Thursday, April 17, 2008


Yes, I made up a word. I do that sometimes. But I think it describes the 2008 Men's Basketball banquet perfectly.

Walking out of men's basketball banquets in the past, I've usually been left with the impression the banquet itself mirrored the personality of the team it celebrated in general and the seniors it honored in particular.

This year was no exception, and perhaps was the strongest example of that trend. Rob Kurz has always been a get-it-done, humble person who prefers the accolades to be aimed at his team rather than himself. Although from a technical perspective, this was among the most "advanced" hoops banquets I'd attended (multiple screens, good video production), the atmosphere was that of, for lack of a better phrase, a simple celebration of a group of players who have shown since August they like nothing better than each other's company.

Schedule conflicts meant I'd missed the last two banquets, so it's possible what I saw last night has been done before. But the sense of community on the team was unmistakable, with, as Jimmy Durante might have said, everybody wanting to get into the act. The individual awards were given away by the assistant coaches, including Gene Cross, who got emotional in his goodbye to Irish basketball. Rob Kurz spent his entire speech talking about everyone but himself. It seems everyone's response to a congratulations was "But did you see what [teammate] did?"

All that humility, however, was impregnated with what Sean Kearney described in a player as an "infectious enthusiasm". This "infectiasm", as I've dubbed it, applied to more than that player. Dr. Kevin White was more animated in his remarks than I've ever seen him at an ND function, commending the team for its accomplishments and expressing excitement at what next season may hold. ND president Fr. John Jenkins, who delayed his trip to see the Pontiff to make sure he'd have a chance to address this team, talked about the pride these young men should feel in themselves and we should feel in them, not only for what they've done but for what they're going to do.

This infectiasm is welcomed, because when a team accomplishes as much as this one has, it deserves the enthusiasm of its leaders and fans. Two straight seasons with no home losses, which hasn't happened since the 1940s, and a home court consecutive win record on the verge of falling. The third-most number of wins in a season in Notre Dame history, second in the modern era behind the 26-3 1973-74 squad. 18 Big East home wins in a row, which has only been bested by one team in the 30-year history of the conference, in an era where the Big East is among the (if not the) best conferences in the country. A two-time Big East Coach of the Year, and a sophomore Player of the Year. A second-place finish in the conference, and the best record in the conference since that disastrous 1-8 start two seasons ago.

Humble or not, this team and these coaches have a lot to be proud of, and it was good to see others taking pride in them.


Of course, it wouldn't be a basketball post from me without facilities comments.

I was disappointed last night arriving at the event to see no pictures or other renderings being displayed. Given that we're on the cusp of the nape of the precipice of the edge of getting started on this project, I would think they'd be all about showing off the plans.

My disappointment faded, though, as Associate AD Bill Scholl took to the mic to talk about the plans and what fans can expect.

(As an aside, this was a perfect example of the some-people-can't-joke-about-some-things philosophy. When former player and Monogram Club prez Marc Kelly joked that team orthopod Fred Ferlic had been with Notre Dame "since before we started fixing these seats with duct tape", it got a good laugh. When Bill Scholl talked about duct tape companies going out of business as a result of these renovations, on the other hand, a lot more silence. Players and fans can joke about the tape. Admins, on whose shoulders the responsibility rests to make the tape unnecessary, should not, especially with these upgrades as late as they are)

The presentation had plenty of pictures, including an alternate view of this shot. The new atrium has changed a bit from the original design, and meshes with the football stadium. The new area will be built out to the south of the JC, and seems to include a single entrance. The seats will be brought right to courtside, although Scholl didn't mention if students would be in those seats or not, and every seat will be a navy blue chairback.

My objections to the priorities of this project remain -- I'll happily remain in my bleacher seat if there were more in this effort that directly benefitted the student athletes. But hopefully that's to come, and if the pictures they showed last night come to fruition, Purcell Pavilion certainly will be a cleaner, nicer-looking place to watch a game.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Moose Season

It never fails ... I have a day with limited Internet access, and all kinds of stuff goes down with ND basketball.

Each deserves its own entry, so I'll start with Gene Cross, the new head basketball coach at the University of Toledo. I'm sure I'm not alone in congratulating GC on his first head coaching gig and wishing him the best of luck. This opportunity is waaaaay overdue for him. He brought an excellent dynamic to Notre Dame the past two seasons, and we saw the results both on and off the court. I certainly hope we have room on the schedule for a home-and-home for Toledo the next two seasons.

This leaves an opening on the Irish coaching staff. While I wouldn't expect Mike Brey to fill it immediately, news comes from the Trib's Brian Hamilton that current restricted-slot Irish coach and CBO Martin "Moose" Ingelsby will fill Cross' spot, at least temporarily.

Let's get the caveats out of the way. BH's article doesn't mention if this promotion is permanent or not. Mike's quote from the article indicates he'll be looking for a new assistant, but doesn't mention whether it's to fill Cross' vacancy or Moose's. Things are vague, and a lot can still happen.

Let me also be crystal clear that I love Moose, both as a player and as a person and as a potential coach. I think he rose above his limitations, so to speak, as a player, and never doubted he'd give everything he had whenever he was on the floor. He had outstanding leadership skills, and his teammates believed in and followed him. I think he'd bring all of those same qualities to coaching, and look forward to the day when he's running a D1 program.

