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    Catching Up With The 'Cats

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    THE PLAN: The 'Cats practiced Saturday for their Jan. 1 date with Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. They treated it as a game-week Tuesday. On Tuesday, when they regroup next, they will work as if it was a game-week Wednesday, and then their Thursday practice will simulate a game-week Thursday. "So we'll have everything (the game plan) in by the time the guys go home (for their holiday break)," explained Pat Fitzgerald.

    LIVE AND LEARN: This is the fifth straight year Fitzgerald has guided the 'Cats into the postseason, a streak that began with their appearance in the 2008 Alamo Bowl. "I'm a little more comfortable in the routine," he said when asked the difference in him between then and now. "My first one, like a lot of things, the first time you do it, you look back and go, 'What the heck was I thinking there?' So we've definitely tweaked our plan as I look at what we did initially. It's probably a little bit jaded by what I experienced as a player. Barney (Gary Barnett) had us doing two-a-days. That stunk. That stunk."

    In Pasadena or here, we asked with an eye on the '96 Rose Bowl?

    "Here. I wasn't practicing. (He was sidelined by an injury.) I was on the steak-and-chicken tour. That was ridiculous. But my senior year, Tennessee (in the Citrus Bowl), we're watching Peyton (Manning) and the Vols in helmets, and we're going two-a-day practices. We almost had a mutiny. So we're going to have fun. Especially with playing on Jan. 1, that gives you, number one, a lot of time to develop the young guys. Then number two, from what we've learned, we hope we have a plan to peak on game day. Not do too much too soon, and really have fun in what we're doing."

    Finding His Niche, And Quickly

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    Now his name is tied to that of the acclaimed Drake Dunsmore, the accomplished superback whose 'Cat career ended just a fall ago. Despite rumblings of this connection throughout the year, it was solidified one Saturday at Michigan State when true freshman Dan Vitale caught nine passes for 110 yards, running his rookie reception totals to 21 catches for 206 yards to outstrip Dunsmore's numbers (11 for 141) when he was so young. But, as Pat Fitzgerald likes to remind us, stats are for loser, so let us search elsewhere for links that bond this pair. "There's a lot of similarities," superbacks coach Bob Heffner helpfully says.

    "The main two things are what good people they are and how much they like playing football. Those are similarities right there. After that, yeah, there's some differences. Drake did certain things, Dan does certain things. But the bottom line is they have those two qualities, and if you get a good person and football is really important to him and he likes playing ball and likes being coached, then your job's pretty easy."

    The Morning After - UIC

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    NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes a look back at Northwestern's 50-44 defeat at the hands of UIC on Saturday.

    * There were the turnovers, 16 turnovers in all. "That's just too many. That's just too many (against an opponent) that's picking you up at the top of the key. There's no pressure, no real pressure," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody would say.

     

    There were the Arctic field-goal shooting percentages, just 34.9 overall (15-of-43) and an even worse 25 on threes (four-of-16). "We were getting decent looks tonight," forward Drew Crawford would say. "But like coach said, some of the shots we normally hit as a team, they just weren't falling tonight. That's tough because we were playing good defense."

     

    There were, finally, those continuous failures at the free throw line, those 10 misses on 20 attempts. "Free throws are just mental," point Dave Sobolewski would say. "Everyone's just got to get in the gym and start taking more and more."

     

    There, in the proverbial nutshell, are the reasons the 'Cats fell by a half-dozen to UIC Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. "Our shots weren't falling and if you have turnovers in the 'teens, it's not a good night," Sobolewski would also say with succinct accuracy.

     

     

    * But nothing, of course, is really that simple, and so here let us recall a comment Carmody made after his team lost to Maryland last Tuesday evening. "We've been struggling a little bit to get what I call the pulse, the tempo of the game," he said that night when considering his team's offense. Then Saturday, on the same subject, he avowed, "I think they know it. They learn it, they have it. It's not that. The guys know what to do. But some of the passes are late, behind guys."

