Friday, September 05, 2008

Highlights from A.D.'s Induction

Adrian Dantley was the first member of the Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2008 inducted this evening.

The emcee for the event, Mike Breen, introduced AD by saying one of the most difficult assignments in the NBA was to guard Adrian Dantley. While he was considered undersized, he said, AD's opponents were often overmatched. This "unstoppable offensive force" was one of the most dominant players of his time.

Following the introduction was a video montage detailing Dantley's career, including a number of tributes. Morgan Wootten described AD's offensive moves as being "like an eye surgeon, cutting the opponent up", and credited Dantley for starting DeMatha's High School's weight training program with his prescient interest in the philosophy. Former Irish coach Digger Phelps also mentioned Dantley's physical regimen and how he used jumping rope and other programs to keep his stamina at the necessary level to "take the pounding" in the low post.

George "Iceman" Gervin talked about Dantley's tireless work ethic and his knack for getting his defender off the ground. Joe Dumars echoed Gervin's comments, calling AD "the most disciplined player he ever met in his life", and talked about how he helped instill that discipline into the Piston team that won the NBA Championship two seasons later. "Focus, professionalism, and discipline ... [Dantley] embodied all those things."

Video complete, Coach Wootten escorted AD to the stage for his remarks.

He started by thanking the committee and congratulating his fellow inductees, especially Cathy Rush, with whom, he said, he had something in common: "We both waited [for induction] ... and waited ... and waited." (Rush was inducted on this, her sixth nomination. This was AD's seventh attempt)

He credited Morgan Wootten for his career. Under Wootten, he learned fundamentals, respect for the game, and the right way to play the game. "He has been my teacher, mentor, and friend."

He then introduced and gave his love to his family: his wife of 27 years, Dinitri; his son, Cameron ("he plays football, I'm not sure why"); and his daughters, Kalani and Kayla.

He talked about his mother, Virginia, and her effect on his life. "She instilled honesty, loyalty, and respect for yourself so you can respect others. She always said, 'Do not embarrass yourself or me in public.'"

But it wasn't all serious with mom. "She used to ask me what a rebound was. Now she wants to know who she should be plugging on the pick and roll."

He talked about other family members: his Aunt Rosie, his "number-two mom and number-one fan"; his grandmother, who "always told [him] to read with [his] third eye and listen with [his] third ear"; and his grandfather.

Then came people he'd emulated. Elgin Baylor's first step. Chet Walker's head- and pump-fake, which everyone always went for.

Following that, coaches he'd met. He met Red Auerbach, who told him, "Adrian, John Havlicek weighs 205 pounds. You should weigh 210." His best playing years, AD said, were played at 210 pounds.

Bob Knight, the first college coach he met, had AD demonstrate taking a charge and diving for loose balls. Knight told him, "If you work hard, you'll be a great player," and sent him his first recruiting letter as the head coach at West Point.

On weekends, AD would play on the DC playgrounds, and afterwards listen to John Thompson tell stories about basketball and life. He got to play for Thompson on the 1976 Olympic Team under the head coach, Dean Smith. Smith taught him to value every possession, which Dantley believes "must be a North Carolina thing" given how often George Karl says it to him today.

He talked about remaining steady and focused through changes and trades, and expressed his joy at finally being a member of a team that couldn't trade him.

He was told so often he was "too short, too fat, and too slow", and was warned that "short players make short money" (by a player who was 5'2"). But those people discounted his "brain, heart, and work ethic", all of which served him well.

He thanked his friends and extended family, and said it would be a day he would always cherish, and left the stage.

I'll have a full writeup on Irish Eyes on Monday, once the hoopla on SDSU dies down and before Michigan gets fully rolling. But this was a wonderful experience for him, and all Irish fans should be proud of their newest Hall of Famer.

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Presser-ing Thoughts

The intro and discussion is complete.

The six inductees present were introduced in alphabetical order, meaning A.D. was the first one on the stage. The emcee, Eddie Doucette, read a quick bio on each member of the class, who then proceeded to the stage, was presented with his/her blazer, had some pictures taken, and then took a seat. Kudos to A.D. for being the only one who wore a tie, meaning he looked especially sharp with the blazer ensemble. Patrick Ewing was dressed like he'd just come in off the beach. Come on, Pat, it's the HOF.

Each inductee then got up to say a few words. Most of them went through what would be considered a typical statement, thanking their families, coaches, players, teammates, and God, not necessarily in that order. But there were a few chuckles.

A.D. and Pat Riley both reminisced about A.D.'s Laker days. At that time, Riley was a Costanza-like traveling secretary with the team, and was in charge of boarding passes for the planes. Invariably, A.D. would find himself seated next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He complained to Riley because Kareem wasn't big on talking during flights. Riley replied, "I have to sit you there, Adrian, you're the only one who isn't afraid of him."

Hakeem Olajuwon reflected that growing up in Nigeria, he didn't have the knowledge or the appreciation for what the HOF really was. He focused on winning, and it was the winning that got him here.

Riley said he always believed in the philosophy Magic Johnson espouses: Keep your dreams big and your worries small. He said he feels some players were born to get to the Hall of Fame, but he was able to get there because of the help and support of those people.

Cathy Rush talked about how the HOF was never something she dreamed, but was certainly a dream come true. Back in her day, women's basketball was an afterthought, and she took the job at Immaculata "to have something to do while [her husband] was out refereeing". The job wasn't supposed to be anything. She grew up when girls didn't have dreams, but now have "an equality of dreams", for which she was very thankful.

Dick Vitale was, of course, his usual effusive self. He said his throat is doing much better, although he's headed to Boston after the induction to get another checkup just to be sure. He remembered back when he and Eddie Doucette were partners, when he warned him, "Eddie, I hope you're not getting paid by the word, because by the time I'm done, you won't make a dime." He warned the HOF CEO, John Doleva, he wasn't going to be able to work with a five-minute window in speeches tonight because "I can't say 'hello' in five minutes!" And he said the best thing that ever happened to him was meeting his wife. I know he gets a lot of flack on NDN and elsewhere, but if there's a more genuine person in college basketball than Dick Vitale, I haven't met him.

The biggest thing I noticed about the class was their camaraderie. All of them played for, with or against one another, and all have strong relationships off the court as well as on. They spent more time talking about each other than they did themselves, something Riley pointed out to me later as being "necessary for events like this, but easy when it's people like this".

The pep rally is going on as we speak, but I declined since I was trying to get this done. The media work area is a theater where the event will be shown tonight. I don't know if I'll be watching it in here or in there.

The pre-event reception starts about 5:30. Mike Brey and Morgan Wootten and Digger Phelps will be in attendance, and I'm going to try to get quotes from them for the Irish Eyes stories I'll eventually write about the event. I'll try to check in later this afternoon, but definitely tonight with a report on the induction itself. The IE story probably won't get posted until Monday, since I don't want it to get lost in all the SDSU post-game hoopla.

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Greetings from Springfield

After a bumpy flight through Gustav's remnants, I'm here in the media room at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA, awaiting the start of the inductees' press conference.

While space availability won't allow me to report real-time on what the inductees say, I'll be checking in throughout the day as Adrian Dantley takes his well-deserved place among the greats of the game.

The presser gets underway at 10am ET, which will be followed by a pep rally in downtown Springfield. Mike Brey, Digger Phelps, and Morgan Wooten will be among those celebrating A.D.'s big day with him, but I imagine we won't see them until the pre-ceremony festivities begin late this afternoon.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A.D. Coming to EsPN Classic

On HOF Induction Day, this Friday, September 5th, EsPN Classic will be showing prominent games featuring the various inductees.