Having said all of those things, things I believe with all my heart, I think moving him up to permanent assistant right now is a bad move, for a number of reasons.

First, Moose needs to get some non-ND experience. His entire assistant coaching career, other than one year at Wagner, has been under the Dome. As someone who loves ND dearly, I can appreciate that characteristic in others. However, if Moose is to become a well-rounded coach, recruiter, and sideline leader, he needs to have a more diverse palate.

In the business world, getting a bachelor's and master's degree from the same school is considered a negative because it's a potential over-exposure to a single perspective. I believe the same would apply to coaching. At this point in his career, Mike should be gently nudging Moose out of the nest, not tucking him in.

Second, the past few seasons have shown us how important diverging points of view are on a coaching staff. When Anthony Solomon left after the Sweet 16 season, Mike promoted Rod Balanis out of the CBO slot and brought Moose home from Wagner. That proved problematic, as Mike now had an entire staff of coaches like him -- offense- and guard-oriented "players coaches" who were more teachers than ass-kickers. The result was three seasons where the results trended downward and the players lacked discipline.

There's nothing wrong with coaching as a teacher. Every staff needs some of that, and you have to be the coach you are or you won't succeed. But every staff also needs someone to be the drill instructor and go to the whip when things start to lag -- the balance of ying and yang. That keeps the balance and helps move the whole program forward.

That's what Anthony Solomon was in Mike's first three seasons, and that's what Gene Cross has been in the last two: the defensive-minded drill sergeant who wasn't afraid to put a foot in someone's ass when required. I don't think it's a coincidence those five years in which the staff had good balance resulted in successful regular seasons and NCAA tournament bids.

If Moose rotates into the assistant coach spot, Mike's back to the same problem he had three seasons ago. He's got a group of coaches whose first thought is offense and who work great with guards. He doesn't have someone to counterbalance his experience and perspective and provide "fresh blood" into recruiting, game prep, etc.

Finally, and not to put too fine a point on it, Mike also needs racial diversity on his staff, especially at a predominantly white school like Notre Dame. It's no secret that the racial makeup of the student body at ND works as a slight negative when trying to recruit African-American student athletes. The football program has had to deal with it for years, and basketball must handle it as well.

Whether it's recruiting African-American players or seeing after their well-being once they arrive on campus, it's important to have someone on the staff who can relate to them on as many levels as possible. I don't believe being a minority on a Caucasian campus isn't the kind of thing a white coach can naturally relate to.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that any of the current assistant coaches or Mike Brey don't have the best interests of all their players, regardless of race, in mind at all times, because it's clear to anyone with a double-digit IQ they do. I'm saying just as you have a broad spectrum of players on your team, you should also have a broad spectrum of coaches. Just as that applies to experience and tendencies, as I addressed above, it also applies to race.

Moose is going to be an excellent coach someday. But if he wants to be the best coach he can be, and ND wants to be the best program it can be, I believe it's best for both sides he continue his growth elsewhere and, just as Cross was two years ago, another batch of "new blood" be injected into the veins of Irish basketball to keep it vital.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Dish Best Served Cold

Almost nine years ago, a frustrated Fighting Irish football fan wallowing in the midst of a 5-7 effort by Bob Davie and crew, vented those frustrations by writing a fake news article for a Usenet newsgroup. In that newsgroup, creating such faux factograms was de rigeur, with participants trying to hook as many fish as possible.

Ironically, the furor that article created helped set me on the path of "legitimate" reporting that brought me to NDNation (via NDHoops) and book authorship and the wonderful community The Pit has become. But at the time, the hassles ended up outnumbering the laughs, and I swore off fake news, seemingly forever.

But that's the problem with lessons learned long ago ... they tend to fade in your head. And you end up in the shower on one April Fool's Day morning with an idea bouncing around in your noggin, and you forget (as many folks do) that a lot more people read posts on the board than the people who respond. Then you read blog entries about your little joke, and realize you got some 'splainin' to do.

Let's be clear: As far as I'm aware, no one from Indiana University has talked or plans to talk to Mike Brey about anything. My impression has always been Mike is happy as a clam at ND and has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon. Just so no one remains confused.

It's hard to determine how to react here.

On the one hand, as I constantly remind people (and should have reminded myself), plenty of people read the Internet and plenty of messages have unintended consequences. Two seasons or so ago, the father of a signed recruit sent an email to some friends where he shared some Ancient Chinese Secrets about how the coaching staff was doing business. The recipients forwarded to two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on, and next thing the poor guy knew, the email was being posted on every ND site and was traveling all over the world. He ended up very embarrassed, as did (I'm sure) his son.

Now I find myself in a similar situation. We here at NDN are certainly blessed with a large and active readership, but that readership comes at a cost. I usually pride myself on verifying info I'm going to share, and when I do things like this, I jeopardize that relationship with the readers.

On the other hand, though, it's freaking April Fool's Day. Part of me thinks the only thing I should be embarrassed about is the joke is so hackneyed a twit like Brendan Loy apparently thought of it too. And if we can read stuff like this about Juli Boeheim, perhaps I should tell people to lighten the !@#$ up about my relatively tame stuff.