     

    The 'Cat offense, in fact, is very much a work-in-progress right now. At its best, when it is functioning smoothly, it is filled with sharp cuts and hard screens and brisk ball movement, and calls up memories of a beautifully-choreographed dance. But recently, against both the Terps and the Flames, it more resembled (to mix metaphors) a  powerful engine with a couple blown spark plugs. "We definitely need an injection of offense," even Carmody would admit on Saturday. "Maybe (freshman forward) Kale (Abrahamson) can do that. Maybe we can do some thing. They're smothering these two guys"--and here he nodded toward Crawford and Sobolewski, who were sitting next to him on the interview stage--"and we need somebody else out there to take away some of the heat. They're both competitors, and I think they both feel it's on their shoulders. Which I like, OK. But I've got to give them some help."

     

    "Yeah, just because we're the guys with experience," Crawford would later say when asked if he did indeed feel it was on his shoulders. "We've been there before. We've been in a lot of tight games. So, yeah. That's how we want it. There's a lot of pressure on us as guys who have played a lot of minutes. Sometimes it's tough, but you have to grind through it and make plays when you need to."

     

    And does he feel smothered, as Carmody noted?

     

    "A little bit. UIC did a good job. They're a pretty tough and sound defensive team. So we've just got to get everyone going. Everyone's got to be on the same page."

     

     

    * Last Tuesday, against the Terps, the 'Cats shot early (in the shot clock) and often (25 threes) from the outside. On Saturday, at the start, they worked inside-out, hoping to get some help from 7-foot freshman Alex Olah. "We wanted to see if we could get our center to be more aggressive. So we put a few things in there for him and threw it down to him, and I thought he was. He became a little more aggressive in there," Carmody would explain. "It's going to take time with Al, but I saw some pretty good things. He got a few rebounds, blocked a couple shots. We just have to get him to where he's really comfortable down there and aggressive because people are playing our guys pretty tight, these two guys especially, and there's room for somebody to do something down there and not just be a facilitator."

     

    Olah would do a little something down there, grabbing six rebounds and hitting three of his seven shots for six points in his 28 minutes. But MIke Turner, his replacement, had two turnovers and one rebound and no points in his dozen minutes, and there was also this. The usually-reliable Jared Swopshire, the grad student transfer from Louisville, missed the only four shots he took and ended with a bagel; the 'Cat bench, so recently thought to be one of its strengths, chipped in only one field goal (a three by Abrahamson); and through this game's last 13:45, the only 'Cat to score a field goal was the indomitable Crawford.

     

     

    * Still, despite all the turnovers and missed free throws and errant shots, the 'Cats were down just two with under 2:30 remaining. Now Crawford, who had carried them, missed a turnaround jumper from the left elbow and then Swopshire missed a three from the left wing. Underneath, in the scrum, 'Cat Reggie Hearn had prime position, and after he was fouled on the rebound by Flame Daniel Barnes, he made a pair to tie this one up at 44 at 2:09.

     

    Sobolewski, whose will is palpable, now forced a Flame turnover, and if there was one interlude on which this game finally turned, here it came. It began with Crawford facing off against Marc Brown, his nemesis all day; with Crawford working him patiently and intelligently and purposefully; with Crawford finally rising for a 12-foot jump shot from along the right baseline that looked to be good before rimming out. But again, down low, there was Hearn with position, and here he grabbed the rebound and went back up clean for a layup and missed. "At the end there, Drew had one hanging on the rim, Reggie got a nice rebound, put it over. So we're playing with a little bad luck, I think," Carmody would later rue.

     

    Now it was the Flames chance to grab the lead and they went for it with a three, which missed. But the player with position now was Josh Crittle, their center, who grabbed the rebound and made his layup, and after Olah missed a short hook to tie, this one was effectively over. For now the 'Cats started to foul and the Flames, who would end the day 14-of-15 from the line, made their free throws.

     

     

    * Minutes later, when he walked into the interview room, Sobolewski was grim faced. The skin under his right eye was red, as if it had just absorbed a series of stiff jabs. Crawford, too, was tight-lipped, his own face a mask of disappointment. When he sat down he rolled his head, as if he were trying to wake himself from a bad nightmare.