Adrian Dantley will be featured between 1 and 3pm EDT when they show the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals between AD's Pistons and the Boston Celtics.

Then at 7:30pm, the induction ceremony will be carried live on both EsPN Classic and NBA TV. A one-hour version will run on Sunday the 7th at 5:30pm EDT.

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fame Beckons -- Hall, that is

So begins what is no doubt one of the greatest weeks in Adrian Dantley's life. This Friday, the former Irish hardwood star will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, along with other luminaries like Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Pat Riley, and the irrepressible Dick Vitale.

I will be in Springfield on Friday for all the festivities, and will be live-blogging all day to the extent I'm able:

10am -- Press conference for the inductees
Noon -- Pep Rally, Downtown Springfield
7:30pm -- Enshrinement Ceremony

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hoops Gameday Visiting South Bend

EsPN just announced that the basketball version of GameDay will be making its inaugural visit to South Bend on January 24th for the game between the Fighting Irish and the Huskies of UConn, which will tip at 7pm on EsPN.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Think System

I've probably devoted more bandwidth to l'affaire Beer Olympics than it deserves. But in the clamor to evaluate the situation (and hope beyond hope it's the proverbial straw on the camel's back for this kind of non-news news), I have yet to see a good critique of the true mistake-maker in the whole thing: The Olympic-class nimrod who not only took the picture but posted it on a public networking site.

I don't know where the picture originated, but for a site like The Big Lead to get their hands on it, they either took it (very doubtful) or were sent it by someone who saw it somewhere (very likely). This means some nitwit took a picture of football players at a party and, for whatever reason, decided to share them.

Now, obviously I have some experience running a website*, so I have a reasonably good idea what led to the posting. Someone had football players at his party and wanted to show his friends at home he was hanging out with them. One of the players' friends wanted to make sure everyone saw the goofy "uniforms" they were wearing. I'd like to think it wasn't because someone wanted to get them into trouble. But any or all could have been the cause.

Unfortunately, as so many in their situation do, the poster didn't think it through and realize what posting something on the Internet does.

So often, people on message boards or social websites or the Internet in general get caught up in the individual conversations or exchanges that take place through the electronic medium and forget the wider audience involved. If you're sending an email to your buddy, Joe, it never occurs to you other people might see it if Joe decides to forward it. If you're participating in a message board thread, you're focused on your discussion with a couple of other posters, not realizing thousands of other people who aren't posting are reading it (and maybe copying it into emails and sending it to even more people). When you put something on MySpace or FaceBook (or even LinkedIn), it goes beyond your 10 friends on the cheerleading squad, and may end up with teachers or parents before it's done.

It happens over and over (as detailed by The Fire). This isn't even the first Notre Dame-related example ... I recall an email written by a recruit's dad that ended up forwarded to thousands of people. In the email, he shared some details about his son's visit to ND, including some exchanges with coaches that were meant to be private. Both the dad and the kid ended up very embarrassed over the entire thing. But again, it wasn't thought through.

I suppose what bothers me the most about it is the response in these situations is never, "Gee, maybe I should think before I post something online", but rather, "Stop harshing our buzz, man, I can post what I want." You should never blame other people because you don't think. Remember the Miranda warning: Anything you say can and will be used against you. Would you walk into your parents' bedrooms and tell them, "Wow, you wouldn't believe how many beers I had last night" as a senior in high school? Would you tell your wife about the hot girl you were flirting with at a bar when you were away on a business trip? Only if you're an idiot. But if you post it online, you're as good as doing that. Idiot.

As I've said many times about NDNation, when you open something up to the public, the public tends to show up and you shouldn't blame them when they do. Unless the medium you're participating in is somehow restricted, like a premium content website, what's said to one is being said to all. To expect people not to read your publicly-available profile or site or post because you have a right to privacy is at best self-contradictory and at worst really really stupid.

So next time you're going to hit the "post message" or "upload photo" buttons, think for a minute: Who is the absolute last person I'd want to see this picture, and what are the chances he or she has Internet access? Then think a little more.

* private joke, relax

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Good Knight

I know this is an ND blog. But when an icon like Texas Tech coach Robert Montgomery Knight retires, it behooves all college hoops fans to reflect. And on this his retirement day, I'm both glad I was able to see someone achieve what he did on the court without sacrificing his principles, while sad at what could have been for college basketball's winningest coach.

My first exposure to Coach Knight was my father receiving the book A Season on the Brink for Christmas. He was (and, I believe, remains) a big fan of Coach Knight. When he finished it, I asked if I could give it a read. I guess I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about.

I know Coach Knight isn't fond of the book and believes it paints him in a negative light. I didn't find that to be the case. I was fascinated by what I saw as a portrayal of a complete human being rather than a two-dimensional cutout you sometimes see in tomes like this. John Feinstein, his opinions regarding Notre Dame notwithstanding, is an outstanding writer, and he captured the essence of Coach Knight in prose I couldn't put down.

The day I finished that book, in my room in Cavanaugh Hall, I became a fan, and I sent Coach Knight a letter telling him so. He responded with a very nice letter thanking me for my kind words, which I appreciated also.

I didn't get to watch too much success by Notre Dame teams against his Hoosiers, but I remained a fan. I watched him as his IU career wound down and he was reborn, guns up, in Lubbock.

When the time came for me to realize my dream of writing a book, I contacted Coach Knight again, asking him if he'd be willing to provide the foreword (Al McGuire being unavailable and all). Once again, a gracious note in reply, explaining he had an exclusive literary contract which prohibited him from participating, but wishing me luck in the project and expressing an interest in the result. His was one of the first copies I mailed when I received the box of hardbounds. I never got a review from him, but maybe he's just waiting for retirement to give it a read.

As a Notre Dame grad, Coach Knight's priorities resonate with me. His players' graduation rate staggers the imagination in the current atmosphere of one-and-dones. His consistent handling of players who crossed the line and refusal to let the short-term-win tail wag the life-lesson dog is refreshing in our participation-trophy culture. His was a belief if you took care of the little things, the big things would take care of themselves, and his career certainly stands as an example of making that work.

At the same time, however, his retirement leaves me sad. Not sad for what college basketball is losing (although that's certainly a shame), but moreso what Coach Knight could have had over the years.

Coach Knight's teams won over 900 games and saw graduated over 90 percent of their players because he demanded of them a level of concentration, maturity, discipline and excellence both on and off the court. Coach Knight's problems bubbled up (and over) because he didn't always demand those levels from himself.

It takes discipline to make the extra pass when the shot seems to be there. It also takes discipline not to respond to a question you think is foolish by harassing the questioner for five minutes.

It takes maturity to pass up a night of partying to get your studying in, knowing you'll miss class time during the road games next week. It also takes maturity not to manhandle a wise-ass teenager.

Excellence is taking teams without stars to amazing heights. Excellence is also treating the people who work with and for you with respect.

Coach Knight has a forceful personality, and some have said I have issues with people with forceful personalities. Perhaps I do, and that may be a failing on my part. And maybe the pressure Coach Knight brought to bear on folks in his orbit helped them collectively achieve the accolade-worthy accomplishments that permeate Coach Knight's career.

But I believe soliciting trouble and confrontation is a waste of energy and resources, and I get frustrated thinking of the quality of resources Coach Knight wasted on people who probably weren't worth the time. It's not right to kowtow to idiots, but Max Ehrmann's Desiderata tells us to stay on good terms with people outside of surrender. There was plenty of space between surrender and Hell, and I wish Coach Knight would have explored some of it.