But then again, I'm not and don't want to be either of those guys.

I see the points of those who wonder if what I did was a good idea. At various points during the day, I've wondered myself. But it's done, and I gave up second guessing myself for Lent, so onward and upward. Besides, IU seems to have their coach, and I get to watch the Marquette folks get all squirrelly to boot.

Maybe it's a better day than I thought....

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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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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Same Old, Same Old

As I've said before, it's never a good thing when someone starts an email warning you you're going to get pissed.

But a couple weeks ago, a friend of mine on campus sent me one warning that the hockey program had received a $15 million donation towards their facility upgrade from [name redacted], but they weren't going to announce it just yet because there was concern how Mike Brey and Muffet McGraw would react to hockey getting their nest egg filled before basketball.

At first, I was more sanguine. Hockey's current playing area is a complete dump and needs an upgrade more than the hoops side does (which is really saying something). The price tag I was quoted for the arena-within-arena project was $15 to $20m, so this would mean their project is funded and attention can once again be put towards getting the last few hundred thousand so ground can be broken on the basketball project. It's not the hockey program's fault there's a well-to-do subway alumnus who likes Jackson and the job he's doing (although one wonders where the hoops version is, considering it's been more popular for much longer at ND).

Then I heard the budget for the project had jumped from $15m to $25 or $30m. No problem, I thought. The practice facilities ND needs for basketball will cost somewhere around $10m to really do right, so maybe they've decided to reward Mike and Muffet for their patience and make that part of the North Dome renovation.

Then I read this, specifically:
It turns out that the $15 million price tag was only for the base model of a new arena. A juiced-up model, one with all the bells and whistles of an elite national program, goes for considerably more -- actually, about $10 million to $15 million more.

Let me get this straight, thought I. They have full funding to give a non-revenue-producing sport a good-quality arena. But instead, they're going to go out and find a couple more million (or tens of millions) to "juice it up" and give it "bells and whistles". It'll still be an arena-within-an-arena, just like the original plan, but now it's going to have bling out the wazoo even though the R.O.I calculations on the project will get even worse. Meanwhile, the project to give a revenue-producing sport it's first meaningful physical plant upgrade in 40 years continues to languish for want of $700,000, and that plan still won't include the desperately-needed practice facilities.

And my head exploded.

The good news, if there is any, is they won't be taking up the entire North dome. They'll still be in half of it, but it'll be permanent space. This means, hopefully, there's still room to put the practice facility in there, which is the optimal solution, provided the same fundraising apparatus that can't come up with $700,000 for the arena can get the money for it.

But that's all the good news to be had here for hoops fans, as we watch our pays-for-itself program get cut off by yet another money-losing Olympic sport at the funding trough. Golf has that all-weather driving range that's so critical to their success. Hockey will now be getting "bells and whistles". And if the rumors I hear are true, women's crew (a sport barely above club-level) will be getting a boathouse at a cost somewhere (perhaps significantly) north of a million dollars.

All while basketball practices in a columned concrete box in the Joyce Center basement with no weight or training machines, and plays in an arena whose floor is held down by duck tape, whose seats are worn, whose concessions and bathrooms are 25 years out of date, whose press facilities aren't even high school level, and whose latest locker room upgrades are almost a decade old and were only done because the previous coach threatened to quit if they weren't.

I've long said one of the reasons I want Mike Brey to succeed at ND is to prove that nice guys don't always finish last. But I think, in this area, that's working against him. He and Muffet have been waiting eight years for these promised upgrades ... way too long for a project that will not include practice digs, will still have wires going across the floor, and will focus more on the fat cats in luxury suites than the players toiling on the court.

So if I were Mike and Muffet, I would walk into Kevin White's office and inform him on January 1st, there's going to be a press conference down there on the Joyce Center's (inadequate) floor, at which one of two things are going to happen:

1) He will be announcing the timetable for a fully-funded and ready-to-start renovation of the basketball facilities at Notre Dame, which will include not only the long-promised seat replacements and improvements to the arena physical plant but also practice space and dedicated weight and training areas for both basketball teams.

2) They will be announcing their joint resignations as head coach for Notre Dame's basketball programs, explaining that after being lied to for eight years about the plans for the program's future, they could no longer see their way clear to working for a school that obviously doesn't care about basketball. After said conference, they and their agents would be placing calls to every coach they know warning them about the lack of support they'd receive if they took a job in South Bend.

It's time to take the gloves off. It's time for the school to explain to long-suffering basketball fans why they can't figure out how to get money raised for the second-most popular sport at ND. To explain why there aren't even architectural drawings yet for a project that has been on the boards for over eight years. To explain what it is about all these in-the-red Olympic sports that makes them more deserving of multi-million-dollar projects than a basketball program that actually would have a chance of paying for their upgrades over time.

We want to know, Kevin. We deserve to know. What's your answer?

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Jane, You Ignorant Slut

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.


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.


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.


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.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Test Your Strength? Not Us, I Guess

I'm starting to feel like Bob Alexander expressing shock that wrongdoing was not confined to the Vice-President's office. But the more I'm hearing about our basketball non-conference schedule, the more it's sounding like the 7-4-1 philosophy on hardwood.