     

    Both would soon answer the questions asked of them. But their portraits spoke louder than any of their words.


    Maryland: The Morning After

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    NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski takes a look back at the Northwestern men's basketball team's 77-57 loss to Maryland on Tuesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

    Let's delve in analogy to start and think of Maryland, which visited Welsh-Ryan on Tuesday night, as the heavy hitter, that boxer who can reach back and load up and deliver that blow that separates his opponent from his senses. The 'Cats, in contrast, should be viewed as that clever will-o-the-wisp, the slick tactician with the style and the guile and the means of spinning that heavy hitter, of frustrating that heavy hitter, of cutting up that heavy hitter, of robbing that heavy hitter of his legs and finally leaving him gasping for air.

     

    "We knew coming in they were going to be big. We knew they were bigger than us. That was a focus of ours," 'Cat guard Reggie Hearn would say, and that was not all. The Terps also led the ACC in rebounding margin (+15.2) and blocked shots (5.8 pg) and featured Alex Len, a 7-foot-1 center from the Ukraine who himself was averaging 15.6 points and 8.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.

     

    "But I thought if we ran through our stuff, we'd get some easy baskets," 'Cat coach Bill Carmody would say. "I thought if we made them guard us for extended periods on the clock--not that we were going to slow it down or anything--but make them guard us. They had some guys I thought we could take advantage of with some movement, and I don't feel we did that. I just thought we were a little too quick on the trigger."

     

    So the 'Cats, to wrap of this allegorical foray, chose to punch it out with the heavy hitter, which is always a mistake for a will-o-the-wisp dependent on wiles. That was emphatically proven when they fell to the Terps by 20.

     

     

    ******

     

               

    Stats never tell the whole story. But they can provide a broad outline, and so let us consider a few. The Terps corralled a dozen offensive rebounds to the 'Cats four, the Terps collected 47 total rebounds to the 'Cats 19, the Terps finished with a dozen second-chance points to the 'Cats seven. "It all goes back to rebounding and it doesn't all fall on the bigs. It falls on the guards just as much," point Dave Sobolewski would later say. "The guards have to stick their nose in there and see if they can pull out some long rebounds or rebounds that hit the floor. It was just a horrible effort on the boards by the whole squad."

     

    Their inside dominance is even more pronounced when parsing just how the Terps put up their 77 points. Fourteen of them came at the line, 15 of them came on three-point shots and a full 44 of them came down low, in the paint. Add those numbers up and you see they had just two other field goals, field goals that came on mid-range jumpers.

     

    Then there was the 'Cats own offense, which is so dependent on that mantra to make shots. Here they did not, finishing just 34 percent overall (18 of 53) and 24 percent on three-point attempts (six-of-25). "We didn't take advantage of our speed and make them work on the defensive end," Hearn would say, echoing his coach. "If those shots go in, it's a different story. But they didn't, so it probably would have been better if we'd run our offense more and make them work on the defensive end."

     

    "We're at our best when we're moving from one thing to the next, and our offense is moving, and we're cutting hard," picked up Sobolewski. "I felt that in the middle part of the game we got a little stagnant. We weren't cutting as hard as we should have been, and that's when it all went downhill."

     

    "I just thought we were shooting the ball too quickly," Carmody said once again. "We tried to address that a few times, but it didn't really take. When you have a pretty decent shooting team and you're open, you feel pretty good about that. But they just weren't going down."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    It was an especially-painful evening for the senior forward Drew Crawford, the 'Cat leader who finished with only 10 points while going four-of-14 overall and just one-of-five on his threes. He was not made available afterward in the interview room. But when asked if his star might be struggling to live up to his billing as the 'Cats man, Carmody said, "There might be something to that. He's definitely pressing. He's a good player. He'll break out of it. But right now he's definitely pressing."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    Still, despite all of that, the 'Cats were down only two when the second half opened, and when Crawford drove the right baseline for a layup just 15 seconds into it, this one was tied at 28. But now their defense, which has been their calling card this season, buckled as the Terps attacked it down low. They got a layup and then, after a Crawford miss, another layup. Now came an offensive rebound by Jared Swopshire and one more Terp layup, a Sobolewski three and a Terp dunk.

