With the release of the 2007-08 schedule, I thought I'd indulge in a little personal schizophrenia and review the pros and cons of the slate Mike Brey has produced. I'll do my best to keep the two halves of my brain as balanced as possible.PRO:
Yes, the out of conference schedule is very light, and ND probably won't get a good student crowd until Marquette comes to town in February. ND has a tradition of playing the basketball powers, no doubt about it. If you look at the most-games-played list, you'll see teams like Marquette, Indiana, Kentucky, and UCLA, so it's not like the Irish have traditionally ducked a challenge.
But up until 1995, ND was free to make its own schedule. 27 or more games were left to the discretion of John Jordan, Johnny Dee and Digger Phelps to craft into whatever slate they saw fit. If they wanted to schedule a steady diet of the Little Sisters of the Poor, they could have. Of course, that likely would have sabotaged any shot at an NCAA at-large bid, so they had to mix in the Hoosiers and Bruins and Wildcats and other quality opponents to keep the media attention on South Bend and the rear ends in the Joyce Center seats. Those schedules had Fairfields and Marists on them, too, but everyone forgets about those crappy games and only thinks about the couple of big opponents every year.
These days, 18 of 28 slots are predetermined by the boys in Providence, and those slots will be very difficult this year. Two-time opponent UConn was young last year, and that talent is starting to gel. Marquette's guards are a year better as well. Louisville and Cincinnati are expected to be improved as their talent grows and/or plays healthy. Pittsburgh has been a perennial NCAA tourney team, and Syracuse just pulled in an incredibly good recruiting class. Even perceived "easy outs" like Rutgers and USF have conference pride to inspire play, and both are on the road instead of at home where a W might be easier to come by.
If you look at the schedule overall, it's good balance. Yes, the OOC games are, for the most part, weak, but after January 1st, weak games will be very difficult to come by for this Irish squad. ND will have plenty of chances to prove itself against tough teams, both at home and on the road. There's more to the schedule than the OOC games.
And let's remember ND has played difficult schedules before and not been rewarded for them. They played the hardest BE schedule by a two-game margin four years ago, but they were still the last team left out of the NCAAs. Why should they bust their asses to play a murderer's row when the selection committee has shown they don't care? The important thing is getting to the NCAA tournament. Who cares how we got there, we'll be there.CON:
Yes, the conference slate will be murder this season, and yes, it's very important ND start building another NCAA appearance streak. But I don't think it's guaranteed this slate will get them a bid.
First off, the entire concept of using strategery to finesse an NCAA bid is off-putting to me. You shouldn't try to schedule an NCAA bid any more than the football team should try to schedule a BCS title game appearance. It violates some basic philosophy of sport. The best, most deserving teams are going to find a way to get a bid. Yes, the ND team four years ago got screwed, but they also lost to a 3-win CMU team at home, so it's questionable if their entire body of work had merited selection. Deserving teams don't put themselves in the "questionable" category.
Besides, I'm not so sure the selection committee hasn't revised their thinking on all this. Syracuse finished 10-6 in the Big East last year, won a game at the EWSNBN, and yet they ended up in the NIT because (a) the conference slate proved slightly less arduous than it had seemed in the preseason, and (b) their non-conference schedule, which led to them not even leaving the state before their first BE road contest, was a joke. Boeheim seems to have learned the lesson, since in addition to the PNIT this season, Syracuse has a road game at Virginia in December and has picked up contests against top-50 UMass and #108 Rhode Island. ND has gone the complete opposite way, playing three teams that finished above 300 in the RPI last year. Will this be our lesson to learn this year?
I'm not advocating a murderer's row. Kansas State and Georgia Tech should look fine on the non-conference, particularly since neither game is at home. But I don't think an average opponent's RPI of 208 is going to help us come tournament time. OOC is the part of the schedule you can control, and I think the committee looks at that when determining the bids. ND is saying they don't want to challenge themselves. One more heavyweight, along with replacing some of the 250+ opponents with some in the 150-200 range, would get the job done and not strongly affect the W/L record.
Second, the big complaints the past couple of seasons has been the home crowd. The students haven't turned out the way the team has deserved. The loge section is still unacceptably empty. This is exciting basketball, and the team deserves an exciting crowd.
All that is completely true. But I think the way you get exciting crowds is to make ND basketball the place to be -- create momentum early in the season, get students and the GA group into the habit of getting to the Joyce Center. And I'm sorry, but Long Island, Youngstown State, and Colgate ain't the kind of programs that will help establish that momentum. If the fans haven't been paying attention in December, it's harder to get their focus in January and February when you need it. A UCLA or a Michigan State -- heck, even a Butler -- would have gone a long way towards putting hoops in the students' and fans' minds early and keeping it there down the stretch.
Finally, as will probably be mentioned more and more in the coming weeks, this team is closing in on the all-time Joyce Center win streak mark of 24, set back in Digger's early days (the overall home win streak, 38 games in the 1940s in the Fieldhouse, is still a ways away).
If you look at the streak, there are plenty of quality teams in there -- Marquette, DePaul twice, Villanova, Louisville, Alabama. But part of the reason they're close to that win streak is the large number of home games that were played last year against more than a few punching bags. Looking at the first five opponents at home -- LIU, Youngstown State, Colgate, Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois -- I can't help but get the feeling we're jumping into a cab for the last part of the race. The 24-game streak they're going to break contains ranked (and elite) teams like Indiana, UCLA, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas in addition to teams like Marquette and DePaul and Villanova. While I'm proud of this team getting the job done in their house, a small part of me regrets that contribution of the 1973-74 squad will be eclipsed this way.IN THE END:
I know I said I was going to try and keep it balanced, but I can't help it. This OOC schedule really leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I'm very concerned it's going to come back and bite us at NCAA time, either with bad seeding or being left out entirely. I know a very loaded Maui Classic will help next year, but I really hope uninteresting fall semesters isn't going to be a trend under the 18-game Big East schedule.
Labels: mike brey, nd basketball