Monday, September 08, 2008

Men's Hoops Schedule Released

Aptly called "the toughest schedule in school history", Mike Brey and company will make more national television appearances than ever before in 2008-09 as they look to extended the longest home court win streak in school history and match the longest one in Big East history.

Complete schedule here.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Highlights from A.D.'s Induction

Adrian Dantley was the first member of the Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2008 inducted this evening.

The emcee for the event, Mike Breen, introduced AD by saying one of the most difficult assignments in the NBA was to guard Adrian Dantley. While he was considered undersized, he said, AD's opponents were often overmatched. This "unstoppable offensive force" was one of the most dominant players of his time.

Following the introduction was a video montage detailing Dantley's career, including a number of tributes. Morgan Wootten described AD's offensive moves as being "like an eye surgeon, cutting the opponent up", and credited Dantley for starting DeMatha's High School's weight training program with his prescient interest in the philosophy. Former Irish coach Digger Phelps also mentioned Dantley's physical regimen and how he used jumping rope and other programs to keep his stamina at the necessary level to "take the pounding" in the low post.

George "Iceman" Gervin talked about Dantley's tireless work ethic and his knack for getting his defender off the ground. Joe Dumars echoed Gervin's comments, calling AD "the most disciplined player he ever met in his life", and talked about how he helped instill that discipline into the Piston team that won the NBA Championship two seasons later. "Focus, professionalism, and discipline ... [Dantley] embodied all those things."

Video complete, Coach Wootten escorted AD to the stage for his remarks.

He started by thanking the committee and congratulating his fellow inductees, especially Cathy Rush, with whom, he said, he had something in common: "We both waited [for induction] ... and waited ... and waited." (Rush was inducted on this, her sixth nomination. This was AD's seventh attempt)

He credited Morgan Wootten for his career. Under Wootten, he learned fundamentals, respect for the game, and the right way to play the game. "He has been my teacher, mentor, and friend."

He then introduced and gave his love to his family: his wife of 27 years, Dinitri; his son, Cameron ("he plays football, I'm not sure why"); and his daughters, Kalani and Kayla.

He talked about his mother, Virginia, and her effect on his life. "She instilled honesty, loyalty, and respect for yourself so you can respect others. She always said, 'Do not embarrass yourself or me in public.'"

But it wasn't all serious with mom. "She used to ask me what a rebound was. Now she wants to know who she should be plugging on the pick and roll."

He talked about other family members: his Aunt Rosie, his "number-two mom and number-one fan"; his grandmother, who "always told [him] to read with [his] third eye and listen with [his] third ear"; and his grandfather.

Then came people he'd emulated. Elgin Baylor's first step. Chet Walker's head- and pump-fake, which everyone always went for.

Following that, coaches he'd met. He met Red Auerbach, who told him, "Adrian, John Havlicek weighs 205 pounds. You should weigh 210." His best playing years, AD said, were played at 210 pounds.

Bob Knight, the first college coach he met, had AD demonstrate taking a charge and diving for loose balls. Knight told him, "If you work hard, you'll be a great player," and sent him his first recruiting letter as the head coach at West Point.

On weekends, AD would play on the DC playgrounds, and afterwards listen to John Thompson tell stories about basketball and life. He got to play for Thompson on the 1976 Olympic Team under the head coach, Dean Smith. Smith taught him to value every possession, which Dantley believes "must be a North Carolina thing" given how often George Karl says it to him today.

He talked about remaining steady and focused through changes and trades, and expressed his joy at finally being a member of a team that couldn't trade him.

He was told so often he was "too short, too fat, and too slow", and was warned that "short players make short money" (by a player who was 5'2"). But those people discounted his "brain, heart, and work ethic", all of which served him well.

He thanked his friends and extended family, and said it would be a day he would always cherish, and left the stage.

I'll have a full writeup on Irish Eyes on Monday, once the hoopla on SDSU dies down and before Michigan gets fully rolling. But this was a wonderful experience for him, and all Irish fans should be proud of their newest Hall of Famer.

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Presser-ing Thoughts

The intro and discussion is complete.

The six inductees present were introduced in alphabetical order, meaning A.D. was the first one on the stage. The emcee, Eddie Doucette, read a quick bio on each member of the class, who then proceeded to the stage, was presented with his/her blazer, had some pictures taken, and then took a seat. Kudos to A.D. for being the only one who wore a tie, meaning he looked especially sharp with the blazer ensemble. Patrick Ewing was dressed like he'd just come in off the beach. Come on, Pat, it's the HOF.

Each inductee then got up to say a few words. Most of them went through what would be considered a typical statement, thanking their families, coaches, players, teammates, and God, not necessarily in that order. But there were a few chuckles.

A.D. and Pat Riley both reminisced about A.D.'s Laker days. At that time, Riley was a Costanza-like traveling secretary with the team, and was in charge of boarding passes for the planes. Invariably, A.D. would find himself seated next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He complained to Riley because Kareem wasn't big on talking during flights. Riley replied, "I have to sit you there, Adrian, you're the only one who isn't afraid of him."

Hakeem Olajuwon reflected that growing up in Nigeria, he didn't have the knowledge or the appreciation for what the HOF really was. He focused on winning, and it was the winning that got him here.

Riley said he always believed in the philosophy Magic Johnson espouses: Keep your dreams big and your worries small. He said he feels some players were born to get to the Hall of Fame, but he was able to get there because of the help and support of those people.

Cathy Rush talked about how the HOF was never something she dreamed, but was certainly a dream come true. Back in her day, women's basketball was an afterthought, and she took the job at Immaculata "to have something to do while [her husband] was out refereeing". The job wasn't supposed to be anything. She grew up when girls didn't have dreams, but now have "an equality of dreams", for which she was very thankful.

Dick Vitale was, of course, his usual effusive self. He said his throat is doing much better, although he's headed to Boston after the induction to get another checkup just to be sure. He remembered back when he and Eddie Doucette were partners, when he warned him, "Eddie, I hope you're not getting paid by the word, because by the time I'm done, you won't make a dime." He warned the HOF CEO, John Doleva, he wasn't going to be able to work with a five-minute window in speeches tonight because "I can't say 'hello' in five minutes!" And he said the best thing that ever happened to him was meeting his wife. I know he gets a lot of flack on NDN and elsewhere, but if there's a more genuine person in college basketball than Dick Vitale, I haven't met him.

The biggest thing I noticed about the class was their camaraderie. All of them played for, with or against one another, and all have strong relationships off the court as well as on. They spent more time talking about each other than they did themselves, something Riley pointed out to me later as being "necessary for events like this, but easy when it's people like this".

The pep rally is going on as we speak, but I declined since I was trying to get this done. The media work area is a theater where the event will be shown tonight. I don't know if I'll be watching it in here or in there.

The pre-event reception starts about 5:30. Mike Brey and Morgan Wootten and Digger Phelps will be in attendance, and I'm going to try to get quotes from them for the Irish Eyes stories I'll eventually write about the event. I'll try to check in later this afternoon, but definitely tonight with a report on the induction itself. The IE story probably won't get posted until Monday, since I don't want it to get lost in all the SDSU post-game hoopla.

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Greetings from Springfield

After a bumpy flight through Gustav's remnants, I'm here in the media room at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA, awaiting the start of the inductees' press conference.

While space availability won't allow me to report real-time on what the inductees say, I'll be checking in throughout the day as Adrian Dantley takes his well-deserved place among the greats of the game.

The presser gets underway at 10am ET, which will be followed by a pep rally in downtown Springfield. Mike Brey, Digger Phelps, and Morgan Wooten will be among those celebrating A.D.'s big day with him, but I imagine we won't see them until the pre-ceremony festivities begin late this afternoon.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Big East Schedule Released

The BE has released the composite men's basketball schedule, meaning we can probably expect ND to release theirs within days, if not hours.

The link is in the post title and here, but I'll summarize the Irish portions, all times ET.

Wed 12/31 @ DePaul, 8pm ESPN2
Sat 1/3 @ St. John's
Mon 1/5 Georgetown 7pm ESPN
Sat 1/10 Seton Hall
Mon 1/12 @ Louisville 7pm ESPN
Sat 1/17 @ Syracuse Noon ESPN
Sat 1/24 Connecticut 7pm ESPN
Mon 1/26 Marquette 7pm ESPN
Sat 1/31 @ Pittsburgh Noon ESPN
Wed 2/4 @ Cincinnati
Thu 2/12 Louisville 7pm ESPN/2
Sun 2/15 South Florida
Wed 2/18 @ West Virginia 7:30pm ESPN2
Sat 2/21 @ Providence
Wed 2/25 Rutgers
Sat 2/28 @ Connecticut 2pm CBS
Mon 3/2 Villanova 7pm ESPN
Fri 3/6 St. John's


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A.D. Coming to EsPN Classic

On HOF Induction Day, this Friday, September 5th, EsPN Classic will be showing prominent games featuring the various inductees.

Adrian Dantley will be featured between 1 and 3pm EDT when they show the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals between AD's Pistons and the Boston Celtics.

Then at 7:30pm, the induction ceremony will be carried live on both EsPN Classic and NBA TV. A one-hour version will run on Sunday the 7th at 5:30pm EDT.

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fame Beckons -- Hall, that is

So begins what is no doubt one of the greatest weeks in Adrian Dantley's life. This Friday, the former Irish hardwood star will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, along with other luminaries like Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Pat Riley, and the irrepressible Dick Vitale.

