If Bill Carmody is feeling the heat, he did a good job of hiding it.

He's back for a 13th season as Northwestern's coach after his future appeared to be in doubt, and the Wildcats are still searching for that elusive NCAA tournament bid.

That's all that matters. And, maybe, this.

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

Carmody's future was the source of heavy speculation and passionate debate after last season. The Wildcats went 19-14 and reached the NIT for the fourth straight year, an unprecedented run for Northwestern.

So what was the problem? Well, you know.

Northwestern, the host of the first Final Four, remained among the handful of schools without an NCAA appearance, and to critics, Carmody had enough chances to fix that. Supporters could point out that with four straight winning seasons, the Wildcats are in the most successful stretch in program history.

Either way, Carmody is back, and Northwestern's quest for that NCAA bid is still going.

"I'd say the last time we talked about it was when we were in the bubble talk for last year, and we haven't talked about it since," guard Dave Sobolewski said. "It's a goal for us, as it's a goal for every team in college basketball. I wouldn't say that we talk about it. We don't have anything up on our locker room wall. I'm sure it's in the back of all our minds, but we've got to take care of business each and every day, try to get better each and every day."

As for Carmody?

"I know I wanted him to stay," guard Alex Marcotullio said. "I didn't want to have to go through a coaching change. His system and his philosophy has really helped me grow as a player and has really put me in the position to succeed. I respect him as a coach and I didn't want him to leave. And I think the other guys felt the same way."

Now, Northwestern will try again to take another step.

The Wildcats will have to get by without junior guard JerShon Cobb after he was suspended for the season for violating team policy. He started 33 games the last two years, averaging 7.1 points as a sophomore, and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Cobb's suspension was another big blow for a program that was already dealing with the loss of all-time leading scorer John Shurna, who finished out his four years. The Wildcats will lean on senior Drew Crawford after he averaged 16.1 points last season.

Northwestern has plenty of size up front after adding the 7-foot-2 Chier Ajou, 7-footer Alex Olah, 6-9 TCU transfer Nikola Cerina and 6-8 Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire. But whether the Wildcats can reach that next level remains to be seen.

The Wildcats have never had a winning Big Ten record under Carmody, who is 179-191 at Northwestern after four successful seasons with Princeton. The Wildcats' best record in conference play during his tenure was an 8-8 mark in 2003-04, and when it comes to the NCAAs, all they've had are some close calls.

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