I doubt a career in broadcasting awaits Coach Knight, given his disdain for the profession, but I hope his voice is not gone from this arena. As I noted, his priorities fly in the face of some of the more negative things about the sport these days, and a bully pulpit for him in retirement would do the game a lot of good.

I hope he's willing to talk and others are willing to listen. As long as the speaking is soft.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Finding Our Virtu

Yesterday, I was part of the problem. Today, I want to be part of the solution.

ND needs a consistent scheduling philosophy for its men's basketball program. It has little control over what the conference will do, and the conference probably will be tough year-in and year-out. But they have full control of the 10 non-conference slots, and they need to make better use of them.

For example, ND has to stop being afraid of an opponent's home court, and the focus on home revenue generation is just as off-putting for basketball as it is for football. Besides, a lot of these schools are getting smart and starting to charge more for one-off contests. So the Irish need to get into a rotation that gives them a quality game away from home every year.

The one "constant", if you want to call it that, is the demise of the two-in-four rule almost guaranteeing Notre Dame's appearance in an early-season exempt tournament every year. Next year, they'll be part of a loaded Maui Invitational with Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon, St. Joe's, and Texas. I believe they're also slated for the 2010 Preseason NIT, which is always a quality draw, and they're overdue for an appearance at the Great Alaska Shootout. So in even-numbered years, the schedule will feature quality away-from-home matchups to bolster the schedule.

The key is the odd-numbered years. The tournaments for those years, like the Guardians Classic and the Paradise Jam, are good, but aren't going to offer the marquee games ND needs. So in odd-numbered years, the Fighting Irish need to play somewhere that will test them.

I've got the perfect place: Los Angeles.

UCLA is a natural for the ND schedule. While not a rivalry on either side, it's a series loaded with tradition. For over a decade, it was an annual home-and-home that brought a lot of national attention. UCLA is a program which, while they may have down periods like any other team, they usually bounce back strong. And with Ben Howland at the helm, they're poised for years of quality basketball.

ND football plays in LA against the Trojans in even-numbered years. What better way to keep a good presence in an area loaded with alums than to have the basketball team visit in odd-numbered years? In fact, I'd like to see the first Saturday in December be "UCLA Saturday" for Notre Dame, with the game alternating between LA and South Bend counter to the football (and primary exempt tournament) rotation. Even better, a 2-2-2 setup, with two games at Pauley, two games at the Joyce, and two neutral-site games (one at Staples Center, one at United Center), and keep that six-game rotation going ad infinitum.

Both ND and UCLA are renovating their hoops facilities in the next couple of years. They could arrange it where the other is the first game in the new digs, just as UCLA was the first big ND game in the then Athletic and Convocation Center.

(every time I type that, I miss Jack Lloyd)

So two of the 10 slots are now taken care of with a tournament and UCLA, and there's at least one quality away-from-home game per year.

But we still need a decent home game in the odd-numbered years, and ND should always play at least one true road game. So two more slots should be set up for intriguing, if not guaranteed quality, matchups, with home / away / neutral rotations matched up as well as possible with the Big Two.

My dislike for the Integer aside, one of those slots should be used to rekindle / start meaningful series with one of their teams. I've said it before and this won't be the last time: It's criminal that Michigan State, ND's fourth-most-played opponent in its history, hasn't been on the schedule since the 1970s. Northwestern is fifth on that list, and it's been forever since they've appeared at the Joyce Center. Illinois is a natural, and Wisconsin would be an intriguing matchup. If we want to look east or are concerned about the schedule being excessive, Penn State has mid-major quality with an Integer name. I have no interest in the Hoosiers, and Michigan has appeared plenty lately. The Integer Slot can rotate opposite UCLA to ensure an attractive home game when the Bruins aren't coming to town, with the game the Wednesday following the Bruin trip/visit.

The other can be used to rotate in some of ND's Catholic brethren. Dayton, Detroit, Creighton, and SLU spring to mind almost by reflex ... schools that share ND's mission and goals, and with whom the Irish have a long and storied history (not to mention the nice RPI push). In fact, an argument can be made to use two slots here, one home and one away.

The remaining five to six slots can be used for the various warm-up / holiday tomato can games that every school plays. But there should be an unofficial rule that only three of those cans come in with an RPI in the previous season above 250. I'd rather have a 15-point win over a #200 team than a 30-point win over a #300 team. Exceptions can always be made for teams or coaches with a special affinity for ND, such as Billy Taylor at Ball State.

So let's work a little elfin magic on this year's slate, applying my changes above. It's an odd-numbered year, so there'd be a game at UCLA the first Saturday in December instead of Eastern Michigan at home. Without looking at the numbers, I'll select Northwestern as the Integer team, and SLU and Detroit as the current saved-slot teams. Since UCLA is on the road, Northwestern would be at home, but since we're in the JVC in early December, I'll put them in Northern Illinois' slot. Flipping a coin, SLU will be at home replacing Colgate, and Detroit away replacing Brown. You know how I love road games over the holidays, after all.

Let's see how the RPI changes:

310 -- LIU
259 -- Monmouth (PJ)
121 -- Baylor (PJ)
52 -- Georgia Tech (PJ)
173 -- Youngstown State
177 -- Northwestern
3 -- at UCLA
56 -- vs. Kansas St. (JVC)
74 -- St. Louis
162 -- San Francisco
191 -- at Detroit
333 -- North Florida

Average RPI: 159, with a 6 - 2 - 4 split, which would be ninth in the conference and just above the 50-percent line overall. Replacing Northwestern with Michigan State (24 RPI) would reduce the average to 147 and push ND up to fifth just ahead of the UConn / Georgetown / Providence bunch, which might be more appropriate in years when ND has a strong team, not to mention put a very attractive home game on the schedule.

Sure, playing at UCLA would be tough, but no tougher than playing at Georgetown is going to be. Northwestern and St. Louis would be stern tests, but not the kind that should scare the kind of ND team we'll have the next two seasons. And playing at Detroit should be very doable for Notre Dame in any season.

This is an older team that shouldn't shy way from challenges, and next year will be even more so. It's time to bulk up a little bit.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In Medio Stat Virtu Est

Not sure this blog was going to get to 100 entries, but it has. Thanks to one and all for reading and keeping things interesting.

Now, on to business.

I've posted before about our non-conference SOS. A friend whose hoops acumen I've come to respect greatly and who is on the other side of the argument from me, brought to my attention an article by Mike DeCourcy on teams that, in his opinion, over-schedule.

I read it. And in what may seem on the surface to be a contradiction, I agree with everything it says. Tom Izzo's an outstanding college coach, but what he tried to do a couple seasons ago was insane. Experienced team or not, you don't put together a murderer's row like Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Syracuse, and then go play an Integer schedule on top of it. The only thing your team will prove is dead men can indeed tell tales.

But lest you think I'm going to suddenly bless our non-conference slate, hold on thar, Baba Looey. No one is asking for Notre Dame to schedule itself out of the tournament. Rather, I want them to schedule like they think they belong there. There's an awful lot of space between Izzo's overestimation of his team's prowess and what Notre Dame is trying to do this year, and as the actors say, the Fighting Irish should be using that space.

Compared to the Standards

DeCourcy cites two schedules in his article, one he believes to be too aggressive (Arizona's) and one he believes to be in proper balance (Louisville). Let's take a look at the RPI numbers for that schedule for the last three years, both a straight-up average and a weighted average (three times last year, two times previous year, one time year before that, total averaged) to balance out one-year fluctuations, and see where they end up.