     

    Here the pattern had been set and, when the first TV time out came at 14:21, this was the result. The Terps had scored on nine straight possessions, and every one of their baskets had come on a dunk or a layup, and like that their two-point halftime lead was up to 13. The 'Cats tried to slow them here, tried to do that by switching to their 1-3-1 zone out of the time out, but in the next five minutes the Terps shot them out of it with the work of Logan Aronhalt, who drained three threes over that stretch.

     

    After the last of them, at 9:44, the Terps were up 17, and never again would the 'Cats get closer than 16. "Give them credit," Carmody later said. "They came in here, pretty much an even game the first half, then they really stuck it to us in the second half."

     

     

    ******

     

     

    It is still November and this was just the seventh game on the 'Cat schedule. But later, in the interview room, Sobolewski was asked if it had been one of those proverbial statement games, one of those games that allows his team to get a measure of itself. "No it wasn't," he quickly said, bringing a measure of reality to the moment. "It was a November game against an ACC team. It's not the end of the season. We've got a lot of work to do, for sure. We're not going to stop working. If anything, this will make us hungrier to improve everyday in practice. So. It was nothing more than a loss in November."


    Upon Further Review: Illinois

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    Some seven minutes still remained in the 'Cats' Saturday dismissal of Illinois when Stacy Fitzgerald, Pat Fitzgerald's wife, prepared a chili dog and exited her box high above Ryan Field. Unfolding below her was a rarity for a group nicknamed the Cardiac 'Cats, who routinely find themselves involved in tension-filled cliff hangers, and now she was going to help celebrate a rout, which her husband's staff has come to call "hot dog games." She would celebrate it by going to that box holding the 'Cat coaches and delivering that chili dog to defensive backs coach Jerry Brown, who was free to relax as this affair meandered toward its end.

    Later, after he had descended from his perch and jogged out to the field, Brown was stopped and asked about the moment. He smiled broadly and then he said, "Yeah, I had a little snack."

    Bo Cisek, the 6-foot-2, 290-pound senior best known as the protector on the punt team, got two carries at running back. He fumbled once and netted a negative three yards. Redshirt freshman Doug Diedrick, a reserve superback, got three carries at running back. He picked up a dozen yards. Redshirt freshman Zack Oliver, the third quarterback on the depth chart, entered the game with more than eight minutes remaining, and five minutes later he was relieved by P.J. Carollo, a walk-on. "We tried to get everybody in," Pat Fitzgerald would later say. "I don't think we accomplished that. It drives me crazy at the end of games (since) you try and make sure everybody plays in games like that. But that's a very, very good problem."

    Those are some other snapshots that help explain just how thoroughly the 'Cats manhandled their in-state rival on Senior Day.

    Illinois -- and Senior Day -- Friday Primer

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    On the sideline, he high-fives his players and body-bumps his players and reflects a roiling torrent of emotions. That is why we found the following exchange revelatory. It belies that public image and gives a glimpse at the inner-workings of Pat Fitzgerald, who was asked this about his team's Saturday meeting with Illinois at Ryan Field. Since it is Senior Day, since the opponent is their in-state rival, since the game itself has bowl implications, must he do something to make sure his players are not too amped up? "Nah, because I think when the ball goes in the air all that stuff doesn't matter. All that false bravado, that's all it is," he began in response.

    "The guys have been pretty even-keeled now. We've played a lot of big games here this year, and some we've played really well in. They've all been big games. We're the only school that played three BCS nonconference opponents. Those are big games. Two of those teams are bowl eligible. So we've been in a lot of games and this team's grown up and matured. I see a kind of calmness to them that I like. It's a little bit beyond their years. I think it's because of the seniors. They've done a nice job."

    Is that business-like approach something he wants?

