Saturday, March 29, 2008

Two Steps Forward...

Here we sit 12 months removed from ND's last NCAA tournament loss. The scenery seems familiar, yet remains different in important ways.

Once again, we reflect on a season that gave us a lot to be happy about in the macro view but left us with a stinging aftertaste. For the second year in a row and in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1947, the Irish finished undefeated at home, a feat that seemed very far away last March. For the second year in a row, the Irish did not lose a Big East home game, putting them on track to challenge the overall conference home record of 20 set by Pitt earlier this decade. For the second year in a row, the offense showed versatility, purpose and efficiency, with Notre Dame finishing among the nation's best in most categories. They even managed an improvement in rebounding long sought by the fans during Mike Brey's tenure.

But also for the second year in a row, the team tripped up a bit at the finish. Last year it was the upset loss to Winthrop leaving a bad taste in our mouths. This year, although they took steps forward with the opening victory in the tournament, they stumbled back a bit while leaving us wondering if ND was really 20 points worse than the Wazzu Cougars.

For every advance this season, there seemed to be a small setback. As powerful as the Irish offense was, we still saw the lowest point production in a game since Mike's been here. As improved as the rebounding was, we had games down the stretch where the margin went the other way. And even though defense was a priority, we also had the most points given up in a game in Mike's tenure when the Irish visited Marquette.

Feast or famine? Most definitely, the feast. I may overuse the phrase "lots to like", but there's no doubt there was plenty of that this year. And with everyone but Rob Kurz returning, they have the potential to go even farther.

But if they're going to realize that potential, everyone involved with the program has work to do.

For this entry, I'm going to focus on the players. Or, rather, Section12 from NDN is going to focus on them, because he summarized our needs in a recent post much better than I ever could.

S, take it away:

These are specific skills that can and should be mastered over the summer just playing hoops ain't gonna cut it.

Kyle McAlarney
Develop your left hand, namely finishing in the paint and pull up jumpers while moving left. Additionally, delivering entry passes with your left will make you and the team that much harder to guard. By the end of the year everyone was camping on your right hand forcing you left and while you did an admirable job driving and finishing, being a one sided three point shooter makes you far to easy to guard. If you doubt the value of having a strong left hand, call John Paxson and he'll let you know. Pax didn't have your range nor quickness yet he accomplished great things because he was nearly ambidextrous.

Tory Jackson
Retool your free throw routine. Specifically, narrow your base as your legs are spread way to far; the additional effort required to come out of your dip before delivering the free throw causes you balance issues.

Ryan Ayers
Add 10 pounds and practice going to the rim against football players. Learn to crave the contact. With your long arms and ability to put the ball on the floor, you should be able to take the ball to the hole with authority. Once you demonstrate that skill, pull-up jumpers (and, of course, the three point shot) will become that much easier. A breakout senior season is not out of the question should you dedicate yourself to expanding your game.

Zach Hillesland
Add the pull-up jumper -- namely, the eight-foot bank from the wing. Develop this and you'll notice a lot less charging calls and become the match-up nightmare Mike Brey envisions you to be.

Luke Zeller
Jump rope. That and any other footwork drill you can imagine. Hell, play soccer all summer, just learn how to effectively move those size 17's. Your passing skills and your ability to shoot should get you extended minutes. It's your footwork which limits you both offensively and defensively.

Luke Harangody
Get thee to a big man camp, specifically one with a defensive mindset. It pained me to watch as opposing big men repeatedly set up shop so close to the basket. You are quick enough to beat your man to the spot and strong enough to pin him there. It's time you should be able to guard your man in the man-to-man without requiring double-team help from your teammates.

Jonathon Peoples
Please, please adopt LFH's diet and workout regimen over the summer. Lose 15 pounds to improve your quickness. You've got a decent stroke and you have the strength to finish in the paint. It's just the pace slows considerably when you enter the game. This is correctable, but will require heart and desire.

If Zeller and Peoples can improve their quickness and Harangody can defend the post in the man-to-man, we can be a Sweet 16 team with the potential of being Elite 8. If Ayers and Hillesland can expand their offensive games, there's a chance to go further. Jackson simply must shoot around 70 percent from the line or he'll surrender late game minutes to someone else. If McAlarney can develop his left hand to become more than serviceable, he can play at the next level.

Well said, S. I'll be back tomorrow to opine about next steps at the program level.



Anonymous Ted said...

Great post. Is there likelihood the players will read this constructive post?

3/29/2008 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice comment, but this is as good as we will ever get. Mike Brey is a nice guy and a good coach, but like Willingham is not a good recruiter.Please don't give me the whine about academics, weather,facilities,etc..It sure has not hurt Muffet McGraw, who make the tournament every year, adavances, and has won a National championship.

3/29/2008 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Terry Mehan said...

Quatily comments on the year. However, I would like to see this team as a whole work on one additional item. DEFENSE!!!
Until they can come up with the stop when they need it the most, this team will struggle to get to the next level.

Terry M.

3/29/2008 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

Please don't give me the whine about academics, weather, facilities, etc. It sure has not hurt Muffet McGraw, who make the tournament every year, advances, and has won a National championship.

Comparing men's and women's basketball is apples and oranges.

First off, women's hoops is still a haves-versus-have nots game. Even though more women are participating and the quality of the game is going up, there are still the dominating programs, so you're not fighting nearly as many recruiting battles.

Second, with limited lucrative pro options, women's basketball players remain very interested in their education, unlike their top-flight male counterparts. In that way, just as in a lot of the Olympic sports, ND is a strong draw no matter what.

Third, if you ask people in the women's program, Muffet wants the facilities upgraded just as bad as Mike does, because it affects their recruiting as well.

3/29/2008 12:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post, but you left out one factor that Tom Noie in the SBT also overlooked: The team is slow. Unless they can find a way to get quicker, they will not win any chamionships, NCAA or Big East.

3/30/2008 02:44:00 PM  
Anonymous hipND said...

A couple of additional comments:

Luke Zellers should play underneath. His size is not being utilized on the perimeter. It's as if he and Brey are saying it requires too much effort and physicality to bang for boards. Greater post presence would give even more opportunities for Luke H.
Winning the offensive rebound battle almost always translates into wins.

My biggest pet-peave with this team is that they don't appear to give great effort guarding the 3-pt. arch. Again, it's as if Mike and the boys are saying playing great "in-your-face" defense along with the league-leading offense would require expending too much energy. As if playing both is not possible, so we will focus on the "O." Good Lord, they are 20 yr-olds.

I really believe this philosophy needs to be addressed to move a level higher.

3/30/2008 05:25:00 PM  

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