Last season, ND played an OOC schedule heavy on the cupcakes and the home games. Given how many underclassmen were expected to contribute, this made sense in general. However, the concept was taken to an extreme, as this RPI (per analysis shows, and the sugar content of the non-conference slate hurt ND at NCAA selection time when the Fighting Irish were given a #6 seed despite being a BE semifinalist and matched up against the toughest #11.

#16 - @ Maryland (BB&T)
#27 - @ Butler (PNIT)
#49 - Alabama
#197 - Rider
#225 - Army
#241 - Lehigh
#243 - IPFW
#279 - Portland
#281 - Stony Brook
#284 - vs. Lafayette (PNIT)
#298 - Elon
#304 - Winston-Salem State
#308 - Citadel

Average opponent RPI: 212
Median opponent RPI: 243

To call the drop-off after the top three opponents precipitous would be an understatement. Given 336 teams in the RPI rankings, an average non-conference schedule would be rated at 168. ND's ranked almost 13 percent below that.

Granted, had ND defeated Butler, their game against #28 Indiana would have bumped the average to 190. And games in NYC, had the Irish made it that far, would have helped. But since those games aren't guaranteed, you can't schedule assuming they're going to help you. And even that 190 is below average.

As it turns out, last year's slate is looking arduous compared to what we're seeing so far this season (list based on ND department mailings and released schedules by opponents):

#56 - Kansas St. (Jimmy V Classic, NYC)
#61 - average of #52 Georgia Tech and #70 Winthrop (Paradise Jam 3rd round)
(#146 Charlotte and #159 UIC are also possibles for that game)
#120 - average of #100 Wichita State and #141 Baylor (Paradise Jam 2nd round)
#162 - San Francisco
#173 - Youngstown State
#230 - Brown
#235 - Eastern Michigan
#259 - Monmouth (Paradise Jam 1st round)
#261 - Colgate
#301 - Northern Illinois
#310 - LIU
#333 - North Florida

Average opponent RPI: 208
Median opponent RPI: 232

On the good news side, the median has gone up, meaning overall the range is better. The 250-300 range, which helped kill ND's SOS, has gone from four to two.

But the average is still horrendous. Three of the top four teams on the list -- Kansas State, Winthrop, and Wichita State -- achieved those rankings with coaches who are no longer there. The top-ranked team on the list, Georgia Tech, can only be an opponent if both they and Notre Dame win two games in the Bahamas. And there are now three 300+ ranked teams in there, two of which are ranked lower than anyone on ND's schedule last year.

To be fair, we're still waiting on two more games to be announced, and even though both are at home, there's the possibility there may be one quality opponent beginning a multi-year contract. But in order to improve this slate, both are going to have to be at least be in the top 125, maybe even the top 100.

Last season, Syracuse became the first 10-win Big East team to not make the NCAA tournament. One of the factors in that decision, according to the Committee members, was an un-challenging out-of-conference slate that included too many weak teams at home. ND seems hell-bent to put that theory to the test once again.

I've complained numerous times about the lack of fan support in the past couple of years, especially considering how exciting last year's team is. So I get incredibly frustrated when they trot out a slate like this one, replete with uninteresting matchups, because it kicks my argument right, as Cash would say, in the fruitstand.

It drives me crazy when I look at the RPI lists and I see traditional Irish opponents like Dayton at #75 and Loyola at #101, or other Catholic programs like Creighton at #20 and St. Louis at #74. Any of those schools would not only be a compelling game for the fans but also would give the Irish an RPI boost that would no doubt help them come tournament time. And God forbid we go on the road to play at least one of them, which would help even more.

If ND wins its first six games this season, they will set a new consecutive game win streak at the Joyce Center. That record will be a little asterisk-y if it's achieved against a slate of cupcakes whose RPI's sit on the wrong side of 250.

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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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Monday, March 26, 2007

One More Year!

A variation on an election year theme, that's become a rallying cry of sorts on the Pit since the postseason began, although it quieted a little in the post-Winthrop wake. And it's a cry I hate with a passion, because a sliding scale like that isn't worth spit.

What is the point of a coach "earning one more year"? A guy is either your coach or he isn't. To create a never-ending "I'm from Missouri" tap dance, with the watchers kicking the can down the lane waiting to see which side of the fence the guy falls on so they can say they "saw it coming all along" is an unparalleled waste of time and mental energy.

There doesn't seem to be any logic to the position. If the coach did things during a season that leads you to believe things are going well, why would you want to hold on to him for only one more year? Wouldn't you want to lock him up to make sure you don't lose him? At the very least, he's learning and getting better on your dime, and you're going to want a return on your investment.

On the other hand, if he didn't do enough during a season to lead you to believe things are going well, why would you want to postpone the inevitable? What does waiting a year do for you other than delay program movement back to where you want? Besides, recruits aren't dumb: they know a dead man walking when they see it.

