Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Return of the King

Scout asked me to put together something for Austin Carr's return to ND this Thursday, and I wanted to share with folks who don't frequent their site.

Link to the article


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Nothing Like Evidence

I originally made this point as a comment to the last entry. But I think it bears a little more scrutiny, so I made it a post.

If you need evidence that 4-4-4 works and is necessary, look at the title game this season.

LSU played in the SEC, a tough conference without a doubt. Few, if any, tier 3 teams in there, and even the 3's can be tough outs. They played a total of seven games against teams ranked at kickoff. Non-conference, they played VaTech, then had Florida, Auburn, and Alabama during the regular season. Then they went through Tennessee to get to the title game itself. No shortage of challenges there. Even with two losses, their strength of schedule and win in their conference title game got them to the BCS championship.

tOSU played in the Integer, usually decent but this year way down. Their non-conference schedule was a joke, including Youngstown State and Akron. They had no games against top-20 teams at all. But they won all but one, and managed to get into the title game based on one loss and the fact their conference doesn't play a title game.

The results of that game speak for themselves. The tempered, challenged team blew the doors off the team that had scheduled itself into the game. tOSU hadn't played anyone of note, while LSU had been challenged throughout the year. Their experience meant they knew how to respond when the chips were down.

You can't play six or more games against crappy competition and limit yourself to a max of two quality teams each year. It doesn't work. You may end up in the title game if you back into it, but you're not prepared. Eventually, the selection committee sees through your act and you don't get considered anymore. By then, there's a layer of rust on the program that might be difficult to remove.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

4-4-4 Revisited

A couple of days ago, a list of potential (or possibly planned) schedules through 2022 was leaked to the NDN site via someone allegedly in attendance at on-campus meetings this week. After talking to a couple people on campus, they said, while they hadn't seen the document in question, it might not be too far outside the realm of what would be sought.

Last July, I talked about the importance of the 4-4-4 tiering model. Without putting any imprimatur on this document or its accuracy, let's see how its contents match up to the ideal.

The original document went through 2022. I'm only going to do through 2016 because there are too many empty dates in the schedule after that point. I'm also going to assume the "buy games" are against Tier 3 opponents, since those are the only ones who'd be willing to do one-offs like that. Finally, I'm going to use the tier structure I used for the post in July (linked in this post's title), with the addition of Syracuse to the Tier 3 list.

S13 Tier 1 - MICHIGAN
S20 Tier 2 - at Michigan State
S27 Tier 2 - PURDUE
O04 Tier 3 - STANFORD
O11 Tier 3 - at North Carolina
O25 Tier 2 - at Washington
N08 Tier 2 - at Boston College
N15 Tier 3 - vs. Navy (Baltimore)
N22 Tier 3 - SYRACUSE
N29 Tier 1 - at USC

Balance: 6-5-1
Tiers: 2-5-4, plus non-BCS

Evaluation: Unacceptable. At the absolute minimum, the non-BCS opponent should be replaced by Tier 1 game.

S12 Tier 1 - at Michigan
S26 Tier 2 - at Purdue
O17 Tier 1 - USC
031 Tier 3 - vs Washington State (San Antonio)
N07 Tier 3 - NAVY
N14 Tier 2 - at Pittsburgh
N28 Tier 3 - at Stanford

Balance: 7-4-1
Tiers: 2-5-4, plus non-BCS

Evaluation: Unacceptable. As above, the non-BCS team should be replaced by a Tier 1. If ND scheduled a home-and-home with a Tier 1 team for those two years, it would also put the balance at 6-5-1 for both seasons. Problems solved.

S04 Tier 2 - PURDUE
S11 Tier 1 - MICHIGAN
S18 Tier 2 - at Michigan State
S25 Tier 3 - STANFORD
O02 Tier 2 - at Boston College
O16 Tier 3 - vs. Army (Chicago)
O23 Tier 3 - vs. Navy (Baltimore)
N07 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N13 Tier 3 - RUTGERS (tentative)
N20 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N27 Tier 1 - at USC

Balance: 7-3-2
Tiers: 2-4-6

Evaluation: The worst. Playing three true road games is awful enough. But three Tier 3 games at home in November? Who is going to buy tickets to watch body-bag games in 40-degree weather? Those "buy games" need to be changed to something more competitive -- a Tier 1 and Tier 2 at a minimum.