Northern Arizona (149/117/294) -- 187 straight-up / 163 weighted
Virginia (55/79/80) -- 71 / 67
Mizzou-KC (257/264/171) -- 231 / 245
Adams State (336/336/336) -- 336 / 336
@ Kansas (11/20/1) -- 11 / 12
Cal State Fullerton (148/234/113) -- 165 / 171
Texas A&M (17/44/71) -- 44 / 35
@ Illinois (Chicago) (29/14/2) -- 15 / 20
Fresno State (87/124/153) -- 121 / 110
@ UNLV (10/92/92) -- 65 / 51
San Diego State (66/56/186) -- 103 / 83
@ Memphis (8/4/109) -- 40 / 24
@ Houston (83/54/83) -- 73 / 73

Last-year RPI: 97
3-year weighted: 107
3-year straight-up: 112

An average RPI in the top 100 is a pretty strong slate. Factor in that four of the 13 games are true road games and a fifth is a neutral-site game in their opponent's alumni stronghold, and I see DeCourcy's point here. This slate won't give the Wildcats much of a breather, and with strong programs in the Pac10 this year, it may be a tough year in Tucson.

Hartford (226/270/300) -- 265 straight-up / 253 weighted
Jackson State (168/247/263) -- 226 / 210
@ UNLV (10/92/92) -- 65 / 51
vs. BYU (18/67/216) -- 100 / 67
vs. UNC (2/12/6) -- 7 / 6
Miami(OH) (92/84/39) -- 72 / 81
Dayton (75/183/126) -- 128 / 120
@ Purdue (Indy) (42/175/179) -- 132 / 109
Marshall (165/231/235) -- 210 / 199
New Mexico St. (69/97/292) -- 153 / 116
Morehead St. (295/321/290) -- 302 / 303
Iona (326/64/195) -- 195 / 217
@ Kentucky (13/41/11) -- 22 / 22

Last-year RPI: 115
3-year weighted: 135
3-year straight-up: 144

Numerically not as arduous, although still meaty. Two true road games, and Purdue at Indianapolis. This team certainly will be challenged, although not as much as Arizona will.

Now let's compare to the Irish. Note I have Baylor as the second-round opponent in the VI, since the other option, Wichita State, lost their high-profile coach this off-season:

LIU (310/274/236) -- 273 straight-up / 286 weighted
vs. Monmouth (259/144/193) -- 199 / 210
vs. Baylor (121/167/258) -- 182 / 159
vs. Georgia Tech (52/160/27) -- 80 / 84
Youngstown State (173/304/321) -- 266 / 241
Colgate (261/286/238) -- 262 / 266
Eastern Michigan (235/306/266) -- 269 / 264
vs. Kansas St. (NYC) (56/110/97) -- 88 / 81
Northern Illinois (301/127/184) -- 204 / 224
San Francisco (162/185/86) -- 144 / 157
Brown (230/273/229) -- 244 / 244
North Florida (333/332/336) -- 334 / 333

Last-year RPI: 208
3-year weighted: 212
3-year straight-up: 212

Not only is the average way below the center line, there are no true road games and three opponents didn't break the 300 mark last season. The highest-ranked opponent lost the coach that helped get them their lofty ranking last season. Tough as the Big East is, this isn't going to impress anyone in March. Over-challenging a squad may not be a good idea, but neither is under-challenging them.

Compared to the Conference

Although technically ND will compete with the nation for an NCAA bid, their prime competition will come from their conference mates in the Big East. Let's see how the last-year average RPI for the non-conference schedule stacks up with what those opponents are doing, including their home/road/neutral splits. For the purposes of preseason tournaments, I'm assuming the best possible opponent in each round, just as I did for ND above, with the noted Baylor exception.

Turns out well-adjusted Louisville is the best in the Big East bunch:

115 avg RPI last year -- Louisville (8 home, 3 road, 2 neutral)
117 -- Syracuse (10, 1, 2)
139 -- DePaul (6, 3, 3)
141 -- St. John's (7, 3, 2)
148 -- Georgetown (7, 4, 0)
148 -- Providence (7, 2, 3)
149 -- Connecticut (8, 2, 3)
153 -- Villanova (8, 2, 1)
161 -- Cincinnati (8, 4, 0)
166 -- Pittsburgh (9, 3, 1)
191 -- West Virginia (10, 3, 0)
200 -- Marquette (8, 2, 2)
200 -- South Florida (6, 4, 3)
203 -- Rutgers (9, 4, 0)
206 -- Seton Hall (8, 3, 2)
208 -- Notre Dame (8, 0, 3)

That's right, ladies and germs. Not only do we have the lowest average out-of-conference RPI in the entire Big East this season, we're also the only Big East team that will not play a true road game out of conference. At all. You can be guar-on-freaking-teed that's going to come up as the season winds down and the discussion of the NCAA tournament comes up. And God help them if they stumble somewhere in that non-conference slate, because if they don't go into that WVU game at 11-0, there's going to be trouble. ND will have to pray some of these opponents finish better than advertised, because as of right now, the stink pervades.

ND has an outstanding team, and there's no doubt in my mind they'll get that NCAA bid. But they'll also get seeded one (if not two) levels lower than they'd otherwise deserve, and/or get an unfavorable location and draw. Just like they did last year, when they were Big East semifinalists and 11-game winners in conference, but got stuck out in Washington as a #6 seed playing the best #11. It adds up to a tougher road to the Sweet 16 and beyond than they'd otherwise get, and in an event like the NCAA's where sometimes draw can make all the difference (see: Davis, Mike), they're setting themselves up for failure.

Nuts and bolts? No way. We'll have no one to blame but ourselves. At Notre Dame, it's not enough to just make the tournament.

What's even more disappointing is even the younger teams in the conference seem to be finding ways to challenge themselves. Only one of UConn's true road games is before the conference season starts, but they'll be going to Bloomington during Big East play. One of SJU's road games is Hawaii in the Rainbow Tourney, but they're also going to Duke. One of Marquette's road games is Chaminade in Maui. They only play one other true road game, but it's at #4 Wisconsin.

And the usual poster child for bad scheduling, Syracuse, may only be playing one road game, but it's at #55 Virginia. And with the second-highest-ranked average RPI in the conference, it's not like their home contests are against patsies. I guess they learned their lesson last year when they were left out of the tournament with 10 Big East wins and a victory at the EWSNBN.

I'm praying it's not a lesson we'll have to learn.

Tomorrow: How I'd fix it

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

One Should Be Done

"One-and-done" is a familiar term to basketball fans these days. It refers to a player who completes one year in a college basketball program before declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft, a phenomenon made possible by the rules governing draft eligibility requiring a player to be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class before he can declare.

One-and-dones are a hot topic in college hoops. Some coaches embrace them, while others reject them, citing concerns about team chemistry. CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish seems to reject that philosophy, and talks about how they benefit a program.

There's no denying one-and-dones have an effect, and Parrish's list is comprehensive, if not elaborate. Greg Oden and his collective of fellow single-year players got Ohio State to the title game for the first time in my lifetime, which becomes a more depressingly-long time by the season. Carmelo Anthony got Jim Boeheim the title that was the bugaboo of his coaching career synopsis. And now "Melo" has turned around and donated $3 million towards the construction of a $19m practice facility for the Orange, as well he should since no one knows better than a former athlete what his fellow athletes need to succeed.

So sure, one-and-dones can benefit a program.

But what about a school? You know, those buildings outside of the athletic part of the campus where classes allegedly go on?