A lot of people like John 3:16, but my favorite 3:16 has always been Revelations: "Therefore because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit thee out of My mouth." Those Laodiceans were cruisin' for an ass kicking. So are we. Make your choice, people -- he's either your guy or he's not. To quote George Carlin, pick a hole and stick with it.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Remember, It's Winthrop

Boy, did I have that one wrong. Never saw a game with that many horrific aspects coming.

It's season's end, and a looking-back-and-looking-forward-type article will be coming shortly. But reading Mark Schlabach's article about the game yesterday, some paragraphs jumped out at me:

The Eagles' trip to Spokane has been just as arduous as the sportswriters' drive from home. It was Winthrop's first win in seven tries in the NCAA Tournament, after two gut-wrenching defeats in each of the previous two seasons. In 2005, the Eagles led No. 3 seed Gonzaga for 36 minutes before losing 74-64. Last season, Winthrop was tied with No. 2 seed Tennessee in the final seconds, until Chris Lofton drilled a desperation shot at the buzzer to beat the Eagles 63-61.

"It's been a long time coming," Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall said. "It's been nine years. Nine years of pouring your heart and soul into something and being close in the past. Everything that we have done in the past 12 months, from the time that shot went in against Tennessee last year, we dedicated to this moment. That's a lot to invest in something."

Aside from wondering if that emphasis will mean they'll have anything left in the tank Sunday, I must confess I liked the focus. I liked the anger. I liked the single-minded dedication, although as I said, we'll see Sunday if that backfires.

From reading the ND stories post-game, it seems the Irish have that anger now. A lot of stoicism in the locker room, a whole lot of disappointment.


The underclassmen need to remember how this feels. They all need to remember how they played. KMac needs to remember how he could have helped had he been here. The season was good overall, but the NCAA game was like bombing a final when you have an A in the class. You end up with a much lower grade and memories of what should have been.

That anger needs to be harnessed, focused and utilized. It must be the crucible by which a team with emerging talent can get over the hump and back to where it should be after many years of being almost there.

So here's what I'd do if I were Mike Brey: Go online at my earliest convenience and purchase a Winthrop basketball jersey. I tried to do the work for him, but it doesn't seem like there's a place to buy them online. The closest I could come were some T-shirts and sweatshirts like the ones here. The good news is it seems Follett runs their bookstore as well as ND's, so obtaining something of this type will probably not prove difficult.

I'd get that jersey/sweatshirt/whatever, and I'd hang it in the middle of the locker room. Not the lounge where the media goes or anything like that --- the locker area where the players congregate. The players would understand that if anyone touches that jersey/sweatshirt/whatever, the entire team will run until they're hospitalized.

Then I'd leave it there for the entire season, hanging. I'd wheel it out on a rack during practices. I'd take it on roadtrips and hang it in whatever locker room ND used. In fact, for players who violate team rules or who are otherwise not focused, I'd make them wear it around campus for 24 hours.

Put it out there, right where they can see it and not get away from it. Put it out there, to remind them of what they could have done. Put it out there, as a motivator when things get tough.

ND has a lot to play for next season. They've got a 20-game home win streak that is five short of the Joyce Center record and 14 short of the ND home record overall. They've got a good conference performance to build on that will have to be maintained against what will undoubtedly be a tougher Big East slate next year. And now that they've returned to the NCAA's, they need to get there again and play better.

A little reminder of what happens when you don't meet those goals can only help.

No doubt ND will get a shot at revenge next season -- both the Fighting Irish and Winthrop are in the Paradise Jam in the Bahamas in the Fall, and the people who run it aren't stupid and know a buzz-generating rematch when they see it. But it won't be the same. Marshall will no doubt be gone to greener pastures -- probably his goal from the get-go, realizing he had an upperclassman-laden team that might get him a better opportunity than College of Charleston. Bradshaw and Martin, who led their team to the win and scored more than half of Winthrop's points, are seniors and will be playing elsewhere.

They'll never get this one back, and they need to remember that.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Return of the Native

You always like it when good things happen to good people. So naturally, I'm very happy Kyle McAlarney will be returning to ND in the summer.

This tells me one or more of a couple things happened in the past 48 hours:
  • KMac was able to look past the hurt and aggravation of the situation and make a mature, reasoned decision. He likes his coach, he likes his teammates. Why rush into a new situation requiring you to rebuild all those relationships?

  • Notre Dame managed to execute some original thinking in an extremely expeditious manner, and altered the punishment towards reasonableness enough to make things more palatable for this young man. Yes, people can take summer classes at ND as "unenrolled students", but remember that students under the kind of "suspension" that KMac is are banned from campus for its duration. So if he's going to be taking summer classes, something changed.

This was a bad situation on all sides. KMac did something stupid, and ND put its foot in it with an over-reactive punishment. That both sides could pull themselves back from the edge and not allow pride or intransigence to make the situation worse probably is the best possible outcome.

Having said that, both sides have some work to do.

This all started with KMac getting caught with marijuana. I'm among those who view marijuana use as a Not Good Thing, and my strong preference would be for him to look at this situation as a potential life lesson for him. This created a major inconvenience in his life, and could have been more costly for him. Assuming he was the one using the weed at some point that day, he needs to ask himself: was it worth all this?

