by Kevin O'Neill
We knew Notre Dame would be in the NCAA Tournament field. It was only a matter of who, where, and when the Irish would play.
The answers are, in order, Iowa State, Dayton, and approximately 9:45 PM EDT on Friday. If the Irish are fortunate enough to win Friday evening, they will play the winner of Ohio State vs. Iona, most likely Ohio State.
ND will participate in the tournament for the fourth consecutive season and the sixth in the last seven years. It has not won more than one game in that time frame. Because of that, merely making the tournament is no longer a measure of success for Irish fans. Being there is not enough.
The players have to feel the same way if they expect to advance. No player on the roster has missed the tournament. There should be no awe, no “happy to be here” attitude. They have felt the sting of an early departure, and they have to channel that sting productively.
“It just changes our mentality because we have been here so many times,” said Eric Atkins after the pairings were announced on Sunday. “But last year the fact that we didn’t get out the first round ups the ante a little bit for this first round game against Iowa State for us. I think we’re all approaching it as pretty much a first round championship game,”
Pat Connaughton added, “I think when you look at it last year, there were guys going through it for the first time… or maybe not for the first time but for the first time as key guys on the team. So this time I think we’re ready, we know what to expect.
“I mean, it’s been going through the head throughout this year, summer, end of last year, whatever it was,” Connaughton continued. “I know it fuels a lot of guys on our team. That’s going to be something that’s going to be fun to play with that fuel during that first round game.”
Life is a state of mind
Landing the #7 seed in the West Regional is somewhat disappointing after bracketology pundits predicted that the Irish would be seeded more favorably. It certainly made ND’s path to the second week of the tournament challenging compared to #5 Wisconsin’s (Ole Miss and Kansas State) and #6 Arizona’s (Belmont and New Mexico).
If Mike Brey is disappointed, he isn’t saying so.
“We’re excited to show up in that bracket again,” Brey said. “ I never want to take these days for granted.”
It didn’t seem to bother Jerian Grant much, either.
“I guess when you first see it it’s like, well, it’s a seven,” Grant said. “Maybe we expected to be higher but regardless of when you play it’s going to be a tough team.”
Good. Teams that waste time complaining about their tournament placement seem to prove the committee right most of the time.
All will be well in the garden
The roots of being seeded #7 are Notre Dame’s record and its schedule.
25-9/11-7 is a fine record, but it only earned the Irish sixth place in the Big East. In that context, seventh among 16 tournament worthy teams seems about right. Simply stated, win more conference games and you’ll get a better seed. Don’t lose to Providence and you’ll finish ahead of Syracuse and be looking at something closer to its #4 seeding.
Scheduling is a budgetary issue… At least it looks like a budgetary issue from the outside looking in.
- Notre Dame spends $4.6 million per year on men’s basketball according to its Equity in Athletics compliance report. That is lower than every team in the current ACC and lower than any of the Big East teams that are joining the ACC.
- Ticket revenue per game from season ticket holders would be $125,000 if there are 5,000 of them ($25.00 average price) and $175,000 if there are 7,000 of them. Let’s assume it’s $150,000 per game.
We’ll come back to the financials shortly.
There is little value in using the non-conference schedule to pad the victory total nowadays. We have seen the seeding consequences at Notre Dame, and we have seen the consequences for bubble teams – Tennessee (Pomeroy #113 non-conference schedule) is out and Middle Tennessee (#40 non-conference schedule) is in. Winning 20 or more games is not a path to postseason prosperity if the schedule is weak.
Notre Dame’s non-conference schedule was ranked #309. It didn’t help that Kentucky and Purdue had sub-par seasons; but scheduling Monmouth, St. Francis, Chicago State, and Kennesaw State had far more negative effect.
Why would a major conference team have a non-conference schedule that is counter to its tournament interests? Follow the money.
Ten non-conference home games plus nine conference games means each season ticket holder pays for 19 tickets each year. Playing that many low level teams assures 18-20 home dates each season because none of them require a return date as part of the contract.
Good teams from second tier conferences like the MAC, the A-10, or the Missouri Valley would require a home-and-home contract to come to the JACC. In addition to the home game overload, low level teams cost much less to bring to South Bend than MAC, the A-10, and Missouri Valley squads.
Scheduling two fewer home games in order to play a better non-conference slate would be a revenue hit of $300,000 (give or take a little). Bringing better opponents to South Bend would cost additional thousands per game. It wouldn’t take a lot of schedule upgrading to put a 10% dent in basketball’s profit equation.
It’s time to stop doing basketball on the cheap. Joining the ACC will bring additional revenue to the program. Some of it should go to improving the schedule.
I like to watch
The best day in sports used to be January 1st. All of the major bowls were played on New Year’s Day. As a result, the college football national championship was decided on New Year’s Day. Dominoes often fell throughout the day such that a team could move from #5 to #1 as fans of the 1977 Fighting Irish can attest.
The BCS took care of that good thing. Now the best day in sports lasts 48 hours – the first two days of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. There are 16 games on Thursday and another 16 on Friday, all single elimination contests. There are three or four games in every time slot during the afternoon and evening, a challenge to even world class channel surfers.
I like to hole up at home with friends, food, and libations. How about you?
Do you like to watch in a bar with lots of screens? Have you gone to Las Vegas to watch games in a sports book? Do you prepare a favorite dish for your game watch, or do you order for delivery? Inquiring minds want to know.
I admire your good, solid sense
After successfully mesmerizing Big East Tournament opponents with highlighter green uniforms, Notre Dame will unleash an even more dazzling outfit for the NCAA Tournament.