As familiar with the Syracuse's athletes' needs as 'Melo might be, a lot of folks wonder how familiar he was with that non-athletic part of Syracuse. If you ask some of them, he didn't see the inside of a classroom after the Christmas holidays. "History of Rock And Roll" may have edified Mr. Oden culturally, but it's not clear how it advanced him towards any kind of meaningful degree. And since eligibility for the second semester of the season isn't determined retroactively, no rules were broken in either case because they went into that season fully "eligible".

That's the part of the one-and-done trade-off Parrish doesn't talk about.

What is a school saying when they admit a student who has absolutely no intention of following through on his studies for one year let alone one degree? How do you measure the academic integrity of a place that agrees to look the other way on classroom attendance if it gets them a few more victories on the hardwood? I know the phrase "student-athlete" is a laugh in a lot of places these days, but does the hypocrisy have to be so blatant? And when you look at the list and see respected centers of learning like North Carolina turning them out almost yearly, it almost makes you want to throw up.

The NCAA got a nice boost from the league with that one-year requirement. It enabled them to "showcase" some of the famous players they were losing to the draft, and no doubt make themselves a pretty penny in the bargain. So now is the time for them to step up to the plate and address the rampant academic fraud taking place as a result. Require schools to produce academic progress reports at least twice a month for all student athletes during a season. If an athlete fails on any of those reports, revoke his eligibility until the next report. If an athlete fails to complete a semester of work, revoke his eligibility retroactively.

I realize "normal students" can drop classes whenever they want. But "normal students" aren't on full scholarship and participating in a multi-million dollar activity in which they are ambassadors for their school. The mercenary nature of college basketball is becoming an affront to scholarship and sportsmanship. The NCAA either needs to drop the pretense or start practicing what it preaches.

And to head off the obvious first question, no, I wouldn't like ND to utilize one-and-done players. Notre Dame got to the top 20 in wins and win percentage without using mercenaries, and they should continue to do so. Scholarship means something in South Bend, as evidenced by a 100 percent graduation rate for players who use all of their eligibility. If it stops meaning something, I'd rather they just walk away.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Disconnect? More Like Chasm

Yes, it's been a couple days since the Mike Gundy contretemps, and plenty has been said on both sides. One might wonder why it's worth chiming in now.

But this article by Gene Wojciechowski piqued my interest, because not only was was it the first example I've seen of a media creature attempting to address the galactic disconnect that currently exists between sportswriters and the teams they cover and the fans of those teams (although other excellent examples exist like this one from the Fort Dodge Messenger), but it also addresses a pet Internet peeve of mine.

Here's the thrust of GW's jib:

The real work is to fix what's broken. There is a growing disconnect between the sports media and the coaches and players we cover, and the people who read that coverage. There have always been disagreements -- that's a given -- but there also was a common ground and a mutual respect. Now it's something much more polarizing. Mutual distrust.

I agree with him 100 percent. But I'd like to take it a step further and suggest a source for that growing disconnect.

It's been my belief that journalism in general, and sports journalism in particular, has changed its focus drastically in the last few years. It's no longer about the information you're sharing, but rather about how many people are the recipients of that sharing. I talked about this a little here in my comments about people like Pat Forde. The more hair they pull, the more people are talking about them, and the more eyeballs their advertisers get. No such thing as bad publicity, as the old saying goes.

Jenni Carlson's original article fed that beast as much as any other. Setting aside whether or not some of the things in the article actually happened, since when is the alleged mental fortitude or lack thereof of a backup quarterback news? Can you imagine Grantland Rice spending that many inches writing about a quarterback's psyche? Jason Whitlock, in a response in the KC Star, called it a "message-board attack", and he's absolutely right. As a message-board operator, I know this kind of crap when I see it, and if it had appeared on Rock's House written about a Notre Dame player, it would have been deleted as fast as I could move my mouse. That Carlson's editors not only didn't squelch it but featured it prominently betrays their motivations better than anything I could write here.

This is the bed that "real journalists" have made for themselves. When allegedly responsible entities like AOL are affiliating with and giving an imprimatur to people like Brian Cook of MGoBlog, who turned his entire site into pictures of kittens when Michigan lost to AppyState, it tells the reading public the paragons of journalism care a lot more about the entertainment value of the way the news is presented than the news itself. When writers replace research and insight with the daily trolling of message boards for stories, the inherent laziness trickles down and is reflected in their writing, which turns off the fans.

I appreciate GW's willingness to address this problem, but I find it incredibly ironic that this warning comes in an article on a website that is one of the biggest contributors to that problem. Let's face it, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network elevated Entertainment above Sports a long time ago, to the point they should just change the logo to EsPN. People take positions to get ratings rather than to further a viewpoint. Their idea of giving the audience what they need is a ranting failed football coach putting on mascot heads. I love Lou Holtz to death, but that dog-and-pony-show he and Mark May put on during the week is on the level of Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd. I pity the people there who actually try to provide decent acumen like Jay Bilas and Andy Katz, because their efforts are being drowned under Chris Berman's parade of stupid nicknames.

If GW wants coaches and fans to start trusting sports journalists again, he can start by getting his employer to clean their own house.

Now, having said all that, the fans have a job to do as well. I talked about how I feel Carlson's effort was substandard even for a message board. Unfortunately, we see way too much of that on message boards all over the place, and that includes NDN. Carlson may have been wrong to call Reid a wuss, but at least she signed her name to it and has not shied away from the resulting criticism. Some message board patrons hiding behind anonymous handles should think about that next time they rant about how this player sucks or that player isn't trying hard and is a waste of a scholarship.

I sometimes wonder if NDN would be different if we abandoned handles and all made our names public, just as my fellow Ops and I do. It's a lot different when you can be directly taken to task for what you say, because it tends to make you think a lot more before you say it.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Be the Boy Scout

In a little more than 48 hours, Billy Donovan has gone from a man perfectly content to be in Gainesville to a man perfectly content to be in Orlando, or so a press conference at 11am EDT today will tell us. Such is the speed at which the coaching carousel can move. Life, indeed, comes at you fast.

In this Age of Quickness, preparedness becomes paramount. And if the reports coming out of Gainesville are accurate, Florida A.D. Jeremy Foley isn't letting the grass grow under his feet. Reportedly, he's already asked permission to speak to Virginia Commonwealth coach Anthony Grant, a former Donovan assistant, about the job opening, an opening at which Grant is expected to jump with both feet.

This is why I (and others on the NDN boards) harp on the importance of an athletic director being prepared in areas which fall under his purview, such as succession planning. Here you have one of the most currently high-profile basketball programs with a job opening, and thanks to the quick thinking and decisiveness of its school's responsible party, there won't be an opportunity for the jackals to get their jollies. Contrast that with the last two job openings --football and baseball -- at Notre Dame. It's not pretty.

Sure, Grant could turn down the offer, or the reports might be off and Foley could decide to go in another direction. Nothing's done until the signature is on the dotted line.

Grant's also a risky choice. VCU had a great year, to be sure, and 10 years under Donovan as an assistant for the Gators means he's familiar with how things work there. But he's only been the lead dog for one season, and Virginia Commonwealth ain't in the SEC. Matt Doherty showed what can happen when a long-time assistant tries to jump too far too fast, and given how Florida has improved from the time Donovan took the job until today, the jump Grant would attempt is much larger than the one his predecessor made from Marshall way back when. Florida wouldn't have been criticized for looking for a high-profile coach to continue the momentum of the program, and given how much talent is moving on this off-season, Grant will have to get up to speed very quickly.