    Men's Basketball News and Notes

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    Northwestern Names Team Captains

     

    Northwestern's three seniors who are in their fourth year with the program have been named the team's captains for the 2012-13 season. Drew Crawford, Reggie Hearn and Alex Marcotullio have been named the tri-captains. It's the first time since the 1993-94 season that the Wildcats have had three captains when Patrick Baldwin, Todd Leslie and Kevin Rankin each served in the role.

     

    Crawford, Hearn and Marcotullio have combined to lead Northwestern to 62 victories to date in their careers, a total that is closing in on the school record of 76 amassed by last year's senior class.

     

    "All three of those guys have dedicated themselves to moving the program forward," Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody said. "They've demonstrated their leadership abilities throughout the summer and fall and into the first month of the season. They've set a great example to all of our younger players."

     

     

    Moore Returns to Northwestern

     

    Fans may have noticed a familiar face has returned to the Northwestern bench this season. Craig Moore, a 2009 graduate of NU and one of the most prolific 3-point shooters in Big Ten history, is serving as a volunteer special assistant for the program.

     

    Moore played professionally in Romania and Holland following his collegiate career. He notched 320 3-point field goals during his time as a Wildcat, a total that ranks fifth in Big Ten history and first in Northwestern annals.

     

    In his current role with the program, he'll be responsible for assisting Director of Operations Joe Kennedy and Assistant Director of Operations Mike Pepple in various administrative tasks as well as video exchange with other schools.

     

    "I'm extremely grateful to Coach Carmody and to Northwestern for the opportunity to return to my alma mater," Moore said. "This was a terrific place to be as a student-athlete and I'm thrilled to be back and help out the program in any way possible."

     

     

    Shurna to Play Professionally in France

     

    Former Wildcat Michael Thompson will have a familiar competitor in France's top professional league this winter. John Shurna, a first-team All-Big Ten selection and an honorable mention Associated Press All-American last season, has signed on to play for SIG Strasbourg. Strasbourg is located in eastern France along the border of Germany.

     

    Shurna, Northwestern's all-time leading scorer, played in the NBA Summer League with the Atlanta Hawks' squad before participating in training camp with the New York Knicks.

     

    Thompson, a 2011 Northwestern grad, is playing for ASVEL in Villeurbanne, France. His teammates include recent Notre Dame standout Tim Abromaitis. The team is off to a 5-2 start and Thompson is averaging 12.0 points and 3.6 assists per contest.

     

     

    Upon Further Review: Michigan State

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    * Running back Venric Mark sat out the second half of the 'Cats' Saturday win over Michigan State and quarterback Kain Colter was just a part-time combatant in that affair. But Monday, while looking ahead to his team's imminent fray with Illinois, Pat Fitzgerald said, "We expect both Venric and Kain to play. We'll see how it goes practice-wise. But we expect them to play this week."

    But he was not as optimistic when it came to corner Nick VanHoose, who has missed the last three games. "I'd say right now the answer would be no, I don't expect him to play," he said. "But we'll see as the week progresses. He's close. He's real close. We'll see."

    * Fitzgerald did not divulge the injury that sidelined Mark. But he did say the decision to sit him was collectively made by him and his coaching staff. Then he went on to tell this tale: "I talked to him (Mark) at halftime. I said, 'Listen, I want you to take your stuff off. I want you to take a shower. In the best interest for you not only this week, but long term, I'm going to shut you down for the game.' He wasn't very happy. But his response in the second half was unbelievable. He was ridiculous. I had to push him back on the sideline. We gave him our Twelfth Man Award for his juice and passion on the sideline on Saturday. I'd much rather see him scoring touchdowns, don't get me wrong. But I thought the way he responded was pretty spectacular. This morning I said to him I'm going to be asked if you're going to play, and he's like, 'Absolutely.' Take that for what it's worth."

    A Week In, Wildcats Still Learning as They Go

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    The basketball 'Cats ended the first week of their season Sunday with their third straight win, a 80-53 laugher over Fairleigh Dickinson. NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski offers up some notes, quotes and observations culled along the way...

