Growing Pains

Purple Wildcats beat writer Steven Goldstein breaks down why Northwestern could struggle under new coaching guidance in 2013-14.

Bill Carmody won't be pacing the purple-tinted sidelines of Welsh-Ryan Arena next year. After 13 seasons with the Wildcats, there's a visceral reaction that comes with his departure.

It's tough to not get swept up in the emotion of Carmody's firing, which was administered by athletic director Jim Phillips Saturday. Having brought a dormant program to relevancy in one of the country's most competitive conferences, his absence elicits a complete change in Northwestern's culture.

"Northwestern forever will be appreciative to Bill and what he did for our basketball program," Phillips said in a press conference at the Nicolet Football Center. "He did so with class, integrity and always with the best interests of our student-athletes in mind."

But lost in the sentimentality of it all, beyond concerns of how high school commits like Nate Taphorn will react, the Wildcats have the immediate challenge of adjusting from one of the nation's most nuanced offenses and defenses. Facing mammoth expectations after a disappointing 2012-13, the Cats will likely have to ditch the Princeton offense and 1-3-1 zone for an entirely new system.

"Certainly there's some inherent risk," Phillips said. "But it was time for a change."

That change caused Jaren Sina, one of NU's best recruits ever, to ask for release from his letter of intent. Though he will consider NU – along with Alabama and Seton Hall per Jerry Carino of Hoops Haven – the high three-star guard could very well choose a different program.

That change comes as Drew Crawford readies for a return to the court after being shelved all season with a torn labrum. Excelling for four years under Carmody's watch, Crawford will have his work cut out for him with a new coach to guide his first competitive ball in a year.

And that change comes as Alex Olah was finally progressing as the five in Carmody's offense. After laboring through most of the winter, Olah's rebounding and backdoor offense picked up late in the season. Shooting nearly 64 percent from the field in his final two games, the freshman might now have to learn how to become a more traditional post player.

With so much on the line in 2013-14, bringing in a new coach will likely prompt some serious growing pains.

Like all major personnel moves, letting go of Carmody comes with a sense of duality. Northwestern enjoys an exciting opportunity to create a new atmosphere around Welsh-Ryan, but it also loses its comfort zone. With a healthy, talented roster in line for next season, not having that comfort zone could allow the Wildcats to expand to new heights, but it could also cause them fits as they try to transition.

"I think Bill Carmody maybe has the best offensive mind of any coach I've ever seen," said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta in a Big Ten Tournament press conference.

With a group that was never particularly dominant on either end of the court, Carmody employed out-of-the-box systems to keep the Wildcats scoring against tougher opponents. There's no saying that Carmody's replacement can't do the same, if not even better, but there's an inevitable struggle that comes with adapting to a new, perhaps equally out-of-the-box scheme.

"I swear to God the guy is a hell of a coach," added Michigan State's Tom Izzo. "I hope they know what they're doing...it saddens me, sickens me."

Of course, Carmody's successor could very well bring the renewed enthusiasm Phillips and company so desperately need. With a new coach, these Wildcats could be beating Matta and Izzo down the road. It just won't be easy at first.

There's a tendency to reach for the reset button when a change of staff comes. With that reset button comes refreshed interest, and subsequently, higher expectations. Whoever takes over for Carmody will be expected to deliver the elusive NCAA Tournament berth that he could never get his hands on. Fair or not, that expectation will mount quickly, with Crawford, Cobb, and a galvanized fan base all in place for this fall.

In time, Cats fans could look back on Saturday as the day the program took a definitive lurch forward, the day that Northwestern started fresh. But those same fans have to come in understanding that a promising 2013-14 could now become a complete wash out.

"There is a better destination for this basketball program," Phillips said. Just where that destination is next year is anyone's guess.


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