I will be in Springfield on Friday for all the festivities, and will be live-blogging all day to the extent I'm able:

10am -- Press conference for the inductees
Noon -- Pep Rally, Downtown Springfield
7:30pm -- Enshrinement Ceremony

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hoops Gameday Visiting South Bend

EsPN just announced that the basketball version of GameDay will be making its inaugural visit to South Bend on January 24th for the game between the Fighting Irish and the Huskies of UConn, which will tip at 7pm on EsPN.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008


Yes, I made up a word. I do that sometimes. But I think it describes the 2008 Men's Basketball banquet perfectly.

Walking out of men's basketball banquets in the past, I've usually been left with the impression the banquet itself mirrored the personality of the team it celebrated in general and the seniors it honored in particular.

This year was no exception, and perhaps was the strongest example of that trend. Rob Kurz has always been a get-it-done, humble person who prefers the accolades to be aimed at his team rather than himself. Although from a technical perspective, this was among the most "advanced" hoops banquets I'd attended (multiple screens, good video production), the atmosphere was that of, for lack of a better phrase, a simple celebration of a group of players who have shown since August they like nothing better than each other's company.

Schedule conflicts meant I'd missed the last two banquets, so it's possible what I saw last night has been done before. But the sense of community on the team was unmistakable, with, as Jimmy Durante might have said, everybody wanting to get into the act. The individual awards were given away by the assistant coaches, including Gene Cross, who got emotional in his goodbye to Irish basketball. Rob Kurz spent his entire speech talking about everyone but himself. It seems everyone's response to a congratulations was "But did you see what [teammate] did?"

All that humility, however, was impregnated with what Sean Kearney described in a player as an "infectious enthusiasm". This "infectiasm", as I've dubbed it, applied to more than that player. Dr. Kevin White was more animated in his remarks than I've ever seen him at an ND function, commending the team for its accomplishments and expressing excitement at what next season may hold. ND president Fr. John Jenkins, who delayed his trip to see the Pontiff to make sure he'd have a chance to address this team, talked about the pride these young men should feel in themselves and we should feel in them, not only for what they've done but for what they're going to do.

This infectiasm is welcomed, because when a team accomplishes as much as this one has, it deserves the enthusiasm of its leaders and fans. Two straight seasons with no home losses, which hasn't happened since the 1940s, and a home court consecutive win record on the verge of falling. The third-most number of wins in a season in Notre Dame history, second in the modern era behind the 26-3 1973-74 squad. 18 Big East home wins in a row, which has only been bested by one team in the 30-year history of the conference, in an era where the Big East is among the (if not the) best conferences in the country. A two-time Big East Coach of the Year, and a sophomore Player of the Year. A second-place finish in the conference, and the best record in the conference since that disastrous 1-8 start two seasons ago.

Humble or not, this team and these coaches have a lot to be proud of, and it was good to see others taking pride in them.


Of course, it wouldn't be a basketball post from me without facilities comments.

I was disappointed last night arriving at the event to see no pictures or other renderings being displayed. Given that we're on the cusp of the nape of the precipice of the edge of getting started on this project, I would think they'd be all about showing off the plans.

My disappointment faded, though, as Associate AD Bill Scholl took to the mic to talk about the plans and what fans can expect.

(As an aside, this was a perfect example of the some-people-can't-joke-about-some-things philosophy. When former player and Monogram Club prez Marc Kelly joked that team orthopod Fred Ferlic had been with Notre Dame "since before we started fixing these seats with duct tape", it got a good laugh. When Bill Scholl talked about duct tape companies going out of business as a result of these renovations, on the other hand, a lot more silence. Players and fans can joke about the tape. Admins, on whose shoulders the responsibility rests to make the tape unnecessary, should not, especially with these upgrades as late as they are)

The presentation had plenty of pictures, including an alternate view of this shot. The new atrium has changed a bit from the original design, and meshes with the football stadium. The new area will be built out to the south of the JC, and seems to include a single entrance. The seats will be brought right to courtside, although Scholl didn't mention if students would be in those seats or not, and every seat will be a navy blue chairback.

My objections to the priorities of this project remain -- I'll happily remain in my bleacher seat if there were more in this effort that directly benefitted the student athletes. But hopefully that's to come, and if the pictures they showed last night come to fruition, Purcell Pavilion certainly will be a cleaner, nicer-looking place to watch a game.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Moose Season

It never fails ... I have a day with limited Internet access, and all kinds of stuff goes down with ND basketball.

Each deserves its own entry, so I'll start with Gene Cross, the new head basketball coach at the University of Toledo. I'm sure I'm not alone in congratulating GC on his first head coaching gig and wishing him the best of luck. This opportunity is waaaaay overdue for him. He brought an excellent dynamic to Notre Dame the past two seasons, and we saw the results both on and off the court. I certainly hope we have room on the schedule for a home-and-home for Toledo the next two seasons.

This leaves an opening on the Irish coaching staff. While I wouldn't expect Mike Brey to fill it immediately, news comes from the Trib's Brian Hamilton that current restricted-slot Irish coach and CBO Martin "Moose" Ingelsby will fill Cross' spot, at least temporarily.

Let's get the caveats out of the way. BH's article doesn't mention if this promotion is permanent or not. Mike's quote from the article indicates he'll be looking for a new assistant, but doesn't mention whether it's to fill Cross' vacancy or Moose's. Things are vague, and a lot can still happen.

Let me also be crystal clear that I love Moose, both as a player and as a person and as a potential coach. I think he rose above his limitations, so to speak, as a player, and never doubted he'd give everything he had whenever he was on the floor. He had outstanding leadership skills, and his teammates believed in and followed him. I think he'd bring all of those same qualities to coaching, and look forward to the day when he's running a D1 program.

Having said all of those things, things I believe with all my heart, I think moving him up to permanent assistant right now is a bad move, for a number of reasons.

First, Moose needs to get some non-ND experience. His entire assistant coaching career, other than one year at Wagner, has been under the Dome. As someone who loves ND dearly, I can appreciate that characteristic in others. However, if Moose is to become a well-rounded coach, recruiter, and sideline leader, he needs to have a more diverse palate.

In the business world, getting a bachelor's and master's degree from the same school is considered a negative because it's a potential over-exposure to a single perspective. I believe the same would apply to coaching. At this point in his career, Mike should be gently nudging Moose out of the nest, not tucking him in.

Second, the past few seasons have shown us how important diverging points of view are on a coaching staff. When Anthony Solomon left after the Sweet 16 season, Mike promoted Rod Balanis out of the CBO slot and brought Moose home from Wagner. That proved problematic, as Mike now had an entire staff of coaches like him -- offense- and guard-oriented "players coaches" who were more teachers than ass-kickers. The result was three seasons where the results trended downward and the players lacked discipline.

There's nothing wrong with coaching as a teacher. Every staff needs some of that, and you have to be the coach you are or you won't succeed. But every staff also needs someone to be the drill instructor and go to the whip when things start to lag -- the balance of ying and yang. That keeps the balance and helps move the whole program forward.

That's what Anthony Solomon was in Mike's first three seasons, and that's what Gene Cross has been in the last two: the defensive-minded drill sergeant who wasn't afraid to put a foot in someone's ass when required. I don't think it's a coincidence those five years in which the staff had good balance resulted in successful regular seasons and NCAA tournament bids.

If Moose rotates into the assistant coach spot, Mike's back to the same problem he had three seasons ago. He's got a group of coaches whose first thought is offense and who work great with guards. He doesn't have someone to counterbalance his experience and perspective and provide "fresh blood" into recruiting, game prep, etc.

Finally, and not to put too fine a point on it, Mike also needs racial diversity on his staff, especially at a predominantly white school like Notre Dame. It's no secret that the racial makeup of the student body at ND works as a slight negative when trying to recruit African-American student athletes. The football program has had to deal with it for years, and basketball must handle it as well.

Whether it's recruiting African-American players or seeing after their well-being once they arrive on campus, it's important to have someone on the staff who can relate to them on as many levels as possible. I don't believe being a minority on a Caucasian campus isn't the kind of thing a white coach can naturally relate to.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that any of the current assistant coaches or Mike Brey don't have the best interests of all their players, regardless of race, in mind at all times, because it's clear to anyone with a double-digit IQ they do. I'm saying just as you have a broad spectrum of players on your team, you should also have a broad spectrum of coaches. Just as that applies to experience and tendencies, as I addressed above, it also applies to race.

Moose is going to be an excellent coach someday. But if he wants to be the best coach he can be, and ND wants to be the best program it can be, I believe it's best for both sides he continue his growth elsewhere and, just as Cross was two years ago, another batch of "new blood" be injected into the veins of Irish basketball to keep it vital.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Dish Best Served Cold

Almost nine years ago, a frustrated Fighting Irish football fan wallowing in the midst of a 5-7 effort by Bob Davie and crew, vented those frustrations by writing a fake news article for a Usenet newsgroup. In that newsgroup, creating such faux factograms was de rigeur, with participants trying to hook as many fish as possible.

Ironically, the furor that article created helped set me on the path of "legitimate" reporting that brought me to NDNation (via NDHoops) and book authorship and the wonderful community The Pit has become. But at the time, the hassles ended up outnumbering the laughs, and I swore off fake news, seemingly forever.

But that's the problem with lessons learned long ago ... they tend to fade in your head. And you end up in the shower on one April Fool's Day morning with an idea bouncing around in your noggin, and you forget (as many folks do) that a lot more people read posts on the board than the people who respond. Then you read blog entries about your little joke, and realize you got some 'splainin' to do.

