66-136 in the Big Ten.
"We're proud of what we've accomplished these past four years, but we're disappointed in how this season finished," Carmody said in a statement. "Expectations were high and they should continue to be."
The Wildcats collapsed down the stretch this season after a promising start, losing six of their final 10 games, including two of their final three, to end the season with a 19-14 record.
Northwestern lost three of its last five games entering the postseason, including falling to Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament. The loss to Minnesota most likely sealed Northwestern's fate of extending its streak of not landing in the NCAA tourney. The Wildcats bounced back with a 76-74 win over Akron in the NIT, but lost 76-55 in the next round at Washington, ending their season in the state of Washington for the second straight year.
The 21-point loss at Washington further exposed Northwestern's lack of athletic talent, with the Huskies essentially running the Wildcats out of the gym. The Wildcats turned the ball 11 times in the first half, gave up 11 offensive rebounds and were outshot 37-19 by Washington in the opening 20 minutes.
The Wildcats lose all-time leading scorer John Shurna, who scored 24 points against Washington, and forwards Davide Curletti and Luka Mirkovic. But Curletti didn't play extensive minutes and Mirkovic suffered an injury in the second half of the season.
Northwestern returns five of its seven top players in Drew Crawford, Dave Sobolewski, Alex Marcotullio, Reggie Hearn and Jershon Cobb. TCU transfer Nikola Cerina and incoming freshman Alex Olah are skilled big men. Incoming recruits Sanjay Lumpkin and Kale Abrahamson have potential for solid careers. Unlike some of the other Big Ten teams, the Wildcats won't suffer much of a dropoff because they have the returning talent to make another run at reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Thus, Carmody's return makes sense to keep the chemistry intact and allow the Wildcats to perhaps get over that final hurdle and win 20-plus games and make the Big Dance.
--The Wildcats won 19 games in 2011-12 to finish one shy of the school record achieved each of the last two years.
--Northwestern made its fourth consecutive postseason appearance for a school record. Last year, the Wildcats advanced to the NIT quarterfinal round before getting eliminated by Washington State in overtime. The Wildcats have made seven NIT appearances. FINAL RECORD: 19-14, 8-10 in the Big Ten Conference, tied for seventh place with Iowa.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've been to like seven postseasons in the history of the school. And the past four. We were disappointed not to get a (NCAA) bid. I didn't think we deserved it. But the expectations are higher now. That's good. It used to be people didn't care when we lost. Now when we lose, they're upset." -- Northwestern coach Bill Carmody.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THE GOOD NEWS: The Wildcats bring back five of their top seven rotation players next year, including second-leading scorer Drew Crawford. The Wildcats can build off the frustration of closing out the season with two losses in their final three games, including a potential killer in falling to Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament that perhaps ended NU's NCAA tournament chances. The Wildcats have several talented players to help absorb the loss of all-time leading scorer John Shurna. JerShon Cobb emerged into a go-to player late in the season, plus incoming freshmen Alex Olah, Sanjay Lumpkin and Kale Abrahamson give the Wildcats more size. TCU transfer Nikola Cerina is another key addition and Tre Demps will help provide more depth at point guard after sitting out this past season with an injury.
THE BAD NEWS: John Shurna won't be coming back. The heart-and-soul of the program, Shurna was the ideal Wildcat. He played hard all the time, rarely sat on the bench in his final season and leaves as the school's all-time leading scorer.
KEY RETURNEES: Junior guard Drew Crawford formed a solid duo with John Shurna, averaging 16.1 points per game. Crawford becomes a bigger figure next year and carries the burden of leadership. Crawford's scoring and ability to get to the basket meshes well with sturdy point guard Dave Sobolewski. The freshman had a stellar year in starting all 33 games, but got tired at the end of the season due to playing heavy minutes. JerShon Cobb showed his worth to the team when healthy late in the season. Reggie Hearn is a steady guard who plays hard, but must become more of a consistent outside threat.
--Senior F John Shurna finished the Big Ten season averaging 20.0 points per game to claim the conference scoring crown, becoming NU's first scoring leader in conference play since 1951. Two years ago, Shurna finished one point shy of surpassing Ohio State's Evan Turner for the scoring title. Shurna was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection -- the first Wildcat to be named to the first team since Jitim Young in 2004. Shurna topped the Wildcats by averaging 20.0 points and 5.4 rebounds in 33 starts and made 95 3-pointers and 55 blocks and 41 steals.
--Junior G Drew Crawford was a consensus third-team all-Big Ten selection. Crawford finished second on the team in scoring with a per game average of 16.1 points.
--Freshman PG Dave Sobolewski missed his last 12 shots in a three-game stretch of his first season. But Sobolewski played 37-plus minutes for nearly a two-month stretch. He was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team, becoming the fourth NU player to earn the honor in the last seven years. Sobolewski averaged 8.3 points per game and started all 33 games. He made 41 3-pointers and added 121 assists and just 46 turnovers.