That Notre Dame managed a partial recovery from their gaffe doesn't absolve them from the self-evaluation required to make sure it never happens again. I can understand a strong stance against controlled substances, but a policy of harsh punishments for good-citizen first-time offenders who are not even accused of use doesn't make a lot of sense to me, particularly when a student can drive while drunk and not be banished from campus. I also have a hard time with a system of justice where some offenders avoid ResLife review altogether while others cannot. Notre Dame needs to convene whatever kind of group it convenes for this sort of thing and review duLac from stem to stern to make sure these kinds of inconsistencies are ironed out.

This is a learning moment for both KMac and ND. If they take advantage of it, they'll be better for it.

And lest we forget, kudos to Mike Brey and KMac's teammates for stepping into the breach and helping to work towards a solution. This is just another example of the strong chemistry and camaraderie this squad has shown, which has gone a long way towards the unexpected positive results this season. Regardless of what you may think of coaching decisions, Mike Brey has shown once again he understands ND and what makes the ND family work, and is willing to put that into practice even in the face of the place's questionable decisions.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

And so it begins

This article by Gary Parrish is only the tip of the public relations nightmare Notre Dame has unleashed upon itself, yet again.

This is the kind of publicity that is going to give recruiting a kick in the fruitstand, no matter who is coaching here. And for my gridiron-focused readers, rest assured it won't stop with basketball.

For all of the people trumpeting how "he broke the law" and all that, recognize the reality that a blunt in a car is not considered to be a big deal by most people. How players and coaches will interpret this is Notre Dame let a kid who had never been in any kind of trouble dangle in the wind for almost a month and then suspended him for a semester for something that, in the grand scheme of things, is not a big deal.

Players may not envision themselves as using marijuana, but I'm quite sure they can envision themselves doing relatively harmless things that aren't any big deal. Now Notre Dame has shown they react to those things with very harsh suspensions, no matter how good a person you've been otherwise. Not exactly the most positive environment, especially for 17-year-old kids who are thinking about both their academic and playing futures.

And what do you think if you're Mike Brey? Based on what ND has told you, you've given this kid hope he'd remain in school for the semester. Now not only did ND yank the rug out from under you, they did it an hour before you were supposed to leave for a road trip, leaving you no time to be with a player in your program desperately in need of counsel and advice. Between the renovation delays and now this, I'm amazed he hasn't resigned.

(and for those of you who clap at that possibility, remember other coaching candidates are watching this stuff very carefully, and if you think they'll want to cast their lot with an administration that does this kind of crap for any amount of money, you're crazy)

This has nothing to do with coddling athletes and everything to do with having, as Parrish put it, common sense. This has nothing to do with teaching, which is what Notre Dame is supposed to be about, and everything to do with image, which is what Notre Dame obviously remains obsessed with.

And it needs to be fixed, quickly and publicly, before it does real and permanent damage.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Travishamockery, and other thoughts

A travesty, they say.

Or at least Mike Lopresti of USA Today says it.

When discussing Notre Dame's chances of making it to the BCS championship game, Lopresti (and probably many others) responds:

"Absolutely not. Notre Dame instead of Michigan would be a travesty after the Wolverines drilled the Irish 47-21 in South Bend."

So head-to-head matters.

I'm shocked, but still have a question: Where was this cold-hearted logic in 1993?

Notre Dame, 11-1. Florida State, 12-1. The head-to-head battle, played in late November, ended in favor of the Irish, with the game not as close as the final score indicated.

So who held the trophy in January? Florida State, of course. Because, we were told, head-to-head isn't the best determinant. Except when it is, and then it is.

That's the biggest reason I want ND to end up in the NC game on January 8th. The pundits will wail and gnash their teeth. The Michigan faithful will rend their garments (assuming they have any un-rent after Bo's passing).

Then Charlie Weis can get up in a press conference, and to every question posed him concerning the BCS, he can respond, "1993".

In fact, I just thought of a more delicious scenario. Some of it may be far-fetched, but stay with me:

Notre Dame wins comfortably in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Either Florida or Arkansas are upset by F$U or LSU, respectively.
The Florida/Arkansas upset victim then wins the SEC Championship game.

Come BCS selection day, the Irish and Wolverines are the only one-loss teams left. The pollsters and pundits, deciding to employ the cold-hearted logic, send the Skunkbears to the NC game for a rematch with tOSU.

The Irish are sent to the Sugar Bowl, where they unmericfully pound the SEC champ.
Michigan wins a mistake-filled game in Glendale.

Now what do the pollsters do? The coaches, by contract, have to vote for Michigan. But the AP folks aren't under the same restriction. They can choose a Michigan team that got a second bite at the apple, or an ND team that defeated two top-five opponents comfortably in the season's last two games.

Both teams 12-1. The head-to-head battle, played in September, ended in favor of Michigan (who had a distinct advantage in prep time).

So who holds the AP trophy in January?

Remember, head-to-head isn't the best determinant. That's what we were told in 1993.

Except when it is.

Either way, the reactions from Ann Arbor would be a lifetime's worth of entertainment.

Some other items tickling my brain, mostly on the hoops side:


Besides a distressing return to the Bad Old Days, the Butler loss had another negative effect -- on ND's strength of schedule.