Let's be clear: As far as I'm aware, no one from Indiana University has talked or plans to talk to Mike Brey about anything. My impression has always been Mike is happy as a clam at ND and has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon. Just so no one remains confused.

It's hard to determine how to react here.

On the one hand, as I constantly remind people (and should have reminded myself), plenty of people read the Internet and plenty of messages have unintended consequences. Two seasons or so ago, the father of a signed recruit sent an email to some friends where he shared some Ancient Chinese Secrets about how the coaching staff was doing business. The recipients forwarded to two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on, and next thing the poor guy knew, the email was being posted on every ND site and was traveling all over the world. He ended up very embarrassed, as did (I'm sure) his son.

Now I find myself in a similar situation. We here at NDN are certainly blessed with a large and active readership, but that readership comes at a cost. I usually pride myself on verifying info I'm going to share, and when I do things like this, I jeopardize that relationship with the readers.

On the other hand, though, it's freaking April Fool's Day. Part of me thinks the only thing I should be embarrassed about is the joke is so hackneyed a twit like Brendan Loy apparently thought of it too. And if we can read stuff like this about Juli Boeheim, perhaps I should tell people to lighten the !@#$ up about my relatively tame stuff.

But then again, I'm not and don't want to be either of those guys.

I see the points of those who wonder if what I did was a good idea. At various points during the day, I've wondered myself. But it's done, and I gave up second guessing myself for Lent, so onward and upward. Besides, IU seems to have their coach, and I get to watch the Marquette folks get all squirrelly to boot.

Maybe it's a better day than I thought....

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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.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Living the Dream

Those of you who regularly read NDN know our relationship with the South Bend Tribune has been rather contentious. Under normal circumstances, I'm not prone to link things I find there. However, a good friend e-mailed a link to me I felt I should share with the ND basketball fans.

The Trib is taking a poll to determine ND's dream team for the ages. ND did their All-Century Team back in 2005, but the SBT is looking for a more focused list.

I encourage ND hoops fans of all shapes and sizes to participate. With the Irish enjoying their strongest hoops success in a while, it's good to reflect on the past and know how we got here. You don't have to stick to the All-Century list --- there may be a player not on it you think deserves mention, as I (almost) did with Ray Meyer.

As a start, or perhaps as an exercise in narcissism, here's the team I submitted:

1) Austin Carr. Duh.

2) Adrian Dantley. Duh II, the revenge.

3) Edward "Moose" Krause. The man revolutionized low post play in his era. Every time you (should) hear a whistle for three seconds, you have Moose to thank for it.

4) John Moir

5) Paul Nowak.

ND has had precious few three-time consensus All-Americans, and these guys are two of them. Moir was National Player of the Year in 1936, when the Irish won the national championship, and it was the first time the guy had ever played organized basketball.

6) Tommy Hawkins. The Hawk still holds a lot of rebounding records at Notre Dame, all achieved in only three years of playing.

7) Dick Rosenthal. What Moose was to ND hoops in the 30's, Rosenthal was in the 50's. He was a dominating low-post man, and led the Irish to the Elite Eight in his senior year ... the last time they'd get there until Digger's Final Four trip.

8) David Rivers. Not only was he one of the most gifted guards ever to play at ND, he led his junior year team to the Sweet 16 seven months after lying on the side of a road with his abdomen slashed open. If that's not balls, I don't know what is.

9) Collis Jones. He'd be considered one of ND's greatest if he hadn't had a teammate named Carr. And to his credit, he's never complained about it once and remains AC's greatest friend and supporter.

10) Kelly Tripucka. The last spot came down to him or Ray Meyer, who I wanted to put in there based on what he brought to the game of basketball over 50 years. But I decided leading ND to their only Final Four so far had to trump that.

Jump on their site and share your own team with the poll. They'll be releasing the results on the 21st.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Numbers Game

There are no more Joyce Center games for Rob Kurz and his Irish teammates, and kudos to them for pulling off what no Big East team has done before: Completing a home conference schedule unscathed two seasons in a row. They haven't set the home conference win streak record yet ... Pitt still owns that 20-game mark ... but we'll be looking for that in January.

I've talked before about the 24-game record Mike Brey and his charges broke back in December. As I said then, I believe pulling off a second straight undefeated season at home makes this streak superior, UCLA or no UCLA. And as I also said then, it's time to start looking at the 38-game streak the Irish are poised to break as the next season dawns.

The current record home win streak started December 11th, 1943, with a 41-31 win over Wisconsin, and ended February 9th, 1948, with a 68-51 loss to St. Louis. It spanned five seasons and almost as many coaches -- Moose Krause bookended it in its first and last two seasons, with Clem Crowe and Elmer Ripley taking one season each while Moose was in the Service. All-Century Team member Leo "Crystal" Klier (yes, that was his nickname) and All-American Vince "Magilla" Boryla (no, that most definitely was not) spent the first part of the streak claiming and re-claiming the Notre Dame scoring record, and fellow All-Century man Kevin O'Shea contributed at the other end during his outstanding freshman season. Marquettte and Piggy Lambert-led Purdue each fell four times during its course, with Northwestern and Butler three times and Wisconsin and Michigan State twice. And the streak even had its UCLA: the 1948 Kentucky team they beat was a juggernaut featuring Ralph Beard, Wallace Jones, and Alex Groza that went on to an NCAA championship that year.

So which one is superior? Which cuisine reigns supreme?

Part of me says the 38-game streak. But then I remember some other things about it.

As impressive as three straight undefeated home seasons is, in the days of the Fieldhouse, most top teams wouldn't play ND there and ND played most of their games on the road or at neutral sites. In addition to its reputation as a snake pit, the Fieldhouse only sat around 4,000 people, and once you factored in the students (who watched games for free), there was precious little gate to split with the road squad. ND did beat that 1948 Kentucky squad, but that was the only time the Wildcats appear on the victims list. Meanwhile, Loras, Bunker Hill, Franklin, Drake, Alma and Valpo are all taking up slots too.

There was also a war on, and a lot of major programs were shells of their usual selves. Notre Dame, thanks to the Naval ROTC on campus, was able to stay competitive, but a lot of programs had to shut down during the 1945 and 46 seasons. Even ND had to employ journeyman coaches to stay afloat.

The current streak still lacks the top-five (or top-ranked) crown jewel to really make it special, and maybe next season we'll see one. But they've added a couple more ranked teams to the list of pelts this season in #13 UConn and #21 Marquette. They've done what no team in Big East history has been able to do, winning the conference home slate two years in a row. And they've captivated crowds that wandered away from the program during the dark decade, making the Joyce Center a feared venue once again.

Perhaps this will be like breaking the 24-game record ... right now, the current streak hasn't differentiated itself enough to make the comparison clear. But a couple more games, and there'll likely be no doubt.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Mostest Bestest

That's how my daughter, many years ago, described Sesame Street's Elmo -- her mostest bestest friend. I thought it captured the relationship perfectly.

So I would describe this week as one of the two mostest bestest for Notre Dame basketball fans in a typical season: one featuring a game against Marquette. As SC is to Notre Dame football, the Warriors (none of this Eagle or Golden Gold crap) are to Notre Dame basketball -- a rival without peer.

Yes, the Blue Demons had Ray Meyer, and for that they will always have a special place in ND lore. And our history with UCLA is certainly a vibrant one with multiple high-stakes contests won by each side.

But the statistics and lore are undeniable. Marquette tops the list.

Saturday's meeting will be the 109th between the two schools, far and away the most ND has played against any opponent, with the Irish holding a 76-32 advantage (and 32-21 in Milwaukee). And were it not for Marquette's Conference USA commitments in the 1990s and the horrible accident that resulted in Eddie Hickey being born without testicles, the number would be even higher.

Note: For those unclear on the concept (or who haven't read the book), Eddie Hickey is to ND basketball what Fielding Yost and Fritz Crisler were to ND football. Moose Krause recruited Dick Rosenthal right under Hickey's nose when he was at SLU, and the little man was never able to let go of it. He blew up the ND/SLU series, and once he got to Milwaukee, did the same to ND/Marquette during the 1960s.

Lopsided as the series may be in ND's favor, people on both sides can point to games where they stuck daggers into their opponent's hearts. Digger having his players sneak back into the arena to cut the nets down in Milwaukee after breaking the Warriors' 81-game home win streak, or pulling out the green socks at the (then) A.C.C. before a 65-59 win when Marquette was ranked #1. The triangle-and-two that shut down Adrian Dantley and left him 1-4 against Marquette in his career.

But even if none of those things were true, Marquette would still sit in the catbird seat for one reason:

Al McGuire.

Was there ever a basketball coach you loved to hate more? Heck, maybe you were like me and couldn't bring yourself to hate him. For someone who never walked a sideline or scored a point for the Irish, Al was the closest thing to a Notre Dame Man you'd find out there. He spoke the blarney. He had the attitude. He was a spunky Irishman from New York City. And the minute he became a broadcaster, you couldn't find a bigger Irish booster out there. He was Dickey V before even Dickey V was Dickey V.

Trying to remember my favorite Al McGuire story is like trying to remember the best hot fudge sundae I ever ate. But after thinking, I decided it was the story Digger told in his "Tales from the ND Hardwood" book. He had opened his practices early in his career, trying to get the student body out and interested in the team. Lo and behold, about three weeks later, he gets a letter from Al along with pages and pages of diagrams. Apparently a life-long Marquette fan had decided to attend Notre Dame, and not only had gone to every practice, he had diagrammed ND's offense and mailed it to Al in the hopes it would help him prepare for ND. Sportsman that he always was, Al sent the data back to Digger rather than use it against him.

