Knowing the Irish were in the NCAA Tournament until Davidson grabbed its spot by upsetting Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 championship game is, as Mike Brey said, another gut punch in a season of gut punches. Being the #1 seed in the NIT is cold comfort, but the NIT it shall be. Notre Dame will face Hampton in Purcell Pavilion on Tuesday evening. It’s easy to point at another team that made the NCAA field and make a case for its exclusion and ND’s inclusion especially given the injury losses Brey’s team had to overcome just to be considered.
Would a doctor treat symptoms without a diagnosis? Of course not. Would a mechanic repair a car’s engine before identifying what’s wrong? A good mechanic wouldn’t. Would a media pundit propose a fix to college basketball’s standards without articulating its problems? Of course they would. They’re meatheads. "The NCAA’s got a problem. It’s making zillions of dollars,” Dick Vitale told TMZ Sports “Why not allow it? Let them get paid. I really believe that in my heart, because this has gotten totally out of control right now.” Saying the players deserve a cut of the considerable revenue that college basketball generates sounds reasonable, but it’s as superficial as prescribing cough drops for pneumonia.
Notre Dame’s 84-67 victory at Boston College on Saturday improved its conference record to 6-8. The depleted Irish must get to 9-9 just to be in the NCAA Tournament discussion; and even then, they will have work to do in the ACC Tournament. A couple of conference tourney wins might be enough, but ND still has to live down early season non-conference losses, especially the one to Ball State at home. “If we go 2-0 and we get to 7-8 in the league, if you squint, you’ll see the bubble; and we’ll see what happens down the stretch,” Head Coach Mike Brey said after the BC victory. So, Coach Brey, you’re telling us there’s a chance.
Brad Stevens has a great quote about basketball that I believe applies to the 2017-18 Fighting Irish. “You have to earn your right to win the game with effort and togetherness,” he said. Stevens neglected to mention that a team that can’t shoot doesn’t have many options. Effort, toughness, rebounding, defense… Those are important, but they won’t win many games if the team can’t shoot. A team that can’t shoot is going to be a bad team. Bad record. Hard to watch. Ugly. Basketball is ugly when a team can't shoot. Notre Dame will try to end a seven game losing streak when Boston College comes to Purcell Pavilion Tuesday night.
The games are raison d'être for a basketball team; but simultaneously, they are mere steps in the unfolding story of a season that begins in the summer and, in all but a handful of cases, ends with a tournament loss. Roles are determined early in the process. Some leaders are appointed while others emerge. The team develops an identity and hones its performance in that context, with the amount of postseason success and the final record determining success or failure. This is a process that unfolds as surely as spring follows winter and summer follows spring… except for the 2017-18 Fighting Irish basketball squad. Its story isn’t the usual straight line.