     

     

    * Drew Crawford, Reggie Hearn, Dave Sobolewski and Alex Marcotullio are the only names on the roster who have played for the 'Cats. It was by design, then, that the Knights were preceded on the schedule by Mississippi Valley State (last Thursday) and Texas Southern (last Tuesday). "We tried to get some games where we thought we could get some minutes for some guys," explained 'Cat coach Bill Carmody. He meant guys like Kale Abrahamson, a 6-foot-7 freshman forward who can shoot; and 7-foot freshman center Alex Olah, who starts; and 6-foot-9 junior forward Nikola Cerina, a transfer from TCU who limped off after twisting his right ankle on Sunday.

     

    "We knew we'd have to play them and it's sort of paid off a little bit," Carmody would go on. "The other night (against Mississippi Valley) I didn't do what I wanted to do with Kale (who played only two minutes against the Delta Devils). But I wanted to get Kale in there, I wanted to get Nico in there, I wanted to get big Al in there. Now Sanjay (Lumpkin, another freshman) hasn't played (because of illness), but he was playing the best of them all. This will set him back a little bit. But that's what you have to do. You have to look at your team and see if you can schedule the way you want to. You can't always. But it's working out pretty nicely."

     

    * Carmody did not mention the best newcomer to his program, the forward Jared Swopshire, and there was a reason for that. He is a grad student who transferred in after playing four years at Louisville and so he has plenty of experience, experience that he has manifested by slipping seamlessly into a starting role. "He's a basketball player," Carmody says of him by way of compliment, and here is what he means by that. Against Mississippi Valley, Swopshire had a steal, two assists, six rebounds and 22 points while going 7-of-11overall, 5-of-6 on his threes and 3-of-4 from the line.

     

    "He's a versatile guy," Carmody said of him that night. "I don't know the stats. But he did a lot in every category, in all the categories, including turnovers (he had five). No. He makes big plays. He made some nice passes. And there's a calmness about him that I like and I think is good for the team."

     

    * Speaking of passes: Through three games, the 'Cats have 89 field goals and 73 assists. This proves they are sharing the ball. They also have just 33 turnovers. This proves they are taking care of the ball.

     

    * Sobolewski, the point, has 21 assists and just two turnovers. This was expected. But, even before the year began, Carmody said, "He's not that little point guard from the '60s anymore who just passes the ball, cuts and isn't heard from again. He's shooting more. There's been development there." That development wasn't obvious as he went 0-for-8 through the first 71 minutes of the season. But then, with 8:54 remaining against Mississippi Valley, he hit a layup, and now he followed that with a three, a pair of free throws, another layup, another three, and another free throw.

     

    "That guy can shoot," Carmody later said and then, as proof, offered this. The 'Cats chart all shots during practice and, after a month, Sobolewski had the highest percentage of them all.

     

     

    * Crawford was brilliant in game one, saddled by foul trouble in game two and average in game three. But his great skills are obvious and, says Carmody, "I'm not worried about him."

     

     

    * Carmody references Malcolm Galdwell's "Outliers: The Story of Success" when discussing Hearn, the third of the returning 'Cats. In that book the author claims that the key to success in any field is practicing a specific act for 10,000 hours. "He's played that," the coach then says of his guard. "He's played a lot of basketball, you know. He's just played a lot. He's good. He's versatile. He's played a lot so he's used to different situations. And he's a competitor."

     

    * Look for either Hearn or Swopshire to be the 'Cats defensive stopper.

     

    * Marcotullio, the last of the returnees, has a balky back and so has gotten limited reps in practice. "But," Carmody said Sunday, "I'm going to get him in there a little more. I've just been putting him in with (the young) guys to teach them. But he can play with the good guys. He'll be Sobo's sub."

     

    * Still, after just three games and with so many new faces surrounding him, Carmody still does not have a set rotation.