Granted, if Butler does well in NYC (and over the course of the season), that neutral-site game will help the Irish. But neutral-site games against some combination of Gonzaga, Tennessee and North Carolina would have done even more.

Some people feel this schedule was set up for an NCAA bid. Outside of Maryland and Alabama, the remaining OOC contests weigh heavy on the cupcake scale, and the BE slate lacks any games against UConn or Pittsburgh while featuring South Florida twice. While this will do a lot for the win total, it's not going to do a lot for the SOS factor, which means ND is walking on a knife's edge. One bad loss might give the committee all it needs to relegate the Irish to the NIT once again.


I'm sure people are sick of ND people whining about 1993, but that pales to the degree I'm tired of hearing about how the ND basketball team quit two years ago. I'm tired of hearing it from ND students, tired of hearing it from ND alumni, tired of hearing it from ND fans.

Yes, that team fell apart. Yes, that team lacked any kind of cohesion. Yes, key players on that team mailed it in down the stretch. Yes, the coaching staff should not have allowed it to happen. Yes, it was a Bad Thing.

But just about everyone involved with that team is gone now. None of the players on the floor for the Irish can be accused of laying down that season. Most of them weren't even there. Of the ones who were, Russell Carter hardly played and the (rightfully) villified Holy Cross game was Rob Kurz's coming-out party. And I know people have a lot of opinions on Colin Falls, but I've never read "slacker" as one of them. I've never seen him give anything less than everything when he plays.

And last season, when this team had every reason to throw in the towel after so many close losses, they kept bringing it every game. That says something about the mental fortitude of the players and the coaches alike.

I think plenty of evidence exists to support a belief that situation was a one-time thing, and (to be blunt) I think the people who continue to harp on it are glomming on to a situation that fits the argument they want to make and are riding it long after it's been an effective argument.

Start your engines

The clamor already has begun for Mike Brey to work Luke "Bamm Bamm" Harangody into the starting lineup.

In today's SBT, MB is quoted as being concerned how that would affect the team dynamic.

I can't speak to dynamics, but if history is our guide, starting doesn't necessarily mean anything.

Over his last two seasons, David Graves was moved out of the starting lineup twice. But if you look at his minutes played, they stayed pretty constant. So while his name wasn't being called during the spotlight intros, he was still contributing in the same ways he had before the "demotion".

So I don't necessarily have a problem with him being out of the starting lineup. I would, however, have a problem with him not being among the leaders in minutes played among the Irish big men. Bamm Bamm has been pretty effective in his time played thus far, so if such effectiveness can be continued over more minutes, let's do that.

T'is the season for pushing envelopes, after all.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

N Apostrophe T

My kids and I really enjoy the Electric Company DVD set. The show is a happy childhood memory for me because I learned a lot about reading and enjoyed Morgan Freeman's work long before he was buying bus tickets to Fort Hancock, Texas.

I thought of those DVDs last night and this morning, in the aftermath of ND's loss to Butler in the Preseason NIT, when I read how it's difficult to get a post feed late in a game or how the young guys have a hard time against older competition or one- or two-and-done players probably won't choose ND.

I can't remember if it was Rita Mareno or Judy Graubart, but the sketch I thought of concerns a young lady who is always saying no to things. Suitors approach and are rebuffed time and time again. She thrives, she says, on "N apostrophe T".

I don't want to hear that out of any Notre Dame basketball person's mouth this season. I don't want to hear or read quotes from any player or coach that ND isn't / wasn't / can't / won't / shouldn't / couldn't do or be anything anywhere at any time. That's the kind of thinking that leads to conservatism, and conservatism is the absolutely last thing the Fighting Irish need this year.

If someone asks Mike Brey whether he believes Kyle MacAlarney could sink the winning three-point basket and then float to the top of the Joyce Center on gossamer wings while dropping a deuce on the opposing coach's head, I want him to respond, "Hell yes, we work on that every day in practice. Think that'll go well with Pitino's hair gel?"

If someone inquires about Luke Harangody's new shoes, I want to hear he bought them so when he leaps from the foul line for a monster dunk, he'll look good in the poster.

It has nothing to do with truth and everything to do with attitude. Until coaches and players alike learn, they won't believe, and until they believe, they won't win consistently. If you don't believe ND can win, you shouldn't be at ND, period.

We saw the old conservatism last night. Four guys with more than 31 minutes, three of them over 34. Limited substitutions. Over-reliance on the perimeter, especially late in the game. The result was a carbon copy of last season -- a hard-fought, close loss, with the Irish playing poorly down the stretch in both halves. And then the n-apostrophe-t's came out in the postgame.

We didn't see that conservatism in the first three games. We saw a deep bench -- a nine-man rotation that got double-figure minutes apiece. We saw a lot of energy for thw whole game. We saw the ball pounded inside and players like Rob Kurz and even youngsters like Harangody responding with monster efforts. Granted, the competition level wasn't high, but let's remember in the last two seasons, even the gimme games were worry-inducing. This time, they were easy-peasey victories. And afterwards, we heard a lot about what the players could do and what the program could and should do.

I believe there's a relationship there.

Will they win them all? Of course not. Young players make mistakes, and mistakes are likely to cost the team wins here and there. But if they don't make the mistakes and then learn from them, they'll be making the same mistakes as sophomores and juniors, and that's when a team really has problems.