But Foley has shown an M.O. of confidence and preparedness that, frankly, I envy. Perhaps if Chicago gets the 2016 Olympic bid in 2009 and Kevin White's role with their committee drastically expands in scope, Fr. Jenkins should consider a call down to Gainesville.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Be Like the Russians

Every now and then, posts morph into blog entries. This is one of those.

We were talking on the Pit about programs and whether or not ND can become a quality one again. I, for one, think it's very possible to ND to re-establish itself as a consistent, quality program. They just need to be like the Russians and not do anything without a plan -- a plan that can make use of what they do well and minimize that which hurts them.

ND's primary advantage as a sports-participating institution has always been its dedication to the academic, intellectual and maturity development of its student athletes. Back in its hoops heyday, such an advantage was important to blue-chip players, as salaries weren't the lottery windfall they are today. At the very least, they would have to spend at least two to three years at the college level, and they would, most likely, have to use that education down the road.

Unfortunately, that natural advantage isn't as important to blue-chip hoopsters today as it was back then. Quality players, both black and white, are looking for the quickest path to the NBA and its riches, deciding (perhaps rightly) the college degree will always be there when their playing careers are over and they have the financial wherewithal from that career to fund it themselves should they be so inclined.

Throw in the lack of overall success -- ND has been to the NCAA tournament four times in the lifetimes of current high school juniors, and has had some pretty damn bad years in that span, although that period is aging out soon -- the lack of attention to physical plant, and the reputation ND has as being firm on discipline both in and out of the classroom, and Notre Dame seems to be behind the eight-ball.

Does that mean they can't have a consistent, quality program? Of course not. They just need to do it in a different way, turning disadvantages into advantages.

I think the Ben Howland model is very useful in these discussions. Howland came on board at Pitt in 1999-2000, and decided to build the program from the bottom up. He brought in players who weren't the top-flight blue-chippers, but were good, quality players who would give him four (or, in some cases, five) years and be excellent players by the time they matured.

His first season, Pitt were 13-15. They improved to 19-14 the next year, then exploded to 29-6 the year after and have stayed consistently good, as Jamie Dixon has continued to operate in that model. The frosh watch while the upperclassmen -- with established playing pedigrees and known to opposing coaches (and officials) as being worthy of respect -- contribute.

He's now doing the same thing at UCLA. His first year, they were 11-17 (and got destroyed by ND at home). Then they were 18-11, and we know where they've gone from there.

When Mike Brey first arrived at ND, he tried to do the Duke thing and recruit the high-performance blue-chippers, and he was successful. However, it blew up in their faces in the post-S16 recruiting effort when they lost the blue-chippers to Duke. I also don't think his personality lends itself to working well with players like that -- right or wrong, he puts a lot of the onus on his players to show leadership and maturity. That lends itself a lot more to the Howland model, which is why, three years ago, they retrenched their recruiting plan. So far, it's worked out pretty well.

Going into next season, there's a lot of proven quality in the junior (KMac, Hillesland) and sophomore (Jackson, Harangody) classes, and projected quality in the frosh (Nash, Scott), along with developing talent in all three groups (Ayers, Zeller, Peoples, Harden, Abromaitis, Proffitt). And all those guys should be around at least next season and the one beyond to get even better and contribute even more.

There are other ways they can turn the frowns upside down. Yes, there was an initial overreaction by ND to the KMac situation, and I talked about it at length. But the end result showed intelligence and compassion on both sides, and gives Mike Brey some ammunition sitting in a kid's living room talking to parents: When ND says we're going to take care of your son and make a man out of him, we're not just running our mouths. We sacrificed what could have been a really special season because rules and discipline come first. Whether he ends up in the league or not, you're going to want your son to be part of that.

It's not a foolproof plan ... no plan is. But it's a good, well-thought-out one. Coupled with the physical plant improvements, it makes for a good foundation -- the kind of foundation programs are built on.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Show 'Em How It's Done

This seems to be the Year of the Demotion for Division I coaches ... lots of guys jumping to a lower-tier job before the (inevitable?) push. One-time wunderkind Steve Alford beat feet for New Mexico. Joe Scott bailed out of Princeton to UDenver. And in the highest profile cannonball, Tubby Smith left the Bluegrass of Kentucky for the blue fingers and toes of Minne-soda, eh?

It's doubtful any of these moves will affect ND directly, unless the unleashed dominoes result in an assistant coach moving up in the world. But I found the whole Tubby situation to be very interesting, and possibly educational to the folks in South Bend. While Minnesota is hardly ND when it comes to exposure and leverage, MN athletic director (and 1967 ND grad) Joel Maturi acted in an incredibly decisive and efficient manner in getting rid of an underperforming coach and going after the highest profile candidate he could. As a result, he landed perhaps a bigger fish than his constituents could have expected and showed himself to be a quality candidate for a similar position at ND.

Maturi's been a busy man this year, replacing both his football coach and men's basketball coaches. But both replacements were handled with exquisite precision. When Glen Mason's team lost its bowl game in a terrible performance, showing a distinct lack of preparedness, the already-embattled coach was given his walking papers immediately, even though the team had won three of its last four games to get to that bowl game, and Maturi had a replacement within two weeks. When Dan Monson's squad started out 2-5, Maturi said the program was "not in the position we want it to be in" and asked for (and got) Monson's resignation, leaving him free to conduct an exhaustive (and quiet) search that yielded Smith.

That someone with a Notre Dame pedigree could take such forceful action makes me wonder why the people who are actually on campus can't do the same in some cases. Think about the last two coaching searches under the Dome, with the charlie foxtrots of Urban Meyer and Pat Casey. Where would ND be in football had Kevin White, in the aftermath of the horrific performance of Bob Davie's squad in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl, done what his gut should have told him needed to be done and fired Davie outright and immediately? At the very least, would the University's public image have taken the beating it did so many times in the last three years? I think not. And it's frustrating to still be waiting on renovations to the Joyce Center while watching Maturi put together a plan for a $288 million football stadium for a school that hasn't been competitive in football in my lifetime.

There's a Notre Dame alumnus showing us how the job should be done 500 miles west of where he should be doing it. Maybe that should be ND's next search.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Solid Six?

As much as I'd like to do an analysis of the job the Selection Committee did, the futility of their work exceeds the scope of this blog. So I'll limit myself to their treatment of the Fighting Irish.

Is ND a "solid six"? Yes and no.

If you're looking at the outcome of the season in a vacuum, six is probably where they deserved to be. A quality finish to the season, no doubt about it. But there's still the matter of the head-scratching losses away from home to SJU, USF (who just fired their coach) and DePaul, none of whom made the tournament and two of whom didn't even make the NIT. Throw in possible complaints about the excess cupcake-edness of the out of conference slate, and it shouldn't be a surprise ND ended up where they did.

Then again, one must look at the other teams seeded at or immediately above ND's level.

The other sixes: Vanderbilt, Louisville, Duke
The fives: Butler, VaTech, Tennessee, USC

Assuming as we must ND was the lowest six on the board (since they got the toughest 11), this means all seven of these teams were considered of higher tourney quality than Notre Dame. Butler, given their head-to-head win against ND, is defensible to an extent. But ND spanked Louisville more recently. Duke has been playing "how not to win" for more than half a season now. SC just got demolished in its home town in the conference tournament and somehow managed to lose to Arizona State. And Vanderbilt, while they have the FL win to their credit, have some head-scratchers against Furman and Auburn, not to mention a two-game sweep by Arkansas to end their season. I try to be an open-minded guy, but you can't convince me any of those seven teams are more deserving of their tournament bids than Notre Dame.

