Despite today's setback home loss to Iowa, Northwestern basketball coach Chris Collins is playing spoiler to his Big Ten conference rivals. The "spoiler role" is a shopworn sports media cliche, yes I know that.
However, it also truly what the ‘Cats are doing right now. The Wildcats inflicted critical blows to the NCAA Tournament hopes of the Indiana Hoosiers, (tournament resume/chances) Illinois Fighting Illini (don't feel they have a NCAA resume worth writing about right now, hence no link)and Purdue Boilermakers (updated tourney profile). And that’s all just in the past two weeks.
Here's what the tournament chances and resumes of each of those three traditional B1G powers looks like now: Purdue, Illinois, Indiana. In his debut year of transition, Chris Collins has beaten all three of these programs, who are regular annual attendees to the big dance. As it stands today, the Illini, Hoosiers and Boilermakers are in the same boat as the Wildcats. They all need to either a.) very improbably win about 90% of their remaining games or b.) win the Big Ten Tournament in order qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Northwestern is playing insanely great defense right now. It’s not sexy, no one will ever analogize 2014 NU basketball to Kate Upton or Alison Brie, but people from Chicagoland also beloved the 1983 Chicago White Sox.
They won the AL West division by a record 22 games with a mantra was “Winning Ugly.”
"Look, it’s not pretty we know that, but as long as we can find a way to get the job done, I don’t really care how it happens,” Chris Collins told the media after Northwestern defeated the Purdue Boilermakers 63-60 in double overtime on Tuesday night. It was a college basketball game where neither Big Ten team reached 47 points in regulation, and the winning team shot 16% from three-point-land. That game was part of a 3-1 stretch for Chris Collins and Northwestern with scores that read: W 49-43 over #23 Illinois, L #4 Michigan State 54-40, W Indiana 54-47. Iowa
When Chris Collins says it’s not pretty, he’s not lying. The Purdue game featured offense as pretty as actress Kristen Schaal (Daily Show correspondent/creepy stalker fan from Flight of the Conchords/psycho NBC page from 30 Rock). Watching the Illini game was as much of an aesthetic joy as he Kathy Bates nude scene in About Schmidt.
I hope former basketball coach Paul Westhead, featured in the ESPN 30 for 30: The Guru of Go, doesn't watch this Chris Collins coached Northwestern team. Because it would probably shorten his life 6 months for every game he sees. Dick Bennett and "The Czar of the Telestrator" Mike Fratello would approve though, I'm sure.
I know it sounds like I'm piling on this point. (I am) It’s only because this is not the style Chris Collins will ultimately implement. I'm also belaboring the point to convey just how amazing it is what Collins is doing up in Evanston right now. Chris Collins will run an up tempo motion based offense once he gets more of his own players into the Northwestern program. Right now, Collins has to run an offense with the players of Bill Carmody, who were recruited to NU to play the Princeton offense. Switching from the Princeton to the system of Chris Collins is a very big transition. In the words of Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo “it’s like going from the Wishbone to the Pro Set in football.”
Neither JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps are 1984 Magic Johnson, with the ability to run L.A. Lakers “Showtime,” bringing the Great Western Forum into Welsh-Ryan Arena.
“I think coaching is being successful with the hand your dealt,” Chris Collins said.
So this effective, but painful to watch brand of ball is not here to stay and not indicative of the NUera of Chris Collins.
“My personality is to run and shoot and score, get up and down, but that’s not a formula that’s going to be good for this group. And my job as a coach is to put these guys in a situation that’s going to be successful. To me that’s the essence of what coaching is. But I’m trying to put these guys in a position to win in this league and we’ve kind of found a formula that works for us.”
Which is what makes Collins' achievements so special, he's winning by going completely against what he wants to do. And he's doing it short-handed. Other teams in the league run 8 or 9 deep, while Collins and NU really only play 7 guys for substantial minutes.
"Our margin for error is razor thin," Collins said after the Iowa blowout today.
Purdue went 23 minutes last night with one field goal. ONE FIELD Goal, that’s more than a half of a college basketball game.
"They're physical. They body you, they're not going to give you space" said Iowa's Fran McCaffery on Northwestern defense
"Chris Collins has a plan, and a mindset that is really impressive," he continued.
The heart and soul of this team is freshman forward Sanjay Lumpkin. He is the proverbial guy who "doesn't make the stat sheet," but makes a lot of important contributions. "He's our toughness, he really is. And to say that about a freshman is really a unique thing," Chris Collins said.
Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. An MBA and Fulbright scholar in media studies, he’s also an analyst for multiple news talk radio stations across the country; with regular weekly segments on NBC and Fox Sports Radio. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@paulmbanks)
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