If you have the belief, you have the keys to a win. If you don't have the belief, you should turn your keys in.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Obviously, you don't have any experience...

(to avoid the inevitable confusion, if you don't get the joke behind the entry title, realize you're missing something and don't bother complaining about it)

Aside of giving me a chance to write (which I usually find theraputic), one of the biggest benefits of blogging for me is the opportunity to organize my thoughts better than message board posting usually allows. Blog entries have a little more permanence, and I can use that permanence to address issues I think are important.

Over the past few months, those issues have ranged from philosophical topics like VM performances on campus and The DaVinci Codes to athletic situations like the Joyce Center and former ND football coaches.

This time, though, I'm going to talk about me, which I usually try to avoid because of the risk of it being an uninteresting topic. Specifically, I want to address my philosophies of website operation with special attention towards The Pit.

If you've read a couple of the other boards lately, some folks aren't too fond of those philosophies. Let's review my favorite accusations via quotes from various emails over the past year or two.

You censor your site. Anyone who is critical of Mike Brey gets their posts deleted or gets banned. You hate free speech.

Coffey has to suck up to Brey to get access to the program. Brey wrote the foreword for his book and Coffey doesn't want him to leave.

Brey can't do anything wrong. You blame all the problems on the facilities.

Anyone who doesn't toe the line and talk nice about Mike Brey gets beaten up by the mob on the Pit and then kicked out.

So fine, as Dave Kovic would say, let's talk about it.

Do I think Mike Brey is a good man? Absolutely. In a profession featuring more than its fair share of assholes, it's refreshing in a way to see a good person try to succeed. I make no apologies for liking him or wanting him to have success.

Do I think Mike Brey can and has made mistakes? Also absolutely. No philosophies are bulletproof, and I think in some cases poor decisions were made. And as I've said in just about every entry and post I've made on the topic, the questions about facilities are not tied to the questions about coaching. Facilities don't help on defense or run a good play out of a timeout or give us any point bonuses in games. The day-to-day execution of the team is the responsibility of the coaches and always has been.

Do I kick people out for complaining about the program? Not as much now as I used to.

I'll happily cop to having had a quick trigger finger in MB's first couple of years. After being tortured for a decade watching ND basketball teams try but not get to where they needed (or I wanted them) to be, I considered people who were bitching during seasons that featured NCAA tournament runs to be way way too premature and knee-jerk. I didn't feel like reading stuff like that after suffering through the 1990s, and the quickest route was to just launch the perpetrators because I don't have all day to read the boards.

(Slight tangent: In other words, the same philosophy I use today regarding people who bitch about Charlie Weis. We just finished 10 years of excruciating football, and now we have a guy who understands the program and is having early success on the field. Yet we still have people who complain we're not getting the five-star recruits fast enough or the defense is giving up 20 points a game when it should be 10 or whatever. It's incredibly annoying to have to read, and as a moderator of the site, I don't have the option of ignoring it. Yes, it might turn out to be a problem, but for crying out loud, can we be happy for a season or two? As far as I can tell, that doesn't mean I'm in Charlie Weis' pocket. It would be rather interesting if it meant I were, seeing as I've only spoken to the man once for about 30 seconds.)

Additionally, there was a small but vociferous group who, for whatever reason, decided right after MB was hired that they didn't like him. Maybe he should have had the team wear bandanas to practice. We weren't even halfway through the first season and they were quickly pointing out every shortcoming, no matter how minor. I have no time for anyone who is going to make a judgement that quickly, and again, I lack the time and patience to tolerate it long-term. So they got bounced.

That may have set a bad precedent for me as the seasons progressed. Given the benefit of hindsight, I identified cases where I may have allowed that experience to color some of my decisions. In those cases, the people got reinstated. Some are still with us, some are not.

In some other cases, I allowed people who had been launched that I didn't feel deserved reinstatement the chance to prove their own cases on the merits, giving them new handles and then staying out of the way. In a couple of cases, it worked out. In a couple others, it didn't.

Some who may have been prematurely launched validated the decision after the fact by acting like tools via email and other message boards. Those people won't be missed.

So where are we now? Three years of improving results have been followed by three years where the team has fallen short, seemingly by a larger margin every season. Complaints I didn't consider logical three years ago after a Sweet 16 appearance are much more logical now. Shortcomings with a couple of seasons of data to back them up make for more logical and calm discussions. If some people consider that "relaxing censorship", that's on them.

As I said, I like Mike Brey and I want him to succeed at ND because I'm naturally drawn to wanting good things for good people. But if this season doesn't work out and/or the ND administration decides they want change, I'm not going to shut the site down. I'll keep doing what I've always done -- try to provide a place where people enjoy talking about ND basketball and pass along whatever info and news happens to come my way. I'm not going to grease up the frisbee because I thought we'd go farther these past few seasons than we did. If I knew everything, I sure as hell wouldn't waste my time here.

The program is bigger than me or MB or Kevin White or JAG or Phil Purcell or any other individual person associated with it (remotely or otherwise). And it'll continue after this season no matter what happens. So I will as well.

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