It's time for the blogger interview for Northwestern week. I conversed with Loretta8 from the SBnation's excellent Northwestern blog Sippin' on Purple. Be sure to check out the site for news, rational analysis and some occasional humor. That's enough introduction, let's get to the Q and A.
How did the team perform compared to your expectations?
I'd say Northwestern finished about where I expected; getting the elusive NCAA bid was going to be an uphill battle once Kevin Coble quit the team. It's tough to get too excited about the NIT, but at the end of February it looked as if NU would struggle to make any post-season tournament, so finishing the season with a semi-deep run in the NIT was a pleasant surprise.
My personal favorite was the ACC/Big Ten challenge win over Georgia Tech, because Northwestern's offense put on a clinic with 55 first half points and at halftime I got to listen to all the ESPN talking heads pontificate on how impressive NU looked and how this would finally be the year they made the tournament. The talking heads would soon be proven wrong but it was fun while it lasted.
The consecutive wins over Minnesota in March to lock up an NIT bid and the NIT 2nd round road blowout of Boston College were probably the most important wins.
Ugh, so many to choose from. Both the Ohio State losses were brutal, I'd say a tie between those two games. Northwestern really had no business being competitive in either of those games, yet they still were able to take the #1 team down to the wire. Unfortunately, Ohio State's superior talent was enough for them to escape with wins. The loss in the Big Ten tournament was particularly brutal after Purdue and Wisconsin lost later in the day; Northwestern would have had a legitimate shot at winning that tournament had they held on.
Alex Marcotullio's late-season emergence as a defender really surprised me. As a freshman I never thought he'd be much more than a 3-point specialist, as his lack of quickness led to him being abused on the defensive end, but he improved a lot as a sophomore and is now a disruptive defender and general pain in the ass. He's now the kind of player who will get under the skin of opposing players and fanbases, something NU hasn't had for as long as I can remember.
Definitely Kevin Coble quitting the team in July. The whole debacle really made everyone involved look bad and buried NU's NCAA chances before the season even started.
Thompson was pretty much the perfect point guard for Northwestern's Princeton offense: a great 3-point shooter (40% for his career) combined with excellent decision-making (2 to 1 career assist to turnover ratio). He also really elevated his game during Big Ten play this past season and was the only consistent scorer for NU while John Shurna battled various injuries.
As for all-time NU players, it's hard for me to say as I've only followed the team since the late nineties. In that time, I'd certainly rank Evan Eschmeyer and Jitim Young (who were both 1st team All-Big Ten) ahead of him, and you could make arguments for Kevin Coble, Vedran Vukusic and Shurna. Thompson's overall ranking is hurt by his defense; he's definitely been one of the weaker defensive point guards in the conference during his time at Northwestern, which is probably why Bill Carmody often tried to hide him at the bottom of the 1-3-1.
I'd really like to see what John Shurna can do when healthy for an entire season. In non-conference play before he sprained his ankle, Shurna was averaging 24 points per game on 65% from the field and 62% from three, video game numbers. I certainly don't expect him to shoot that absurd a percentage next year, but if he stays healthy he certainly has the potential to be a 20 points per game scorer and an All-Big Ten player.
Of course this is all assuming he doesn't leave for the NBA draft (he is considering it), but he'd be lucky to be a 2nd round pick so I don't see him leaving early.
It's hard to overemphasize just how difficult the Northwestern basketball job is. Northwestern has the worst fan support in the Big Ten, the worst facilities in the Big Ten, the most stringent admissions standards in the Big Ten, and the worst basketball history of any BCS conference team. Carmody deserves credit for building the program up to the level of perennial NIT contender; whether he'll ever get them to the NCAA tournament remains to be seen.
What exactly are the hand gestures that Luka Mirkovic makes sometimes after he hits a three? Are you a fan of the Luka hand gestures?
He's holding up his thumb plus his index and middle fingers to indicate he just hit a three; my understanding is that's the European way to hold up three fingers. I find it amusing when he does this because it annoys the opposing crowd so much, but the problem is Luka is so overly emotional that he lets the crowd get to him and subsequently forces up a terrible shot. If he could just laugh at the booing and not try to shut up everyone in the arena, then his hand gestures would be awesome.
I'm definitely a fan of the facemask, it makes him look a little more intimidating, which is needed because his game doesn't scare anybody.