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Northwestern coach Bill Carmody is the focus before tipoff

Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody talks his players first half against Illinois Welsh-Ryan ArenSaturday Feb. 5 2011 Evanston. | John

Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody talks to his players in the first half against Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011, in Evanston. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Akron at Northwestern

The facts: 8, ESPN2, 560-AM.

Updated: April 14, 2012 8:15AM

A day after Northwestern came up short in its 73rd attempt to earn an NCAA tournament bid, the Wildcats find themselves preparing for the National Invitation Tournament and a first-round game against Akron.

The Zips (22-11) visit Welsh-Ryan Arena on Tuesday. The winner will advance to the second round and play top-seeded Washington or Texas-Arlington.

But coach Bill Carmody’s fate can’t be ignored. If the Wildcats (18-13) lose, athletic director Jim Phillips will have to evaluate Carmody sooner rather than later. Phillips’ policy is to wait until the end of the season to evaluate all his coaches.

And Carmody, who has a year left on his contract, said he hopes he won’t have that meeting any time soon.

“I’ll sit down with my staff and with Jim Phillips, and we’ll just look at everything and see what we can do from a scheduling standpoint that would help us,” Carmody said. “We talk at the end of the year, and I hope it’s not for a couple of weeks.”

The semifinals and finals of the NIT are March 27 and 29 at Madison Square Garden.

The Wildcats are the No. 4 seed, and Akron is a No. 5. Carmody was hoping for a higher seed.

“I was surprised,” Carmody said. “I don’t know; I thought we were a higher seed than that. I thought we were at least a 2-seed.”

This is the fourth consecutive season the Wildcats have made the NIT. Last season was the farthest the program has gone in the postseason, losing in the quarterfinals at Washington State in overtime.

What has been a knock on NU in the past — and what could have hindered its hopes of an NCAA bid this season — is a weak nonconference schedule. Looking ahead to next season already, Carmody said he’s optimistic about whom the Wildcats have lined up. Stanford and Baylor are on the docket for next season.

“We are going to have to look at everything,” Carmody said. “Bad losses didn’t seem to hurt teams, and some had some really bad losses, but they were in December, and it didn’t seem to matter as much. We will definitely look at all aspects of the schedule.”

Carmody also said center Luka Mirkovic will miss the NIT with an ankle injury. The injury has sidelined Mirkovic since Jan. 28, and he has missed 12 games.

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