S03 Tier 2 - at Purdue
S10 Tier 1 - at Michigan
S24 Tier 2 - at Pittsburgh
O08 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
O15 Tier 3 - vs. Army (Orlando)
O22 Tier 1 - USC
O29 Tier 3 - RUTGERS/NAVY (resolve conflict)
N12 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N26 Tier 3 - at Stanford

Balance: 7-4-1
Tiers: 2-3-7

Evaluation: It appears I spoke too soon. I didn't think they could get worse from 2010. Silly me. Even if you assume UConn can hit Tier 2 consistently and USF continues its upward trend, this is a truly heinous schedule. Never mind the quality, look at the timing. Three of the first four games are on the road. Once again, we're at home three times in cold weather. This schedule is four years away, and they still put it together poorly.

S01 Tier 3 - vs. Navy (Dublin)
S08 Tier 2 - PURDUE
S15 Tier 2 - at Michigan State
S22 Tier 1 - MICHIGAN
O06 Tier 3 - vs. Baylor (New Orleans)
O13 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
O20 Tier 2 - PITTSBURGH (or Nov. 3 or 10, TBD)
O27 Tier 1 - at Oklahoma
N03 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N10 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N17 Tier 3 - WAKE FOREST
N24 Tier 1 - at USC

Balance: 7-3-2
Tiers: 3-3-6

Evaluation: It's better than 2011, which is kind of like being a taller midget. But the slight gain in replacing a Tier 3 with a Tier 1 is lost by a return to only three true road games.

It's disheartening to me we're already five years out, and not only are none of the schedules acceptable, they're steadily moving away from the ideal.

A31 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME** (possibly Washington State)
S07 Tier 1 - at Michigan
S14 Tier 2 - at Purdue
S28 Tier 1 - OKLAHOMA
O05 Tier 3 - vs. Arizona State (Dallas)
O19 Tier 1 - USC
O26 Tier 3 - vs. Connecticut (Foxboro)
N02 Tier 3 - NAVY
N09 Tier 3 - CINCINNATI (tentative)
N16 Tier 3 - at Rutgers
N23 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**(possibly Army Nov. 16, if Rutgers can move)

Balance: 7-3-2
Tiers: 3-2-7

Evaluation: The crapulence flows unabated. Where to begin? Seven tier-3's. Tier 1's front-loaded. No decent game after October 19th. This is truly awful.

A30 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
S06 Tier 3 - vs. Navy (site TBD)
S13 Tier 2 - PURDUE
S20 Tier 1 - MICHIGAN
O04 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
O11 Tier 3 - vs. Army (Orlando)
O25 Tier 3 - at Arizona State
N15 Tier 3 - vs. Rutgers (Giants Stadium)
N22 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N29 Tier 1 - at USC

Balance: 7-2-3
Tiers: 2-2-8

Evaluation: That is not a misprint. Eight tier-3 teams. Two true road games. This schedule would be an embarrassment to Notre Dame.

S05 Tier 2 - MISSOURI
S12 Tier 1 - at Michigan
S19 Tier 2 - at Purdue
S26 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
O03 Tier 3 - ARMY (tentative)
O10 Tier 3 - NAVY
O17 Tier 1 - USC
O24 Tier 3 - vs. Connecticut (Meadowlands)
O31 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME** site TBD
N07 Tier 3 - **BUY GAME**
N14 Tier 2 - at Pittsburgh
N21 Tier 3 - RUTGERS

Balance: 7-3-2
Tiers: 2-3-7

OK, I'm stopping here. I know I said I was going to go through 2016, but we've transcended crapulence and are now wandering the realm of abject putrescence.

I said at the beginning I couldn't vouch for the accuracy of the document. Having now attempted to analyze (most of) it, the opinion of my on-campus friends notwithstanding, and without impugning the character of the document's sender, I'm reaching the conclusion it's some kind of blind or other fake. I cannot comprehend any ND administrator thinking this kind of thing is a good idea, so I'm forced to conclude it didn't come from them. Perhaps they were trying to locate a leak or something.

