by Mike Coffey
Back at Thanksgiving, with the Irish slogging through the non-conference slate and Tim Abromaitis secured on the bench with a wrecked knee, I would have bet a couple multiples of my mortgage my NCAA bracket wouldn’t include the words “Notre Dame”. In fact, I gave at least a couple minutes thought to how running a CBI pool would go over here, since we’ve never had to do one of those before.
Yet here I sit filling out my NDN pool sheet, and there I see the magic words.
Whoda thunkit? Not me, that’s for damn sure. And there are about a dozen players and half a dozen coaches who deserve all the credit in the world for making that happen. Instead of rolling over and giving up, they went out there and proved everyone wrong, winning 13 games in the Big East, finishing third overall, and securing the conference tourney (which still blows, by the way) double-bye. An outstanding accomplishment for such a young and depleted squad, and if South Florida hadn’t come from nowhere to get an NCAA berth as well, Mike Brey’s name likely would have been on the Coach of the Year trophy yet again.
12 straight years of postseason play, nine of them in the NCAAs. 93 home wins in the last 100 games. A top-15 recruiting class coming in, and finally some fanbase traction on the sorely-needed practice facility. Like Virginia Slims, ND hoops has come a long way, baby, and that won’t change regardless of the result on March 16th.
But is it as far as it can go? That’s the $64k question, and one that all the aforementioned folks need to start asking themselves.
When Mike Brey got here, ND was in a 10-year NCAA drought. That thirst was slaked by three bids in succession, and the goal was set to get to the tournament consistently after missing it for so many years. The playing arena was dilapidated and shoddy, with duck tape securing some of the hardware. Two years ago, it got a complete facelift and finally looks like a major college facility. The program was rudderless, with two coaches in successive seasons and fan and student apathy at a peak. The butts are going in the seats again for the most part, and people are interested in watching ND win again.
Mission accomplished. Time for the next mission.
No one should expect to go to the Sweet 16 every year. Very few teams do that, let alone teams with the natural hindrances ND endures in men’s basketball. But it’s also not enough to look at the bid itself as a be-all end-all anymore. We’ve grown beyond that status, and that which does not grow withers.
No, we won’t and shouldn’t expect to make the Sweet 16 every year. But how about once every five?
No, we won’t and shouldn’t expect to make the Final Four every year. But how about once every 10?
Are those reasonable goals? Given where ND is now, I believe they now should be well within reach, provided everyone involved from Jack Swarbrick on down commits themselves to them. It may require more work to accomplish, but a lot of similar work has been done in the last 10 years. Last time I checked, no one at Notre Dame was afraid of hard work.
The house that the owners burned to the ground now has its foundations re-laid and a decent first floor. It may not be the mansion it was before the damage, but there’s space to be explored between there and here. Let’s get the hammer out.