If you an Irish hoops fan, you have to love this week. Forget the antiseptic nature of the Bradley Center and think about the plethora of watering holes surrounding it for pre- and post-game libations. Forget the antics of Tom Crean and remember he's taken a team to the Final Four and Mike Brey hasn't (yet). Forget the attitudes of Warrior fans and remember the reason you don't like them is, down deep, they're a lot like you.

It's like a late-arriving Christmas. ND basketball as it should be, as it always should have been.

Irish and Warriors, together again.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

They Call Him The Streak

I'm not a superstitious man, although I understand why folks won't talk about no-hitters and the like while they're going on.

So I'll risk upsetting that group and the Sports Luck Deities and talk about the momentous event most likely taking place around 9pm on Saturday. When the Northern Illinois game ends, Mike Brey's squad hopefully will have set a new Joyce Center win streak record with their 25th straight victory in that duck-taped edifice.

A couple weeks back, I talked about the streak, and at the time, I didn't think much of it. But as the date drew nigh, I realized I didn't want to give Rob Kurz, Tory Jackson, Luke Harangody, Kyle McAlarney, and all their teammates short shrift if they were entitled to a taller one.

So I decided to set the wayback machine for February 3rd, 1973, the day the current record streak of 24 games started. The previous home game had been an 82-63 loss to UCLA, in which the Bruins had set a record of their own -- their 61st consecutive win. The streak started with a blowout of Xavier, 94-68, and the Fighting Irish held serve until Bob Knight's Hoosiers ran off a 94-84 win in December of 1974. Along the way, we had the big 71-70 win over UCLA and a 69-63 nailbiter against #5 Marquette. The undefeated-at-home season of 1973-74 was ND's first in 14 seasons.

So let's look at how the current streak compares:

Last season, ND went undefeated at home for only the second time since that 1973-74 slate (1985-86 was the other). That's a pretty damn good accomplishment. Some ND teams played tougher home schedules in those 33 seasons, but others didn't, and none of them pulled off what this team did in that third of a century.

ND went 684 days between losses back then. Assuming the record is set on Saturday, ND's last loss will have been 652 days prior. Not sure what that means other than this streak team played more home games in their seasons than the prior one.

It's hard to top UCLA as a crown jewel for the current run. But the 24-gamer had a total of four ranked teams -- #19 South Carolina, #1 UCLA, #5 Marquette, and #7 Kansas -- while the current streak features three -- #4 Alabama, #21 West Virginia, and #16 Marquette. Teams like DePaul and Villanova were victims in both streaks.

Any dispassionate analysis of both streaks would indicate the slate of the prior version was tougher overall, but it's not like the current streak was against Division II opponents. To that end, my prior commentary linked above was probably too harsh, not to mention incorrect ... Indiana and Kentucky weren't home games during that streak, and Michigan State wasn't ranked.

Mike Brey and the guys have worked hard to put this streak together, and a second look tells me there's more to it than I thought. I hope to be there on Saturday to cheer them on and celebrate the win, but if not, I'll be watching on UND and quaffing a beverage in their honor, and I'll catch them up at the San Francisco game.

Next on the docket: ND's overall home win streak record of 38 games, set by the 1943 through 1948 squads in the old Fieldhouse. If the Irish can finish this season undefeated at home as they did last season, they'll have won 37 in a row and can tie/break the overall record next year. To do so, they definitely will have earned it -- WVU, UConn, Marquette, Pitt and Syracuse stand in their way. We'll check back on this one in February.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Student and Friend

I finally got the AC article written, no thanks to my clunky tape recorder.

Austin Carr: Student and Friend

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Kansas City is Lovely This Time of Year

Finally back after a plane delayed thanks to a computer crash in Dallas. I'm hoping to have a writeup or two on Irish Eyes in the next 24 hours. But a couple notes floating through my head.

SWA's new boarding procedure is good, but the people who camp out 30 minutes before departure have been replaced by the people who, if their number is lower than yours, absolutely have to worm their way in front of you even if you're both standing in the same five-number area.

I got honey roasted peanuts both ways. I used to think those were reserved for the Florida routes. The FA on the flight there refused to take my money for my screwdriver, wishing me "happy holidays" instead.

Never been to KC before, seems like a nice enough town. Traffic accidents make the 10pm news, which is refreshing in a way. The Crowne Point Hyatt is a high quality place.

The event was outstanding. AC knew Collis Jones would be there to introduce him, but didn't know a lot of his teammates were showing up. The look on his face when he saw John Tracy and Jackie Meehan walk in was priceless.

Speaking of which, I give Kevin White a lot of grief on this blog, so I want to make sure to give him kudos for making the trip out to KC on Sunday with John Heisler when he could have bolted down to the USVI's for some sun or been noodling around South Bend after a long day on Saturday and with another long day in Terre Haute for the cross country NCAAs today. Say what you want about him (and I say plenty), but I appreciate him making that kind of effort.

I understand Jim Lynch was in the group as well, but I didn't get a chance to make his acquaintance. Good of him to cross the sports lines that way.

Dick Barnett is an interesting guy. Very focused on education, which is good in this day and age. Quoted poetry both in the presser and at the event. I'd love to see him talk at ND sometime, his speech was engrossing.

Kareem also spoke about the importance of the college experience, and you can tell he doesn't think much of the one-and-done philosophy. He was his typical, understated self.

There were video tributes before the event. Mike Brey's was the only one that didn't sound like it was being read off cue cards. Whoever put together Coach K's certainly skimped on the makeup -- the guy was virtually glistening with some kind of secretion. Never let 'em see you sweat, Mike.

I hung around the ceremony after AC was inducted long enough to listen to Lefty Driesell, who has always been an entertaining character. He was doing fine until about three quarters of the way through his speech, when he told us all he referred to his African American players as "players with good suntans." Air went out of the room a little bit after that. It'll be interesting to see how ESPNU handles that before the broadcast.

AC is the second ND representative in the college hoops HOF, joining former coach George Keogan. ND needs to send the HOF guys a picture of Keogan so they can include it in the interactive history stuff they have there. Next step is to get either KC or Springfield to recognize Adrian. ND, to their credit, is working as hard as they can to make it happen. I'd rather see KC get him first.

If you have some spare good prayers, Frannie Collins could use them. The architect of the "DC Connetion" that brought players like AC and Collis Jones to ND, along with Bob Whitmore, Adrian Dantley, Duck Williams, and the rest, is in poor health these days, and I hope the ND family can keep him in their good thoughts.

Last, but certainly not least, I was the only person there representing any of the ND publications. I got the whole trip done for less than $300, guys, and I don't get paid to do this. Shame on you salaried first-row-in-press-row guys for blowing it off.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Getting the Clap

The good folks at made the new montage video available on their site here (if you click on Video View), which means I've had a chance to watch it a couple times and digest its content further.

I still believe there's too much emphasis on the current team. The current-team stuff in the video is great as a standalone, and should be used when the player intros start. Right now, there's the black screen and interlocking ND over "Carmina Burana O Fortuna" as an intro to "Hate Me Now". The first scene after the fade-out of the current video should be the first player being introduced. Meanwhile, they could beef up the footage from the past, adding more action shots.

But more important than that is the music. I've been trying to figure out why it doesn't work for me, and I had an epiphany last night:

It doesn't give me the clap.

No, not the STD. The energy.

Aside of it just being a great song and ND's musical heritage, one of the reasons the Victory March has always worked as a hoops intro is its driving rhythm that invites the crowd to clap along. That clapping, in turn, creates an energy in the crowd, which we've been looking for in the Joyce in recent seasons. The old "Halloween" intro worked the same way -- that DO-do-do-DO-do-do-DO-do-DEE-do baseline evoked a similar pulse from the stands, and as a result, everyone was fired up.

The music in this montage doesn't do that, primarily because the beat is too slow. That's always been the problem with "Hate Me Now" (along with me being perplexed an ND team would use a song whose video features a rapper carrying a cross with a crown of thorns on his head), but "Remember The Name" by Fort Minor that the new montage uses has the same issue. The beat is there, and if we were dancing, it wouldn't be a problem. It's just too slow to get a crowd really fired up.

I referenced the Sox the other day and their montage. Both "He's a Pirate" and "Thunderstruck" have a fast cadence to them. A fan put together his own montage on YouTube and used the theme from Van Helsing, which has similar characteristics:

This theme pervades these kinds of intros at other places. The Chicago Bulls (and, I'm led to understand, the Philadelphia 76ers) have long used the Alan Parsons Project's "Sirius":

Not only does it have that driving rhythm, the long bass tone to start the song creates anticipation energy in the crowd.

You see further examples of solid beats with the Phoenix Suns...

... and the Toronto Raptors:

The current one is excellent and can work, but if there are going to be future tweaks, a better beat should be considered.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

We Need a Montage

Tonight was my first opportunity to watch the 2007-08 Irish live. Since my schedule won't allow me to do it again until (what will hopefully be) the streak-breaker against NIU in December, I tried to take in all I could.

There's plenty of analysis on The Pit right now, and I'm pretty much down with all of it. This is going to be a damn fun team to watch. They're unselfish, they hustle, they put (successful) effort in on D, they distribute the ball, they've got ballhandling skills and body awareness.... After suffering through football season, this is going to be a breath of fresh air for Fighting Irish fans.

