Bill Carmody: Wildcats will surprise

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Entering his 13th season, Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said Thursday he doesn't feel any extra pressure for the Wildcats to reach their first-ever NCAA tournament this season.

The Wildcats just missed the tournament last season. They were invited to their fourth consecutive NIT and finished the season with a 19-14 overall record and 8-10 in the Big Ten. Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips gave Carmody a vote of confidence shortly after the season.

"I have an endorsement from our athletic director and our president, so I feel fine," Carmody said at the Big Ten basketball media day. "There's always pressure to win. You always want to win and keep the program where it is. Now you've got to move forward, not just incrementally, you have to make a jump here. Even though you lose (John) Shurna, people say, 'Whoa, that was the year.' But I think you'll be surprised with our guys. We got some decent newcomers."

Carmody believes Northwestern is on the cusp of the NCAA tournament within the next few seasons.

"It's not frustration," Carmody said of not reaching the tournament. "Maybe back then it was, but you move forward. I just think, look, the program has gotten much, much better over the last four years, and we'll get into the tournament this year or next year or maybe this year and not next year or the year after. I think the program is stable. It's very competitive. It's stable, so we'll be in the mix every year. We're getting better and better players, and better players make better coaches."

Carmody took over the program from Kevin O'Neill in 2000. The Wildcats went 5-25 in O'Neill's final season. Since Carmody was hired, the Wildcats have had six overall winning seasons and reached a school-record four NITs. They have struggled in the Big Ten, with their best finish in conference being fifth place in 2003-04.

Although Northwestern graduated Shurna, who is now with the New York Knicks, Carmody appears to have his deepest team since taking over the program.

The Wildcats return four starters in senior swingman Drew Crawford, who earned third-team Big Ten honors last season, sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski, senior guard Alex Marcotullio and senior guard Reggie Hearn.
Senior forward Jared Swopshire, a transfer from Louisville, redshirt junior forward Nikola Cerina, a transfer from TCU, redshirt freshman point guard Tre Demps, who sat out with an injury last season, and 7-foot freshman center Alex Olah are also expected to receive playing time.

"Right now, I can play 10 guys," Carmody said. "If we had a scrimmage tomorrow night, I'd be comfortable with 10 guys. The freshmen, a couple of the guys, (Sanjay) Lumpkin, (Kale) Abrahamson, they have to get their feet wet a little bit, but they're good players."

Olah, Cerina and Swopshire could also give Carmody his most talented frontcourt and greatly assist with Northwestern's rebounding problems in recent seasons.

"People say about our defense, 'You have to improve that,'" Carmody said. "'Your offense is fine and all.' A lot of times it's on the backboards. You play defense for 20 seconds, the ball goes on the boards, you're fine, they miss, but they get the rebound. So I think that's going to help. Plus, the addition of Swopshire and Cerina, who can both rebound, that's definitely going to help us out."