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  • Sixes and Sevens

    by Mike Coffey

    Disarray is probably one of the least likely words one would use to describe Notre Dame basketball this year.  Indeed, this has been the most memorable hoops season we fans have seen going on almost three decades now.

    But the numbers six and seven are important ones to how the Fighting Irish finish this campaign.  Those numbers are opportunities for them to make some history in a program that needs a little more of it after the famine of the 1990s.

    The Six

    As we sit today, Notre Dame is 21-4, with five regular season games remaining.  Much has been made of reaching the 20-win plateau earlier in the calendar year than any other team that preceded it, and while I applaud the accomplishment, I also realize they had more games to do it than the 1973-74 team they supplanted in the record book.

    While they won’t be able to catch the 73-74 squad in win percentage, the current team can knock them off one more perch:  Most modern-era season wins.

    The current season win record is 33, set by the 1908 team.  With all due deference to them, those wins were racked up against a bunch of Y.M.C.A. squads under much different rules than exist today.  In the modern era, the record is held by the aforementioned 1974 team, who won 26 games (including the legendary defeat that broke UCLA’s win streak).

    Brey’s teams have come close before.  They won 24 games a couple times, and set the high water mark of his era at 25 in 2008.

    With five more wins between now and April, the 2011 team can tie their 1974 counterparts and set a new standard for Brey’s time.  Six more wins means they’d stand alone at 27 victories in a season.

    It’s not an easy task.  At least three of the five remaining regular season games are going to be tough outs.  Their quality play in the conference will get them at least one bye in the conference tournament, which, while making it more likely they’d advance, also gives them at least one less game to get this record.  And then the NCAA Tournament, in which wins for ND, as I’ll go into in a moment, have been hard to come by.

    The Seven

    People like to set a standard for basketball programs by measuring Sweet 16 appearances.  The logic goes that even with the environmental disadvantages ND faces in the college basketball of today, we should set that as our goal and achieve it at a reasonable clip.

    I have no problems setting high standards for the team and program.  I just want to make sure we’re comparing apples and oranges.

    In the NCAA Tournament of today, which has been in place for the last 30 years or so, a team has to win two games in it to reach the Sweet 16, with at least one of those games usually against a quality opponent.  Even before that structure was implemented, ND teams usually had to go up against a decent squad in their second-round game, so I think the number of victories is applicable across coaching eras.

    Since 1953, when they first started playing in postseason tournaments, Notre Dame teams have won two or more games in the NCAA tournament seven times.  Three of those were under John Jordan in 1953, 1954 and 1958.  Three more were during Digger Phelps’ era: 1978, 1979 and 1987.  The seventh was in 2002 under Mike Brey, and if he wants to make some headway towards getting to a triple of his own, this is a good opportunity to do it.

    But it’s also an opportunity to set some more NCAA standards.  The aforementioned two NCAA tourney wins seems to be tough ceiling to break through at ND, because it’s only happened once:  1978, the year they went to the Final Four.  If Brey’s team can make the Elite Eight, they’ll match that high-water mark of three victories.  And if they can better that and go to the team’s second Final Four ever, they’ll have done it winning more NCAA tournament games in a season than ND has ever won before.

    2010-11 has already been a memorable year for ND hoops fans.  With a couple more wins, the team can make those memories a little more permanent by etching them into the program’s record books.

    10 Responses to “Sixes and Sevens”

    1. Comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

    2. Very nicely stated. Young fans tend to forget history, so it is good to be reminded of the “Seven”.

    3. How about this question….what was the last ND BBall team to go undefeated for the season at home??

      I think they have a good chance of that with 2 remaining home games, one easier, one harder.

      Look no matter what this team does, it is a great team and has given us a wonderful regular season.

      I would love to see ND go far in BE and NCAA tourneys. Some of Brey’s early outs have been hard to explain other than that we used to sort of have a habit of fading at the end of the season. Last year reversed that and I think we will play strong unti lthe end this year as well. People claim fatigue, but I am not sure. I think it is mental toughness and with Ben we now have it. Hopefully it rubs off.