But rather than focus on that, since the Pit is getting the job done, I wanted to focus on a new addition to the Irish gameday experience -- new player intros.

They still use the same song to introduce the players (along with those air cannon things I'm not fond of). But there's a new wrinkle this year via video. On two drop-down screens positioned in the rafters behind the baskets (approximately where the screen appears in this picture, they followed the intro of the LIU starters with a video montage that showed previous ND players and the current team (over music whose title I can't remember -- I know the "Here Come The Irish" tune started it out, but I'm hoping one of the younger set can remember what I can't). During the spotlight intro, a picture and info of each player was shown when he was introduced.

OK, let's get right to it. I loved it. I loved every freaking part of it with my whole body. This is just the kind of thing I was hoping we'd get with the upgraded video whatevers in the Joyce, and it seems my hopes will be realized in a snuggly fashion. FisherJ08 opined it would "make the 'More awareness of basketball history' crowd very happy". Darn tootin.

(And yes, I realize I strongly oppose the addition of a video screen in ND Stadium. Football and basketball are very very different animals)

But I wouldn't be me if I didn't mention two things that would make it even better:

1) Better music. In the interest of full disclosure, I hate that "Here Comes the Irish" song with the white-hot hate of a thousand suns. But that aside, I don't think it drives enough. You need something with a solid beat to get the crowd fired up. Whiny lilting lasses don't get that done.

2) More history. They opened with pics of AC and AD, of course, had at least one of current ND radio personality (and dred-sporting) LaPhonso Ellis, and including a picture of Colin Falls and Russell Carter was a nice touch. But there was way too much of the current team. I'm not advocating taking them out entirely, but the crowd is about to spend the better part of two hours watching these guys, and there are good pics of them during the intros already. Let's see a little more Hawk, Hanzlik, Pax, Rivers and Garrity, and a lot more action shots. I need to see Dwight Clay stick a dagger in John Wooden's soul every game. Need. Every.

As a White Sox fan, I'm intimately familiar with their intro montage:

The first part, which shows the various uniforms and trophies, uses "Elk Trot" from Last of the Mohicans. It then segues into the history shots (with some of the previous season thrown in) set to "He's a Pirate" from the Pirates of the Carribean movies. The actual player intros are done to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck". If that intro doesn't fire you up, you're the third eunuch -- dead. I believe it was put together by former Irish hoopster Brooks Boyer and his marketing squad. Perhaps he'd let us borrow it.

I think the whole video intro concept is an excellent idea, and a standing ovation to the ND marketing folks that put it together. With a tweak or two........

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Let's Get Ready to Rumble

All that can be said has been said about the non-conference schedule and the upgrade project. Things are where they are.

But where we are right now is less than 18 hours before the season tip-off, so it's time to get fired up for what should be an excellent season on the Irish hardwood. This is a team deserving of good crowds and loud support, and it remains my fervent hope they're going to get it.

Wait a sec, you're saying. Are you now advocating these non-conference games? I thought for sure you'd be advising people to stay away and show the powers that be this kind of scheduling philosophy can't be tolerated.

The thought certainly crossed my mind. But every time it did, I was reminded of what I saw during those practices in the fall.

I saw energy on the court.

I saw a group of players that seems to really like to play together.

I saw hard work on defense and offense.

I saw freshman trying to make it tough for the coaches to not play them, and upperclassmen trying to make it easy for the coaches to ignore the frosh.

I saw a sophomore welcoming a leadership role, and a junior welcoming a challenge to return and make a difference.

I saw a big man who gave up pizza in the off-season so his team could improve.

I saw players throwing their bodies around to make a play, even if that play was through pain.

I saw coaches getting in the players' grills when the effort waned.

I saw fun basketball. And I think you all will want to see fun basketball.

Of course, I'd rather folks be in the seats at the JC. But in a new twist this year, the non-conference games will be webcast on, so everyone will get a chance to check out the product and decide for themselves if a winter trip is warranted (as I think it is). Granted, that puts us at the mercy at the heretofore sketchy availability of the CSTV video interface, but it's certainly a step forward in program marketing.

We spent the offseason dealing with the issues. But the offseason is over, and this season will see a new home-court win streak and ND's greatest player inducted into the College Hoops HOF.

Time to get our hoops schwerve on. Let's light this candle.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Finding Our Virtu

Yesterday, I was part of the problem. Today, I want to be part of the solution.

ND needs a consistent scheduling philosophy for its men's basketball program. It has little control over what the conference will do, and the conference probably will be tough year-in and year-out. But they have full control of the 10 non-conference slots, and they need to make better use of them.

For example, ND has to stop being afraid of an opponent's home court, and the focus on home revenue generation is just as off-putting for basketball as it is for football. Besides, a lot of these schools are getting smart and starting to charge more for one-off contests. So the Irish need to get into a rotation that gives them a quality game away from home every year.

The one "constant", if you want to call it that, is the demise of the two-in-four rule almost guaranteeing Notre Dame's appearance in an early-season exempt tournament every year. Next year, they'll be part of a loaded Maui Invitational with Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon, St. Joe's, and Texas. I believe they're also slated for the 2010 Preseason NIT, which is always a quality draw, and they're overdue for an appearance at the Great Alaska Shootout. So in even-numbered years, the schedule will feature quality away-from-home matchups to bolster the schedule.

The key is the odd-numbered years. The tournaments for those years, like the Guardians Classic and the Paradise Jam, are good, but aren't going to offer the marquee games ND needs. So in odd-numbered years, the Fighting Irish need to play somewhere that will test them.

I've got the perfect place: Los Angeles.

UCLA is a natural for the ND schedule. While not a rivalry on either side, it's a series loaded with tradition. For over a decade, it was an annual home-and-home that brought a lot of national attention. UCLA is a program which, while they may have down periods like any other team, they usually bounce back strong. And with Ben Howland at the helm, they're poised for years of quality basketball.

ND football plays in LA against the Trojans in even-numbered years. What better way to keep a good presence in an area loaded with alums than to have the basketball team visit in odd-numbered years? In fact, I'd like to see the first Saturday in December be "UCLA Saturday" for Notre Dame, with the game alternating between LA and South Bend counter to the football (and primary exempt tournament) rotation. Even better, a 2-2-2 setup, with two games at Pauley, two games at the Joyce, and two neutral-site games (one at Staples Center, one at United Center), and keep that six-game rotation going ad infinitum.

Both ND and UCLA are renovating their hoops facilities in the next couple of years. They could arrange it where the other is the first game in the new digs, just as UCLA was the first big ND game in the then Athletic and Convocation Center.

(every time I type that, I miss Jack Lloyd)

So two of the 10 slots are now taken care of with a tournament and UCLA, and there's at least one quality away-from-home game per year.

But we still need a decent home game in the odd-numbered years, and ND should always play at least one true road game. So two more slots should be set up for intriguing, if not guaranteed quality, matchups, with home / away / neutral rotations matched up as well as possible with the Big Two.

My dislike for the Integer aside, one of those slots should be used to rekindle / start meaningful series with one of their teams. I've said it before and this won't be the last time: It's criminal that Michigan State, ND's fourth-most-played opponent in its history, hasn't been on the schedule since the 1970s. Northwestern is fifth on that list, and it's been forever since they've appeared at the Joyce Center. Illinois is a natural, and Wisconsin would be an intriguing matchup. If we want to look east or are concerned about the schedule being excessive, Penn State has mid-major quality with an Integer name. I have no interest in the Hoosiers, and Michigan has appeared plenty lately. The Integer Slot can rotate opposite UCLA to ensure an attractive home game when the Bruins aren't coming to town, with the game the Wednesday following the Bruin trip/visit.

The other can be used to rotate in some of ND's Catholic brethren. Dayton, Detroit, Creighton, and SLU spring to mind almost by reflex ... schools that share ND's mission and goals, and with whom the Irish have a long and storied history (not to mention the nice RPI push). In fact, an argument can be made to use two slots here, one home and one away.

The remaining five to six slots can be used for the various warm-up / holiday tomato can games that every school plays. But there should be an unofficial rule that only three of those cans come in with an RPI in the previous season above 250. I'd rather have a 15-point win over a #200 team than a 30-point win over a #300 team. Exceptions can always be made for teams or coaches with a special affinity for ND, such as Billy Taylor at Ball State.

So let's work a little elfin magic on this year's slate, applying my changes above. It's an odd-numbered year, so there'd be a game at UCLA the first Saturday in December instead of Eastern Michigan at home. Without looking at the numbers, I'll select Northwestern as the Integer team, and SLU and Detroit as the current saved-slot teams. Since UCLA is on the road, Northwestern would be at home, but since we're in the JVC in early December, I'll put them in Northern Illinois' slot. Flipping a coin, SLU will be at home replacing Colgate, and Detroit away replacing Brown. You know how I love road games over the holidays, after all.

Let's see how the RPI changes:

310 -- LIU
259 -- Monmouth (PJ)
121 -- Baylor (PJ)
52 -- Georgia Tech (PJ)
173 -- Youngstown State
177 -- Northwestern
3 -- at UCLA
56 -- vs. Kansas St. (JVC)
74 -- St. Louis
162 -- San Francisco
191 -- at Detroit
333 -- North Florida

Average RPI: 159, with a 6 - 2 - 4 split, which would be ninth in the conference and just above the 50-percent line overall. Replacing Northwestern with Michigan State (24 RPI) would reduce the average to 147 and push ND up to fifth just ahead of the UConn / Georgetown / Providence bunch, which might be more appropriate in years when ND has a strong team, not to mention put a very attractive home game on the schedule.

