The Big Ten Network hosted a luncheon Tuesday to preview the Big Ten Tournament, which starts Thursday at the United Center. Naturally, most of the talk centered on regular-season conference champion Indiana and the teams with the best chance of upending the No. 3 Hoosiers starting Thursday.
Afterwards, BTN analysts Jim Jackson and Shon Morris discussed the future of Northwestern basketball and coach Bill Carmody.
"It's a complicated deal because it's hard to judge," Jackson said. "He had some big wins this year --- Minnesota at home, Illinois on the road. Look at the injuries he had to deal with. Three or four of your best players are on the sideline. There's history in regards to Bill not making the tournament but the last two years you were on the cusp of really doing something and something was there to take away from that. This year, it was the injuries."
Northwestern plays Iowa in the first-round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday night at approximately 8 p.m. If the Wildcats lose, Carmody can expect to meet with athletics director Jim Phillips to discuss his future sometime this weekend.
Nobody knows which way Phillips will go. An upset of Iowa wouldn't hurt Carmody's cause but a blowout loss might.
Jackson is right about one thing. It is a complicated issue. You have to spend time around the program to truly understand it.
I hate to keep harping on facilities, but the difference between Northwestern and the rest of the league is already a chasm and it keeps growing every year with no end in site.
Completing the new athletics complex near the lake is the first order of business. It could easily be eight years or longer before basketball facilities get desperately-needed upgrades.
Some Northwestern fans don't fully comprehend how far the Wildcats lag behind because they don't see the state-of-the-art facilities at other schools.
"The best way to put it is if facilities is an arms race, Northwestern basketball right now is fighting a nuclear war with a cap gun," said BTN analyst Shon Morris, the 10th leading scorer in school history. "That's as simple as I can put it. The newest addition to the league, Nebraska, their facilities are off the charts. Everybody is investing in facilities and I would like to think it's not an important thing but it's very important. Everybody thinks about the fan experience but the ultimate consumer when you're building something like that is the 18-year old kid who is deciding where he's going to go. They want to see where they are going to be playing and where they will be training and if you're stuff isn't even on the lead lap, that's a lot to overcome."
Jackson knows about Big Ten recruiting. Not only did he star at Ohio State but his son Traevon is finishing up his sophomore year at Wisconsin.
"You have to have a commitment in terms of facilities if you want to go get recruits," Jackson said. "It's not just the arena. You can add some amenities in the arena and change some things but the practice facility is so critical when you go out to recruit because that's where most of the guys spend the majority of their time and if you don't have those kinds of things you're not going to get the kind of players you want to attract."
When asked how a coach could overcome a lack of facilities, Jackson said: "You can't."
Morris said the Wildcats could finally make the tournament next year if incoming recruit Jaren Sina remains loyal and senior Drew Crawford returns. There's no guarantee Sina would come to Evanston if Carmody is fired. Crawford could decide to play elsewhere since he will have aready graduated and therefore could transfer as a graduate student without sitting out a year.
"If everything holds form with recruits and we will all need to see what that might be, they have a chance in the league, with the other players who might leave early, they would certainly be in the discussion for being in the upper four or five in the league or in that middle part that would give you a chance to get into the tournament depending once again on how they schedule their nonconference games," said Morris, who was a longtime Northwestern athletics department employee until last September. "If everyone were to come back and everyone were to stay healthy, with a couple question marks with [JerShon] Cobb and Crawford, you'd have a chance to have a pretty good ballclub in a league that is going to be very, very good but chances are not as outstanding from top to bottom as it is this year."