     

    * Alex Olah, the second newcomer in the starting lineup, is from Romania, and so it is no surprise that he exhibits some of that versatility that characterizes European big men. He has hit a three. He has hit a turnaround jumper from the foul line. He has hit some short hooks down low. He has handed out eight assists. He has taken off after Sobolewski corralled a rebound, run the floor with his point and accepted a pass for a layup.  "He can run," Carmody says when asked about that last play. "He's not used to doing it consistently. But if he can run, he's going to get four points on layups. Then you don't worry so much. You come in at halftime, you've got four points, two foul shots, you feel OK. To steal a couple along the way, it relaxes him."

     

    "He's going to make some layups we haven't had the last few years. Guys missed them," he says of Olah's work down low. "He's capable of doing some things right now, but I'm hoping it grows and gets better. But it's going to be two steps up, one back, like that."

     

    * Cerina, the transfer from TCU, saw his first action on Sunday and got in only 10 minutes before turning his ankle. But in that short span he dropped two of his three shots, went one-of-two from the line, collected seven rebounds and displayed a ruggedness inside that will serve the 'Cats well in the rugged Big Ten. "He likes it down there," Carmody says of him. "Some guys don't like touching skin-on-skin down there, it's sweaty and all. But he likes that. A hard worker. He was getting very good position, really deep. So I hope it's not a severe sprain. He needs some minutes to get back in the swing."

     

    * Abrahamson, the last of the newcomers to get significant minutes, made his splash in the opener against Texas Southern, whom he scorched for 15 points in just 19 minutes. But two nights later he was on the court for just those two minutes. "I probably had a quick hook with him," Carmody later said. "But a couple things on offense, he just didn't do. Then he had a bad defensive possession, so I decided to go with the veterans."

     

    He was back in the rotation on Sunday, getting 19 minutes against the Knights, but here he looked more like a freshman, missing four of his five three-point attempts and putting up just nine points. "He's just got to get experience doing stuff," Carmody said of him later. "He can't wait to get the ball and shoot the ball. I like him to shoot the ball too. But let it come to you a little bit more...He just has to have time. But he's going to help us."

     

    * It should be noted that Abrahamson's funky jumper calls up memories of John Shurna's. "I've heard a few things like that," Abrahamson said when asked about that. "I try to stay away from comparisons like that at this point. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill. But, yeah. They say my shot looks like his and I tend to disagree. But it's an honor to be compared to him in any way."

     

    * The 'Cats played strictly man-to-man defense through their first three games. But when asked about the gnarly zone they often employ, Carmody smiled and said: "When we need it."

     

    * And finally, Carmody, on what he has learned this week: "We're sort of like a team in progress. I told the team that. Even though we have some veteran guys, we bring in some other guys. First half there, we had three freshmen in there at one time. So there's going to be ups-and-downs, obstacles along the way like the other night. What can you learn from them? Can you get better the next game? But I like the energy level and I think they're all determined to contribute. You can see. It's not a five-or-six man rotation. So if a guy's not feeling it that day, you can get him out for a few minutes. Then he can sit, catch his wind, look at it differently. I think that's going to help us down the road."

    Michigan State Friday Primer

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    "WE'RE CLOSE:" Pat Fitzgerald has offered this assurance often this season. He did it again last Monday, some 46 hours after his team's enervating loss at Michigan, and he did it once more on Tuesday, just after his 'Cats completed their morning practice. It was then that we asked, "To what?"

    "Being a championship team. That's what we're close to," he said with no hesitation. "We're going to win football games. I'm not worried about that. But we're close to being a championship team, and that's our expectation. I'll keep saying it until we get there. And then, when we get there, I'll say we've got to start back over. That's what our expectations are. That's what we aspire to be. Gone are the days of maybe-we'll-win, gone are the days of maybe-we'll-play-in-the-post-season. Our internal expectations are to be champions.

    "That's not necessarily going to happen for us this year in the Big Ten. But when I say that, that's what I mean. We're close. Do you get tired of saying it? Yeah, you do. But it's a journey, it's a grind, and I think we're building it. We appreciate the support of the administration giving us the time to build it. We appreciate the effort and the fight our young men are giving to get us there. Got to coach them better. We've got to get over the hump and break that door down. You know. I think there's 12 teams that have the same kind of goal set. If it was just about us, it'd be a lot easier. But it's not."