Sure, playing at UCLA would be tough, but no tougher than playing at Georgetown is going to be. Northwestern and St. Louis would be stern tests, but not the kind that should scare the kind of ND team we'll have the next two seasons. And playing at Detroit should be very doable for Notre Dame in any season.

This is an older team that shouldn't shy way from challenges, and next year will be even more so. It's time to bulk up a little bit.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In Medio Stat Virtu Est

Not sure this blog was going to get to 100 entries, but it has. Thanks to one and all for reading and keeping things interesting.

Now, on to business.

I've posted before about our non-conference SOS. A friend whose hoops acumen I've come to respect greatly and who is on the other side of the argument from me, brought to my attention an article by Mike DeCourcy on teams that, in his opinion, over-schedule.

I read it. And in what may seem on the surface to be a contradiction, I agree with everything it says. Tom Izzo's an outstanding college coach, but what he tried to do a couple seasons ago was insane. Experienced team or not, you don't put together a murderer's row like Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Syracuse, and then go play an Integer schedule on top of it. The only thing your team will prove is dead men can indeed tell tales.

But lest you think I'm going to suddenly bless our non-conference slate, hold on thar, Baba Looey. No one is asking for Notre Dame to schedule itself out of the tournament. Rather, I want them to schedule like they think they belong there. There's an awful lot of space between Izzo's overestimation of his team's prowess and what Notre Dame is trying to do this year, and as the actors say, the Fighting Irish should be using that space.

Compared to the Standards

DeCourcy cites two schedules in his article, one he believes to be too aggressive (Arizona's) and one he believes to be in proper balance (Louisville). Let's take a look at the RPI numbers for that schedule for the last three years, both a straight-up average and a weighted average (three times last year, two times previous year, one time year before that, total averaged) to balance out one-year fluctuations, and see where they end up.

Northern Arizona (149/117/294) -- 187 straight-up / 163 weighted
Virginia (55/79/80) -- 71 / 67
Mizzou-KC (257/264/171) -- 231 / 245
Adams State (336/336/336) -- 336 / 336
@ Kansas (11/20/1) -- 11 / 12
Cal State Fullerton (148/234/113) -- 165 / 171
Texas A&M (17/44/71) -- 44 / 35
@ Illinois (Chicago) (29/14/2) -- 15 / 20
Fresno State (87/124/153) -- 121 / 110
@ UNLV (10/92/92) -- 65 / 51
San Diego State (66/56/186) -- 103 / 83
@ Memphis (8/4/109) -- 40 / 24
@ Houston (83/54/83) -- 73 / 73

Last-year RPI: 97
3-year weighted: 107
3-year straight-up: 112

An average RPI in the top 100 is a pretty strong slate. Factor in that four of the 13 games are true road games and a fifth is a neutral-site game in their opponent's alumni stronghold, and I see DeCourcy's point here. This slate won't give the Wildcats much of a breather, and with strong programs in the Pac10 this year, it may be a tough year in Tucson.

Hartford (226/270/300) -- 265 straight-up / 253 weighted
Jackson State (168/247/263) -- 226 / 210
@ UNLV (10/92/92) -- 65 / 51
vs. BYU (18/67/216) -- 100 / 67
vs. UNC (2/12/6) -- 7 / 6
Miami(OH) (92/84/39) -- 72 / 81
Dayton (75/183/126) -- 128 / 120
@ Purdue (Indy) (42/175/179) -- 132 / 109
Marshall (165/231/235) -- 210 / 199
New Mexico St. (69/97/292) -- 153 / 116
Morehead St. (295/321/290) -- 302 / 303
Iona (326/64/195) -- 195 / 217
@ Kentucky (13/41/11) -- 22 / 22

Last-year RPI: 115
3-year weighted: 135
3-year straight-up: 144

Numerically not as arduous, although still meaty. Two true road games, and Purdue at Indianapolis. This team certainly will be challenged, although not as much as Arizona will.

Now let's compare to the Irish. Note I have Baylor as the second-round opponent in the VI, since the other option, Wichita State, lost their high-profile coach this off-season:

LIU (310/274/236) -- 273 straight-up / 286 weighted
vs. Monmouth (259/144/193) -- 199 / 210
vs. Baylor (121/167/258) -- 182 / 159
vs. Georgia Tech (52/160/27) -- 80 / 84
Youngstown State (173/304/321) -- 266 / 241
Colgate (261/286/238) -- 262 / 266
Eastern Michigan (235/306/266) -- 269 / 264
vs. Kansas St. (NYC) (56/110/97) -- 88 / 81
Northern Illinois (301/127/184) -- 204 / 224
San Francisco (162/185/86) -- 144 / 157
Brown (230/273/229) -- 244 / 244
North Florida (333/332/336) -- 334 / 333

Last-year RPI: 208
3-year weighted: 212
3-year straight-up: 212

Not only is the average way below the center line, there are no true road games and three opponents didn't break the 300 mark last season. The highest-ranked opponent lost the coach that helped get them their lofty ranking last season. Tough as the Big East is, this isn't going to impress anyone in March. Over-challenging a squad may not be a good idea, but neither is under-challenging them.

Compared to the Conference

Although technically ND will compete with the nation for an NCAA bid, their prime competition will come from their conference mates in the Big East. Let's see how the last-year average RPI for the non-conference schedule stacks up with what those opponents are doing, including their home/road/neutral splits. For the purposes of preseason tournaments, I'm assuming the best possible opponent in each round, just as I did for ND above, with the noted Baylor exception.

Turns out well-adjusted Louisville is the best in the Big East bunch:

115 avg RPI last year -- Louisville (8 home, 3 road, 2 neutral)
117 -- Syracuse (10, 1, 2)
139 -- DePaul (6, 3, 3)
141 -- St. John's (7, 3, 2)
148 -- Georgetown (7, 4, 0)
148 -- Providence (7, 2, 3)
149 -- Connecticut (8, 2, 3)
153 -- Villanova (8, 2, 1)
161 -- Cincinnati (8, 4, 0)
166 -- Pittsburgh (9, 3, 1)
191 -- West Virginia (10, 3, 0)
200 -- Marquette (8, 2, 2)
200 -- South Florida (6, 4, 3)
203 -- Rutgers (9, 4, 0)
206 -- Seton Hall (8, 3, 2)
208 -- Notre Dame (8, 0, 3)

That's right, ladies and germs. Not only do we have the lowest average out-of-conference RPI in the entire Big East this season, we're also the only Big East team that will not play a true road game out of conference. At all. You can be guar-on-freaking-teed that's going to come up as the season winds down and the discussion of the NCAA tournament comes up. And God help them if they stumble somewhere in that non-conference slate, because if they don't go into that WVU game at 11-0, there's going to be trouble. ND will have to pray some of these opponents finish better than advertised, because as of right now, the stink pervades.

ND has an outstanding team, and there's no doubt in my mind they'll get that NCAA bid. But they'll also get seeded one (if not two) levels lower than they'd otherwise deserve, and/or get an unfavorable location and draw. Just like they did last year, when they were Big East semifinalists and 11-game winners in conference, but got stuck out in Washington as a #6 seed playing the best #11. It adds up to a tougher road to the Sweet 16 and beyond than they'd otherwise get, and in an event like the NCAA's where sometimes draw can make all the difference (see: Davis, Mike), they're setting themselves up for failure.

Nuts and bolts? No way. We'll have no one to blame but ourselves. At Notre Dame, it's not enough to just make the tournament.

What's even more disappointing is even the younger teams in the conference seem to be finding ways to challenge themselves. Only one of UConn's true road games is before the conference season starts, but they'll be going to Bloomington during Big East play. One of SJU's road games is Hawaii in the Rainbow Tourney, but they're also going to Duke. One of Marquette's road games is Chaminade in Maui. They only play one other true road game, but it's at #4 Wisconsin.

And the usual poster child for bad scheduling, Syracuse, may only be playing one road game, but it's at #55 Virginia. And with the second-highest-ranked average RPI in the conference, it's not like their home contests are against patsies. I guess they learned their lesson last year when they were left out of the tournament with 10 Big East wins and a victory at the EWSNBN.

I'm praying it's not a lesson we'll have to learn.

Tomorrow: How I'd fix it

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

One Should Be Done

"One-and-done" is a familiar term to basketball fans these days. It refers to a player who completes one year in a college basketball program before declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft, a phenomenon made possible by the rules governing draft eligibility requiring a player to be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class before he can declare.

One-and-dones are a hot topic in college hoops. Some coaches embrace them, while others reject them, citing concerns about team chemistry. CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish seems to reject that philosophy, and talks about how they benefit a program.

There's no denying one-and-dones have an effect, and Parrish's list is comprehensive, if not elaborate. Greg Oden and his collective of fellow single-year players got Ohio State to the title game for the first time in my lifetime, which becomes a more depressingly-long time by the season. Carmelo Anthony got Jim Boeheim the title that was the bugaboo of his coaching career synopsis. And now "Melo" has turned around and donated $3 million towards the construction of a $19m practice facility for the Orange, as well he should since no one knows better than a former athlete what his fellow athletes need to succeed.

So sure, one-and-dones can benefit a program.

But what about a school? You know, those buildings outside of the athletic part of the campus where classes allegedly go on?