But I'm making this post anyway because, as outlandish as this may seem, my on-campus folks were still not convinced it wasn't a possibility. If that's the case, it's a possibility we must guard against. And guard against it we will.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Good Knight

I know this is an ND blog. But when an icon like Texas Tech coach Robert Montgomery Knight retires, it behooves all college hoops fans to reflect. And on this his retirement day, I'm both glad I was able to see someone achieve what he did on the court without sacrificing his principles, while sad at what could have been for college basketball's winningest coach.

My first exposure to Coach Knight was my father receiving the book A Season on the Brink for Christmas. He was (and, I believe, remains) a big fan of Coach Knight. When he finished it, I asked if I could give it a read. I guess I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about.

I know Coach Knight isn't fond of the book and believes it paints him in a negative light. I didn't find that to be the case. I was fascinated by what I saw as a portrayal of a complete human being rather than a two-dimensional cutout you sometimes see in tomes like this. John Feinstein, his opinions regarding Notre Dame notwithstanding, is an outstanding writer, and he captured the essence of Coach Knight in prose I couldn't put down.

The day I finished that book, in my room in Cavanaugh Hall, I became a fan, and I sent Coach Knight a letter telling him so. He responded with a very nice letter thanking me for my kind words, which I appreciated also.

I didn't get to watch too much success by Notre Dame teams against his Hoosiers, but I remained a fan. I watched him as his IU career wound down and he was reborn, guns up, in Lubbock.

When the time came for me to realize my dream of writing a book, I contacted Coach Knight again, asking him if he'd be willing to provide the foreword (Al McGuire being unavailable and all). Once again, a gracious note in reply, explaining he had an exclusive literary contract which prohibited him from participating, but wishing me luck in the project and expressing an interest in the result. His was one of the first copies I mailed when I received the box of hardbounds. I never got a review from him, but maybe he's just waiting for retirement to give it a read.

As a Notre Dame grad, Coach Knight's priorities resonate with me. His players' graduation rate staggers the imagination in the current atmosphere of one-and-dones. His consistent handling of players who crossed the line and refusal to let the short-term-win tail wag the life-lesson dog is refreshing in our participation-trophy culture. His was a belief if you took care of the little things, the big things would take care of themselves, and his career certainly stands as an example of making that work.

At the same time, however, his retirement leaves me sad. Not sad for what college basketball is losing (although that's certainly a shame), but moreso what Coach Knight could have had over the years.

Coach Knight's teams won over 900 games and saw graduated over 90 percent of their players because he demanded of them a level of concentration, maturity, discipline and excellence both on and off the court. Coach Knight's problems bubbled up (and over) because he didn't always demand those levels from himself.

It takes discipline to make the extra pass when the shot seems to be there. It also takes discipline not to respond to a question you think is foolish by harassing the questioner for five minutes.

It takes maturity to pass up a night of partying to get your studying in, knowing you'll miss class time during the road games next week. It also takes maturity not to manhandle a wise-ass teenager.

Excellence is taking teams without stars to amazing heights. Excellence is also treating the people who work with and for you with respect.

Coach Knight has a forceful personality, and some have said I have issues with people with forceful personalities. Perhaps I do, and that may be a failing on my part. And maybe the pressure Coach Knight brought to bear on folks in his orbit helped them collectively achieve the accolade-worthy accomplishments that permeate Coach Knight's career.

But I believe soliciting trouble and confrontation is a waste of energy and resources, and I get frustrated thinking of the quality of resources Coach Knight wasted on people who probably weren't worth the time. It's not right to kowtow to idiots, but Max Ehrmann's Desiderata tells us to stay on good terms with people outside of surrender. There was plenty of space between surrender and Hell, and I wish Coach Knight would have explored some of it.

I doubt a career in broadcasting awaits Coach Knight, given his disdain for the profession, but I hope his voice is not gone from this arena. As I noted, his priorities fly in the face of some of the more negative things about the sport these days, and a bully pulpit for him in retirement would do the game a lot of good.

I hope he's willing to talk and others are willing to listen. As long as the speaking is soft.

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