One must also look at location. With proximate first-round locations like Chicago, Columbus, Lexington, and Buffalo, ND had at least a 50-50 chance of a short trip to their tournament opener. Instead, the committee sent them the longest possible distance to that Mecca of human culture, Spokane, WA. Even the trains try to sneak through there at night so as not to be noticed. My manta in pool picking is to always bet against the team that has to travel through the most time zones, which does not bode well for Mike Brey and his squad.

Now the coaches and players have a decision to make: What will the story be? Hoops history is filled with tales of teams that felt they got screwed in their post-season assignments, and more often than not, those teams end up getting their doors blown off by someone who shouldn't be blowing anything. Granted, it happens more in the NIT than the NCAA ... which is why I wouldn't spend any money betting on the Syracuse Orange to go too far, although they certainly got the lubeless treatment this year ... but it's still a danger if the team is thinking more about what could/should have been rather than what is.

Yes, once again, they were subtly screwed (quelle suprise). But the more time they spend thinking about it, the better the chance Winthrop will sneak in and make hay on ND's sunshine. So it's time to forget about it and get the job done, which is why this is the last mention of the subject you'll hear from me either here or on the Pit until the tourney is done.

Onward and upward.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

If You Can't Beat 'Em ... Suck It Up

Driving home from dropping the kids at school today, I was listening to ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning. While I still have some residual dissatisfaction with the way Irish alum and program co-host Mike Golic handled himself in the wake of the Tyrone Willingham firing, his son will be wearing the Blue and Gold in a couple of seasons. Given that I also like Mike Greenberg from his days in Chicago sports media, I figured it was time to move on. Besides, given a choice between the WWL and Mike North (the presence of Irish alum Anne Maxfield notwithstanding) and a third run through the morning news, the choice is clear.

During the program, they were discussing the subject of player movement in the pros and how it can create interesting (if not awkward) situations both for players and fans. What do New York Yankee fans do when their team signs someone from the Boston Red Sox? Could Bears fans stomach winning games with Brett Favre at the helm? Can you envision Spike Lee wearing a Bulls jersey?

That got me to thinking -- if you can't beat them, should you really join them? Or is it better to suck it up until you can beat them?

Greenberg seemed much more in tune with my way of thinking on this subject -- I don't want to win with that guy, I want to beat that guy and have him leave my field with his head hanging in shame basking in his looserdom. Grow your own and use them to bludgeon your opponents into submission, I say.

Over the course of the drive, I tried to think of coaches or players I could not stand having on ND's roster, no matter how good it made the Irish.

It was difficult in basketball, because there isn't a lot of hate going around these days. Of course, there are the old standbys like Tom Kleinschmidt, but those are days long past. I did come up with a few -- Gerry McNamara, Eric Devendorf and Jim Calhoun sprang to mind immediately -- but I'd probably have to give it a lot more prayerful meditation.

In football, however, it was easier. Coaches made the list a lot moreso than players because players tend to be temporary while coaches seem to last forever.

The day Pete Carroll or Urban Meyer are named as coach of Notre Dame, I begin a hiatus from Notre Dame football until they leave, and I don't care if ND wins five MNC's in a row. Carroll is a snake oil salesman who has a maturity less developed than the players he coaches, and I want him at SC for a long long time until we can deliver a couple of well-deserved ass kickings. Meyer is a self-promoting jagbag who has already used ND for his own personal gain once. Karma, for him, will be a bitch and a half, and I want to watch it and enjoy every nanosecond.

Steve Spurrier? I'd take him. Yes, he's arrogant, but most coaches are, and I don't have a particular antipathy for him. Terry Bowden, on the other hand, makes my skin crawl both physically and metaphorically.

Corwin Brown I can handle just fine. Lloyydd Ccarr? Nuh-uh. And Cheaty McSweatervest can take his SUV's and AIDS Awareness curriculum and go scratch.

Did I miss anybody?

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Toil and Trouble

Down the stretch Mike Brey and the crew come, closing in on 10 Big East wins (which they should get at Rutgers even if things go wrong on Saturday vs. the Golden Gold). They've already passed the 20-win plateau in the regular season for the first time since the Sweet 16 season four years ago. Since no Big East team has ever been left out of the NCAAs with at least 10 conference wins and at least 20 overall wins, the Fighting Irish are a lock, right?

Wrong. It's despicable and senseless, but wrong.

The saying goes one should never speak in absolutes, but I've never been shy about doing so, so here goes: If things stay the way they are, no Notre Dame team even remotely on the bubble will ever make the NCAA tournament. If they can find a way to keep Notre Dame out, they will do so, no matter how the logic twists and turns.

For example, if ND loses two of its last three -- falls to Marquette, beats Rutgers, and loses in the first round of the EWSNBN, for example -- expect to hear a lot about (a) the non-conference SOS and (b) losing to SJU, USF, and [insert BET #12 seed here] as the reasons why they were kept out. Doesn't matter they're the first 10-BE-20-overall team not to make the tournament. It didn't matter they were one of (if not the) first 9-win BE team not to make the tournament four years ago, let alone that it happened to them twice. Whatever rule can apply to keep them out will be applied and all others will be ignored. There'll be furor, but in the end, no accountability. The story will waft away, just like it always does.

Sounds insane? It is, especially when you hear the reason.

Let's go back in time to March of 1990, the last NCAA tournament appearance for the Fighting Irish before the Decade of Dung began. Notre Dame was 16-13 as an Independent, and they were fighting with teams such as DePaul (who had swept ND that season) for a bid. Miracle of miracles, Notre Dame found itself in the tournament, where they got waxed by Virginia.

Jump forward to March of 1992, John MacLeod's first season. ND had faced 11 of the top 25 teams that season, most of them on the road during a 45-day span without a home game. They were just over .500, and were squarely on the bubble, but had a much better resume than they'd had two years before. Then they got screwed by a no-call in the waning moments at DePaul (sound familiar?) and even with an incredibly high SOS, were left out of the NCAA tournament (sound familiar?), getting to the NIT championship game instead (sound familiar?).

And ever since then, the bubble has been trouble. 1997. 2000. 2004. 2005. The list goes on, and it'll keep going on.

"Well, that's all well and good, Mike," you're saying now, "but you haven't told us the reason yet."

In a way, though, I have. And I'll give you a hint.

Between the first two dates we talked about -- March of 1990 and March of 1992 -- something momentous happened at Notre Dame, something that had never happened before at any school and has not happened since. It created incredible upheaval in the landscape of college athletics and affected every other major college athletics program.

The event? Notre Dame signed an exclusive contract with NBC to cover its home games in football.

To say the other schools were pissed is an understatement. They all lost out on their own television deal, which the networks demanded be re-negotiated since ND games in South Bend would not be included, which meant money came (and continues to come) out of their pockets. That contract means ND can afford to take the high road on moral issues like player suspensions, and doesn't have to crawl hat-in-hand to ESPN to get their games broadcast on Wednesday and Thursday nights. ND wins, every one else loses.

But what can they do about it? No school is going to turn down a football date with Notre Dame and the guaranteed national television audience (and boost to their season ticket bases if the contract included at least one home game) that comes with it, even if the Irish are in a down cycle. That's just making a bad situation worse, cutting off their noses to spite their faces. They were angry, but not stupid.

Outside of football, though? Ah ha. An opportunity to extract the pound (or more) of flesh. And what better sport to hit them where it might hurt (at least a little) financially than men's basketball?

Some of the responses weren't at all subtle, like Kansas pulling out of a planned four-game contract. But much of it was a lot more so, including that from the NCAA Selection Committee, which was (and still is) made up of AD's from schools that (for the most part) got screwed in the NBC deal.