      As hot as we are right now I don’t see us going less than 3-2 down the stretch. A loss or two before the tourney won’t be a bad thing. Look at how we responded after the 2 road losses……7 in a row and a few against ranked. This team did the same thing to end the season last year. I know I am a dreamer, but maybe this team just doesn’t lose again. Wins the BE tourney and then NCAA and becomes ND’s greatest team ever……….Look people Butler went to the final game last year, anything can happen!

      • Just a couple years ago — they won 45 games in a row at home

      • Generally it has seemed that ND’s lack of a tournament run have come down to three things

        Dependence on the 3-ball / a non-functional offense when the 3-ball went cold

        Lack of quality size inside – we haven’t had a really good true center in my memory, Turin Francis unfortunately never became a dominant force in the paint. Luckily the game has evolved, the power forwards seem to be more en vogue, and there aren’t many true big men that we have to deal with

        Lack of depth – It has often seemed like the first 5 can hang with anyone, but beyond that it’s a roll of the dice, particularly with forward. Guards we have had better luck with. I like the fact that Cooley can come off the bench and provide a spark at times, or at minimum, provide a big body on D.

    4. Mike in Chicago says:

      Honestly, with the troubles ND has had in the tournament the last decade (such as last year and losing as a 4-seed in the second round a few years ago), I would be thrilled if we make the Sweet Sixteen. Haven’t made much noise in the Big East tournament either. Brey’s post-season record is a blemish on his otherwise great tenure, in my opinion. Hope this is the year we turn that around!

      • Minor nit — the last time ND won two games in the NCAA tourney was in 2003, not 2002.

        In 2003, ND beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Illinois in the NCAA tournament before falling to Arizona in the Sweet 16 round. By contrast, in 2002 ND beat Charlotte in the first round, but then lost to Duke in the second round.

    5. Scranton Dave says:

      I hope this is the year they do well in the NCAAs. I hate to say this, but last years team was better without Harnagody and he was the worst player on the floor in the NCAA Tourney loss to an Old Dominion team that didnt impress me at all. They played well in the BE Tourney last year beating Seton Hall and Pitt and losing a close one to a West Virginia team that made the Final Four. I think this team has it in them to make 2 nice runs ( BE and NCAA Tourneys) in March! Go Irish!

    6. Alex,

      I agree with your 3 points. Murphey is a PF but he is like 6’11 and was a true pivot man so he would be the last big man I can rememer. I think 7ft beasts are pretty rare even in the NBA, the problem is there are usually a few at any given time in the BE.

      Dependence on the 3 mixed with sub par D has done us in……..I think we are better this year using the 3 more as a weapon rather than a staple.

      Depth……I actually think depth can be overated. I say this because in the NBA I have seen teams with very short benches make it the finals or win it. Houston back in the 90s won two championships basically playing 7 guys. Ofcourse Hakeem is a hall of fame big man so there you go. Injury and foul trouble are the concerns when you are as thin as ND is. If they stay healthy and play smart I don’t think it will hurt them this year.

      With Cooley and Atkinks moving into the starting lineup next year I think we will have another good 5 with a short bench……I wonder if this is because we don’t get many pheonom frosh or is it just Brey’s style.

    7. Great topic and have to admit that I am a bit giddy with the success they have had this year. Overall, I was not expecting all that much from this team this year considering how tough the BE is and also I considered this to be one of the least athletic teams in recent memory. Not tryin to take a shot at anybody, more of identifying the fact that almost every tema
      in the conference is more athletic than the irish, and nd is beating them with tough, hard-nosed. Fundamental bball. Its quite impressive and I must say an absolute joy to take incertainly the college bball landscape of today helps- having the most talented
      Players leave early benefits a squad like this team that is littered with maturity and tough kids that play their roles extremely well.
      It has been a very good season so far, here’s to it becoming a great one!