As familiar with the Syracuse's athletes' needs as 'Melo might be, a lot of folks wonder how familiar he was with that non-athletic part of Syracuse. If you ask some of them, he didn't see the inside of a classroom after the Christmas holidays. "History of Rock And Roll" may have edified Mr. Oden culturally, but it's not clear how it advanced him towards any kind of meaningful degree. And since eligibility for the second semester of the season isn't determined retroactively, no rules were broken in either case because they went into that season fully "eligible".

That's the part of the one-and-done trade-off Parrish doesn't talk about.

What is a school saying when they admit a student who has absolutely no intention of following through on his studies for one year let alone one degree? How do you measure the academic integrity of a place that agrees to look the other way on classroom attendance if it gets them a few more victories on the hardwood? I know the phrase "student-athlete" is a laugh in a lot of places these days, but does the hypocrisy have to be so blatant? And when you look at the list and see respected centers of learning like North Carolina turning them out almost yearly, it almost makes you want to throw up.

The NCAA got a nice boost from the league with that one-year requirement. It enabled them to "showcase" some of the famous players they were losing to the draft, and no doubt make themselves a pretty penny in the bargain. So now is the time for them to step up to the plate and address the rampant academic fraud taking place as a result. Require schools to produce academic progress reports at least twice a month for all student athletes during a season. If an athlete fails on any of those reports, revoke his eligibility until the next report. If an athlete fails to complete a semester of work, revoke his eligibility retroactively.

I realize "normal students" can drop classes whenever they want. But "normal students" aren't on full scholarship and participating in a multi-million dollar activity in which they are ambassadors for their school. The mercenary nature of college basketball is becoming an affront to scholarship and sportsmanship. The NCAA either needs to drop the pretense or start practicing what it preaches.

And to head off the obvious first question, no, I wouldn't like ND to utilize one-and-done players. Notre Dame got to the top 20 in wins and win percentage without using mercenaries, and they should continue to do so. Scholarship means something in South Bend, as evidenced by a 100 percent graduation rate for players who use all of their eligibility. If it stops meaning something, I'd rather they just walk away.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

12th Street and Vine

I don't know if being in love means never having to say you're sorry, but I do know being a Notre Dame basketball fan means getting excited about a trip to Kansas City in November.

On November 18th, Notre Dame will take its place in the nascent College Basketball Hall of Fame when Austin Carr is inducted. Joining him will be former greats like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dick Groat, along with coaches Norm Stewart, "Lefty" Driesell and Adolph Rupp. This is the Hall's second induction class -- the first included such luminaries as John Wooden, Dean Smith, Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell.

Thanks to, I'll be making the trip to cover the induction. Unfortunately, because of the team's commitment to the Paradise Jam, they'll be in the Bahamas. So insteade of Mike Brey, AC will be introduced by his good friend, classmate, and fellow member of the ND All-Century Team, Collis Jones.

Even though the team will be otherwise occupied, I'm hoping there'll be a quality ND crowd there. I've heard great things about the ND Club of KC, so I'll be getting in touch with them about putting the word in the streets. Meanwhile, if you're in the area, consider coming out and supporting the best hoops player in Irish history. We'll be posting info on NDN with the schedule and how to get tickets.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Mr. Ambassador

Had that dream again ... you know, the one where you're looking for the room your final exam is in but you don't know where it is and you didn't go to the class all semester but it's too late to drop the class? But it always seems worse when I have it, because in addition to looking for the exam I know about, it's always Tuesday in the dream, meaning I missed at least one exam I didn't know about. Fell asleep in front of the TV, and "Saved by the Bell: The College Years" was on when I woke up, so that might have done it.

Anyway, NDGravy went to an Alumni Club meeting last night, and usually the best info comes out of those Q&A's, especially when Doug Marsh is involved. Since posts age off NDN after a while, I want to make sure what he said gets saved:

Doug Marsh was there to talk about construction on campus. I talked with him briefly at the end of the night and here is what he had to say regarding construction at the JACC:

1. The expansion of the South Dome will begin next fall. This will include the new entrance where current Gate 10 is, as well as the ticket box office, etc.

2. After commencement after the 2008-2009 season, the entire arena make over will occur. This will include moving seating court side (including students?) and moving the press up to a press box area. All chairs will be replaced and made a uniform color at that time. This should be complete by October 15 for basketball practice for the 2009-2010 season.

3. $15 million for hockey is first "real" gift. They still need another $15 million to get to the point of doing the new arena within arena in the North Dome. Of course, I don't quite know how much knowledge Marsh has on the actual fund raising, but he believed the North Dome was two years off.

4. With the space left in the North Dome, plans are currently there to start fund raising for practice courts only after the hockey arena is finished. So I am guessing 3 -4 years out.

I am not going to act like I am an expert or have any real knowledge about what is going on, but that is what I got from Marsh at the end of a presentation he did regarding construction of campus. Thought I would pass it along as it is very pertinent to the current topic of conversation.

Pertinent indeed, and very much worth discussing.

The South Dome project will have multiple phases. I'm not surprised the exterior phase will start first, since that can go on independent of any other events going on at the arena. Unfortunately, it's also the phase I find to be the most superfluous to the true needs of the program, but c'est la vie.

On the one hand, I'm glad the interior makeover (the meat of the project) will start in reasonably short order. I'm concerned, however, they believe they can wait until the third Sunday of May to start and yet still expect it to be finished by October 15th. I don't imagine replacing the seats would take a long time, but there's also the task of putting permanent seating in place of the bleachers, as well as creating this "press box area" (which would have to be much larger than the crow's nest seats behind Section 101, and all the other things supposedly in the plan. That's all going to get done in five months?

Five months is not a long time for a renovation that is supposed to make a huge difference in the appearance of the Joyce Center. As comparison, Stanford's $30m renovation of their Maples Center in 2004 (which, to be clear, created an excellent space) started on March 1st and took nine months. While they finished slightly ahead of schedule, it's always better to be safe than sorry. What happens if things run long or the plans change? It's not like you can suddenly move home basketball games. I had figured ND would ask the BE to front-load the home schedule that season to enable the earliest start date possible and move graduation activities to the Stadium or Century Center for one year. God bless 'em if they can get quality work done in that time, but it's going to remain a concern.

On to the last point. Again, on the one hand, the fact that the fundraising arm of the projects knows how necessary practice facilities are is a good thing. However, I do not like the statement that fundraising for those facilities won't even begin until the hockey work is complete (assuming that's true). That's incredibly short-sighted. I understand not starting construction, but not even starting the fundraising? Considering this group took eight years to get the original project funded, I really don't want to wait another three to even start asking for money for an even more crucial effort.

But as the old saying goes, ask and ye shall receive. No sooner did I begin typing this section, than former hoops walk-on Khadaffi had a brilliant suggestion:

Mike Brey has actually been quite good about trying to build a sense of camaraderie among alums of the program. During football season (a tip of the cap to the reality that very few basketball alums will trek to So. Bend during the winter -- and certainly not en masse), MB hosts gatherings. But MB has a day job. He is not and should not be the lead fundraiser. The recent tribute to the top all-time players (many were named by you) was also a good event. There remains a need for a pied piper -- someone within the University framework who can work with Mike Brey and the fund-raising infrastructure.

A truly excellent suggestion. And I have the perfect guy in mind: LaPhonso Ellis.

All things equal, the best candidate for that position would be a former coach, preferably retired. Unfortunately, ND isn't in a good position there. Digger tends to be either incredibly popular or incredibly unpopular with folks, and a polarizing figure such as he would be a bad choice. John MacLeod is still employed in the league, and isn't a good candidate for such a position anyway. Matt Doherty barely had a cup of coffee with the program, and all the other possibilities are deceased. So that route isn't available.

If it's going to be a player, Phonz is, as the radio ads say, the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth. He carried the flag for ND in the NBA for years during the Decade of Dereliction on campus. He's already involved with the program via his radio gig. He's an incredibly engaging personality who seems like he'd be at home in a boardroom, a classroom, or a living room. He represents the best ND has to offer both on the court and off, and if someone like him can't sell the virtues of ND's basketball program, no one can.

The various SNAFUs with the current Joyce Center project have shown how badly ND basketball needs an ambassador. I can't think of anyone I'd rather have in the job than Phonz.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Same Old, Same Old

As I've said before, it's never a good thing when someone starts an email warning you you're going to get pissed.

But a couple weeks ago, a friend of mine on campus sent me one warning that the hockey program had received a $15 million donation towards their facility upgrade from [name redacted], but they weren't going to announce it just yet because there was concern how Mike Brey and Muffet McGraw would react to hockey getting their nest egg filled before basketball.

At first, I was more sanguine. Hockey's current playing area is a complete dump and needs an upgrade more than the hoops side does (which is really saying something). The price tag I was quoted for the arena-within-arena project was $15 to $20m, so this would mean their project is funded and attention can once again be put towards getting the last few hundred thousand so ground can be broken on the basketball project. It's not the hockey program's fault there's a well-to-do subway alumnus who likes Jackson and the job he's doing (although one wonders where the hoops version is, considering it's been more popular for much longer at ND).

Then I heard the budget for the project had jumped from $15m to $25 or $30m. No problem, I thought. The practice facilities ND needs for basketball will cost somewhere around $10m to really do right, so maybe they've decided to reward Mike and Muffet for their patience and make that part of the North Dome renovation.

Then I read this, specifically:
It turns out that the $15 million price tag was only for the base model of a new arena. A juiced-up model, one with all the bells and whistles of an elite national program, goes for considerably more -- actually, about $10 million to $15 million more.