Outlandish? Sour-grape-ish? I thought so too, because I didn't believe it when it was first mentioned to me after the screw job Matt Doherty's team got.

Then, a couple years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to some folks at the various conferences for reasearch for a book I was considering (but haven't written ... yet). During small talk, I mentioned how I was getting tired of being on the wrong end of the bubble come NCAA time.

The conference person's response, summarized: "Unfortunately, you're probably going to have to get used to that unless that football contract goes away."

I was stunned. Dumbfounded. Are they really that petty? Did Pat Garrity get his title of "best ND player never to play in the NCAA tournament" because of the NBC deal? Is Mike Brey on the hot seat because other schools are pissed we get Hammond and Hayden and (until this season) crappy production value?

Apparently so. And that blows.

So don't quote past performance to me with regard to win totals and RPI or anything like that. It's all meaningless when it comes to Notre Dame. Because anything but a pristine above-reproach resume will have the Irish on the outside looking in every time, integrity of the Selection Committee be damned.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Which stands for the Event Which Shall Not Be Named, also known as the season-ending event for the Big East men's basketball season held in Madison Square Garden.

I've never hid my disdain for the Big East's post-season basketball tournaments. Contrary to popular belief, however, it's not because ND historically has not done well there. Rather, I hold disdain for ALL post-season conference basketball tournaments, Big East or otherwise. I believe they are a blight on the landscape of college basketball.

First, they render the regular season meaningless. The hard work a team has done over 10 or more weeks can be undone by a bad 20 minutes. Teams get postseason rewards they do not deserve, both on the positive side (a team that underperformed for most of the season gets hot for four days and gets a bid) and the negative side (a team losing seeding position, if not their bid itself, because of a bad game in a conference tournament).

Second, they can have an adverse effect outside the scope of their own conference. When a team that otherwise would not have received a bid to the NCAA tournament gets one by virtue of winning one of these abominations (let's call them Team A), that bid is not always given at the expense of another team in that conference (as it should). More often than not, a team in a different conference (let's call them Team B) is deprived of that NCAA berth. Yes, a reasonable argument can be made Team B could have done more in its season overall to ensure the bid. But Team B certainly did more during the season than Team A, because until Team A took their slot, Team B had a much better chance of inclusion due to a better resume.

Third, they exist solely to make money. Spare me the pleas about cool games and appealing matchups. The conferences want to milk the cash cow via the television rights. The school wants their cut by demanding high donations from alumni and fans to get the limited tickets. Ticket brokers have a field day from both sides.

Fourth, they promote unbalanced scheduling in conferences. If the EWSNBN did not exist, the Big East could play 18 conference games instead of 16, which would allow all teams to play each other at least once. Think the teams finishing just behind ND in the conference would have liked to see the Fighting Irish have to take on league-leading Pitt, possibly giving ND one more loss? Granted, the BE is going to 18 games next season anyway, but it's at the cost of two non-conference games that could be used to create compelling matchups. Instead, we'll probably see even fewer quality opponents out of conference while the 18-games-plus-tournament rule remains.

Fifth, they're physically dangerous for the players. I realize they're young, well-conditioned athletes. But they're also at the tail end of a long season. Few, if any, other sports at any level demands its participants play four two-hour high-energy games in four days in this manner. The situation almost begs for serious injuries, and I can't see most college coaches happily accepting a loss of a key player for the meaningful postseason.

I realize the tournaments are unlikely to go away any time soon, but I'm not going to let that stop me from railing against them.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Tough Noogies

The minute this season's schedule was released, I knew we would start hearing about things like this post on Marquette's Scout site. I'm reproducing the key paragraphs here only because I'm pretty sure I'm the ND fan he's talking about -- he and I met at the ND club luncheon the last time the Irish and Warriors faced off in Milwaukee -- and I feel welcome to repeat my own thoughts:

A few yrs ago, a ND fan complained to me that ND was on the bubble and went to the NIT...he said that NCAA Tourney Committee did not take into account that ND had played tough opponents like BC, Sir and Pitt in their home and home games while another team that went to the dance had played Prov, Mia and SJ

I thought of this today while listening to ND beat Cinn by 10

Putting a finer point on the SOS discussion, ND's Big East slate this season didn't seem arduous in the preseason analysis and has proven not to be. While ND had no games against UConn, which is struggling to make the EWSNBN, it also did not play league front-runner Pittsburgh. Their two-fer games were against the current 8th, 9th, and 14th place teams in the conference. Of the current top five non-ND teams in the conference, the Irish will have played four games against them by season's end, with three of those four at home.

Yes, that's not the most arduous slate. Yes, ND will benefit from it. Yes, another team that might be on the bubble like Villanova (two-fers vs. 2nd, 4th and 7th, no game vs. 11th or 14th) will probably be hurt by the unbalanced slate especially compared to ND.

My response? Tough noogies.

With all due respect to John Dodds and Jim Ganzer, both of whom I've met and like and respect a lot, I don't want to hear the whining. With all due respect to the Wildcats, whose program I like and respect a lot, I hope they are hurt by the unbalanced schedule. Then they'll all know exactly how ND felt the last three years. Don't talk to me about strength of schedule, because the Irish had that in spades and got screwed twice.

Let's go back in time to 2003-04, with ND coming off their Sweet 16 appearance. In the Big East that season, Notre Dame played eight games against the top five teams in the conference, evenly split home and road. The Fighting Irish finished in seventh place, 9-7 overall, 2-6 against those top-5 teams. For a team whose starting point guard played hurt all year and whose starting center was lost for the year in February, they did pretty well, winning seven of their last 10 games, including a good win against WVU in the EWSNBN. But no bid for the Irish -- bad loss against Central Michigan at home (way back in December with only seven healthy players) said the committee. They were, according to conventional wisdom, the last team left out of the tournament. Sorry for that tough conference slate, ND, but tough noogies.

Now 2004-05, coming off that near-miss for an NCAA bid. This time, nine games for ND against the top five teams (5H, 4R). They finished in sixth place, 9-7 overall, 3-6 against those top-5 teams, with three of the losses being by 5 points or less on the road (65-60 @ Nova, 60-57 @ Cuse, 68-66 @ Pitt). Not only did they not make the tournament, a conference team who finished two places behind them in the standings, played a much easier conference schedule, and lost to ND by 13 at home that season, was given a tournament bid in their place. Granted, that ND team was in meltdown mode down the stretch that season, and an argument can be made if they'd done better in their last 10 games the question would have been moot. The bottom line, though, is ND got the toughest BE slate by a two-game margin. The Big East got the exposure and TV screens a Fighting Irish team always brings. ND got the shaft. Tough noogies for us once again.

So I really don't want to hear about ND's schedule this year. Yes, it could have been tougher, and if the Big East had decided on the number of conference games for next year a little earlier, they might have been able to put together a better slate. If the team didn't have eight freshmen and sophomores, some in key roles, they might have been more aggressive out of conference to start the season instead of wanting a young team to get its legs under them before the conference started. And if the game against Butler had turned out differently, we could replace Lafayette with Indiana on the schedule (and possibly pick up two games in NYC), and the number would be a little higher.

But for two straight years, ND had their hopes dashed on Selection Sunday while not getting an ounce of credit for taking one for the conference team with their schedule. No one on the selection committee said a word about ND's strength of schedule those two years while relegating the Irish to the Not Invited Tournament and putting Mike Brey's job status in question.

So if they decide this year to worship at the SOS altar, it'll be yet another brick in the ND discrimination wall. And I'll address that topic after the bids come out.

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