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Northwestern coach Bill Carmody’s fate will be decided after the season

Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody directs his team first half an NCAA college basketball game against Minnesotfirst round Big Ten

Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody directs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Minnesota at the first round of the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

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Updated: March 27, 2013 6:21AM

Northwestern basketball fans and boosters fall into two categories: those convinced coach Bill Carmody has the program inching in the right direction and those who wonder why it is taking so long to secure a long-awaited NCAA tournament berth.

The middle ground has become no-man’s land, where athletic director Jim Phillips resides. Phillips won’t discuss coaching decisions until he has reviewed the season with each coach, which should begin sooner than expected for the injury-ravaged Wildcats.

This season has turned into a grim reminder of what NU basketball used to be for reasons that have little to do with Carmody.
Injuries (plus a suspension) to key players are mostly responsible for the program enduring five consecutive losses for the first time since 2008. A team with seven remaining scholarship players, including four freshmen, has lost three consecutive games by a combined 80 points.

No wonder the Wildcats’ collective confidence is suffering.

‘‘It’s wavering, but we’re trying to teach them and expose them,’’ Carmody said. ‘‘I don’t know. I have to think just playing and going through this is going to be better for them.’’

Detractors can be defined by one question: Can’t NU do better? Supporters point to a school-record four consecutive National Invitation Tournament appearances and back-to-back 20-victory seasons in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Carmody, who has been with the Wildcats for 13 seasons, has a chance to field the best team in his tenure at the school next season. Meanwhile, his Princeton offense often gives overmatched players a chance, albeit not lately.

‘‘Especially this year, with the injuries we’ve had, the system he has in place really allows us to get some offensive looks we may not be able to get otherwise because of the talent level we have here,’’
senior guard Reggie Hearn said. ‘‘We have some talented guys; I don’t mean to say we’re not talented. At the same time, sometimes we are outmatched physically. But with the offense we run, we get a lot of great looks and opportunities to upset Michigan State, like we did last year, and Minnesota this year.

‘‘The systems we have in place on offense and defense really allow us to be very competitive. and a lot of that is due to coach Carmody.’’

Recruiting will be a significant part of Phillips’ evaluation, despite NU having the worst basketball
facilities in the Big Ten. Jaren Sina, a four-star point guard from New Jersey, is among the best recruits of the Carmody era.

The hope is that after the football team moves into a new athletic facility near the lake, Welsh-Ryan Arena will undergo a makeover. But that’s well into the future.

Meanwhile, Carmody has the respect of rival coaches who must prepare for the Wildcats’ unorthodox style.

‘‘We’ve played Northwestern 12 times. I will be 60 soon, but I will celebrate it as my 72nd birthday,’’ Michigan coach John Beilein said after his team beat NU 68-46 on Jan. 30. ‘‘It has aged me 12 years. Getting ready for them is incredible.’’

The continued development of players during the last three regular-season games and the Big Ten tournament bears watching, if only to dial up or down arguments about whether Carmody deserves another season or whether it’s time for change in Evanston.

‘‘We are focused on the season,’’ injured senior swingman Drew Crawford said. ‘‘We don’t really listen for it, and we don’t hear much of it at all. It’s really not our focus.’’

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