Friday, July 13, 2007

Timing is Everything

The Big East has finally released the planned conference slate for 2007-08. I was starting to think the expanded 18-game schedule had somehow flummoxed them, as this info is usually in front of folks sometime in June. But better late than never, I always say, and an important part of the scheduling puzzle is finally available to us.

ND's two-fer opponents will be Connecticut, DePaul, and Marquette, three teams that should be very attractive to ND basketball fans. Filling out the home and away schedules:

  • Cincinnati
  • Pittsburgh
  • Providence
  • St. John's
  • Syracuse
  • West Virginia

  • Georgetown
  • Louisville
  • Rutgers
  • Seton Hall
  • South Florida
  • Villanova

Some thoughts, as always.

The home schedule is very attractive. Just about every team on that home slate is expected to be competitive. DePaul and Marquette are long-time rivals and we can't play them enough for my taste. UConn, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are perennial conference contenders. West Virginia means Huggy Bear will be coming to South Bend as a coach for the first time. Cincinnati is a hotbed of ND alumni. No trips to Syracuse or Morgantown for the Irish this year, which is always a good thing.

Games in strong ND areas. At Georgetown means a game in D.C., at Villanova means Philly. No SJU, but Seton Hall is close enough for NYC. The wheelhouse will be more than served this season.

This slate will help the SOS. Just about all the conference games that might be considered "duds" for strength of schedule purposes like Rutgers or USF are on the road, which helps negate their deleterious effect. There are at least three challenging road tilts in Georgetown, Louisville, and Villanova. Unlike last season, the conference slate won't drag ND's selection chances down.

ND fans probably couldn't have asked for a more beneficial schedule. It's challenging without being murderous. It provides good home contests to whet the crowd's appetites. Good road destinations like Florida, D.C. and Philly. An ND hoops fans' dream.

Or it should be, anyway. There are still some bugs that could emerge in the system.

Bad Momentum. A quality conference schedule must be matched with an OOC slate of equal quality. As I noted, the BE assignment is challenging enough to keep our interest, but is hardly one to which we should be looking with dread. The same must be true of the non-conference grouping. A parade of cupcakes with RPIs on the wrong side of 250 like we had last season just will not work.

The low quality of opponent hurt ND's attendance last year, and they need some attractive non-conference matchups to get the momentum going for the crowd once Big East time arrives. While the bad home slate gave certain constituencies an excuse to stay away last year, this year the home schedule renders such whining moot. They shouldn't give the whiners an opening with a mediocre offering out of conference.

This is a seasoned team, and while it certainly has some holes to fill, there are more than enough experienced guys to do just that. The strength is in the junior and sophomore classes now, which means the freshmen won't have to jump in and contribute right away. These guys should be able to handle a couple of shots to the jaw before conference time, and there's no reason they shouldn't get two or three, with at least one of them in a true road environment.

In addition to the hoped-for matchup with Georgia Tech in the Virgin Islands, I'd like to see Mike Brey and company put together at least one strong matchup for ND at home and one away, and try to stay away from the sugary stuff we saw last year. There's certainly room for a cupcake or two, but LIU, Northern Illinois and Colgate should mean we're full up in that department. Give me a MAC or MW opponent or two to bridge the gap to the heavy hitters.

Bad Timing. It didn't help that three of ND's eight home conference games were already in the books by the time the students returned from Christmas vacation, and it hurt even more that one of the three was the best home game, Louisville. Having more and better home options this year will help, but I hope Kevin White and Mike Brey are impressing upon the Poobahs in Providence that the Irish don't need a front-loaded schedule. I'd like to see a maximum of two home games played without a student audience, and I'd like them to make sure DePaul and Marquette are weekend games.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a mid-seventy's alum from LA, I really miss having UCLA on the schedule. Back then, it was home-and-home. While such a series is not in the cards in today's environment, it would be nice if the teams could hook up once a year on an alternating basis. We still may not be able to recruit well in the West, but the game would for sure attach a national audience and be good for the sport.

7/14/2007 10:09:00 PM  

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