Let me get this straight, thought I. They have full funding to give a non-revenue-producing sport a good-quality arena. But instead, they're going to go out and find a couple more million (or tens of millions) to "juice it up" and give it "bells and whistles". It'll still be an arena-within-an-arena, just like the original plan, but now it's going to have bling out the wazoo even though the R.O.I calculations on the project will get even worse. Meanwhile, the project to give a revenue-producing sport it's first meaningful physical plant upgrade in 40 years continues to languish for want of $700,000, and that plan still won't include the desperately-needed practice facilities.

And my head exploded.

The good news, if there is any, is they won't be taking up the entire North dome. They'll still be in half of it, but it'll be permanent space. This means, hopefully, there's still room to put the practice facility in there, which is the optimal solution, provided the same fundraising apparatus that can't come up with $700,000 for the arena can get the money for it.

But that's all the good news to be had here for hoops fans, as we watch our pays-for-itself program get cut off by yet another money-losing Olympic sport at the funding trough. Golf has that all-weather driving range that's so critical to their success. Hockey will now be getting "bells and whistles". And if the rumors I hear are true, women's crew (a sport barely above club-level) will be getting a boathouse at a cost somewhere (perhaps significantly) north of a million dollars.

All while basketball practices in a columned concrete box in the Joyce Center basement with no weight or training machines, and plays in an arena whose floor is held down by duck tape, whose seats are worn, whose concessions and bathrooms are 25 years out of date, whose press facilities aren't even high school level, and whose latest locker room upgrades are almost a decade old and were only done because the previous coach threatened to quit if they weren't.

I've long said one of the reasons I want Mike Brey to succeed at ND is to prove that nice guys don't always finish last. But I think, in this area, that's working against him. He and Muffet have been waiting eight years for these promised upgrades ... way too long for a project that will not include practice digs, will still have wires going across the floor, and will focus more on the fat cats in luxury suites than the players toiling on the court.

So if I were Mike and Muffet, I would walk into Kevin White's office and inform him on January 1st, there's going to be a press conference down there on the Joyce Center's (inadequate) floor, at which one of two things are going to happen:

1) He will be announcing the timetable for a fully-funded and ready-to-start renovation of the basketball facilities at Notre Dame, which will include not only the long-promised seat replacements and improvements to the arena physical plant but also practice space and dedicated weight and training areas for both basketball teams.

2) They will be announcing their joint resignations as head coach for Notre Dame's basketball programs, explaining that after being lied to for eight years about the plans for the program's future, they could no longer see their way clear to working for a school that obviously doesn't care about basketball. After said conference, they and their agents would be placing calls to every coach they know warning them about the lack of support they'd receive if they took a job in South Bend.

It's time to take the gloves off. It's time for the school to explain to long-suffering basketball fans why they can't figure out how to get money raised for the second-most popular sport at ND. To explain why there aren't even architectural drawings yet for a project that has been on the boards for over eight years. To explain what it is about all these in-the-red Olympic sports that makes them more deserving of multi-million-dollar projects than a basketball program that actually would have a chance of paying for their upgrades over time.

We want to know, Kevin. We deserve to know. What's your answer?

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Jane, You Ignorant Slut

With the release of the 2007-08 schedule, I thought I'd indulge in a little personal schizophrenia and review the pros and cons of the slate Mike Brey has produced. I'll do my best to keep the two halves of my brain as balanced as possible.


Yes, the out of conference schedule is very light, and ND probably won't get a good student crowd until Marquette comes to town in February. ND has a tradition of playing the basketball powers, no doubt about it. If you look at the most-games-played list, you'll see teams like Marquette, Indiana, Kentucky, and UCLA, so it's not like the Irish have traditionally ducked a challenge.

But up until 1995, ND was free to make its own schedule. 27 or more games were left to the discretion of John Jordan, Johnny Dee and Digger Phelps to craft into whatever slate they saw fit. If they wanted to schedule a steady diet of the Little Sisters of the Poor, they could have. Of course, that likely would have sabotaged any shot at an NCAA at-large bid, so they had to mix in the Hoosiers and Bruins and Wildcats and other quality opponents to keep the media attention on South Bend and the rear ends in the Joyce Center seats. Those schedules had Fairfields and Marists on them, too, but everyone forgets about those crappy games and only thinks about the couple of big opponents every year.

These days, 18 of 28 slots are predetermined by the boys in Providence, and those slots will be very difficult this year. Two-time opponent UConn was young last year, and that talent is starting to gel. Marquette's guards are a year better as well. Louisville and Cincinnati are expected to be improved as their talent grows and/or plays healthy. Pittsburgh has been a perennial NCAA tourney team, and Syracuse just pulled in an incredibly good recruiting class. Even perceived "easy outs" like Rutgers and USF have conference pride to inspire play, and both are on the road instead of at home where a W might be easier to come by.

If you look at the schedule overall, it's good balance. Yes, the OOC games are, for the most part, weak, but after January 1st, weak games will be very difficult to come by for this Irish squad. ND will have plenty of chances to prove itself against tough teams, both at home and on the road. There's more to the schedule than the OOC games.

And let's remember ND has played difficult schedules before and not been rewarded for them. They played the hardest BE schedule by a two-game margin four years ago, but they were still the last team left out of the NCAAs. Why should they bust their asses to play a murderer's row when the selection committee has shown they don't care? The important thing is getting to the NCAA tournament. Who cares how we got there, we'll be there.


Yes, the conference slate will be murder this season, and yes, it's very important ND start building another NCAA appearance streak. But I don't think it's guaranteed this slate will get them a bid.

First off, the entire concept of using strategery to finesse an NCAA bid is off-putting to me. You shouldn't try to schedule an NCAA bid any more than the football team should try to schedule a BCS title game appearance. It violates some basic philosophy of sport. The best, most deserving teams are going to find a way to get a bid. Yes, the ND team four years ago got screwed, but they also lost to a 3-win CMU team at home, so it's questionable if their entire body of work had merited selection. Deserving teams don't put themselves in the "questionable" category.

Besides, I'm not so sure the selection committee hasn't revised their thinking on all this. Syracuse finished 10-6 in the Big East last year, won a game at the EWSNBN, and yet they ended up in the NIT because (a) the conference slate proved slightly less arduous than it had seemed in the preseason, and (b) their non-conference schedule, which led to them not even leaving the state before their first BE road contest, was a joke. Boeheim seems to have learned the lesson, since in addition to the PNIT this season, Syracuse has a road game at Virginia in December and has picked up contests against top-50 UMass and #108 Rhode Island. ND has gone the complete opposite way, playing three teams that finished above 300 in the RPI last year. Will this be our lesson to learn this year?

I'm not advocating a murderer's row. Kansas State and Georgia Tech should look fine on the non-conference, particularly since neither game is at home. But I don't think an average opponent's RPI of 208 is going to help us come tournament time. OOC is the part of the schedule you can control, and I think the committee looks at that when determining the bids. ND is saying they don't want to challenge themselves. One more heavyweight, along with replacing some of the 250+ opponents with some in the 150-200 range, would get the job done and not strongly affect the W/L record.

Second, the big complaints the past couple of seasons has been the home crowd. The students haven't turned out the way the team has deserved. The loge section is still unacceptably empty. This is exciting basketball, and the team deserves an exciting crowd.

All that is completely true. But I think the way you get exciting crowds is to make ND basketball the place to be -- create momentum early in the season, get students and the GA group into the habit of getting to the Joyce Center. And I'm sorry, but Long Island, Youngstown State, and Colgate ain't the kind of programs that will help establish that momentum. If the fans haven't been paying attention in December, it's harder to get their focus in January and February when you need it. A UCLA or a Michigan State -- heck, even a Butler -- would have gone a long way towards putting hoops in the students' and fans' minds early and keeping it there down the stretch.

Finally, as will probably be mentioned more and more in the coming weeks, this team is closing in on the all-time Joyce Center win streak mark of 24, set back in Digger's early days (the overall home win streak, 38 games in the 1940s in the Fieldhouse, is still a ways away).

If you look at the streak, there are plenty of quality teams in there -- Marquette, DePaul twice, Villanova, Louisville, Alabama. But part of the reason they're close to that win streak is the large number of home games that were played last year against more than a few punching bags. Looking at the first five opponents at home -- LIU, Youngstown State, Colgate, Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois -- I can't help but get the feeling we're jumping into a cab for the last part of the race. The 24-game streak they're going to break contains ranked (and elite) teams like Indiana, UCLA, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas in addition to teams like Marquette and DePaul and Villanova. While I'm proud of this team getting the job done in their house, a small part of me regrets that contribution of the 1973-74 squad will be eclipsed this way.


I know I said I was going to try and keep it balanced, but I can't help it. This OOC schedule really leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I'm very concerned it's going to come back and bite us at NCAA time, either with bad seeding or being left out entirely. I know a very loaded Maui Classic will help next year, but I really hope uninteresting fall semesters isn't going to be a trend under the 18-game Big East schedule.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Test Your Strength? Not Us, I Guess

I'm starting to feel like Bob Alexander expressing shock that wrongdoing was not confined to the Vice-President's office. But the more I'm hearing about our basketball non-conference schedule, the more it's sounding like the 7-4-1 philosophy on hardwood.

Last season, ND played an OOC schedule heavy on the cupcakes and the home games. Given how many underclassmen were expected to contribute, this made sense in general. However, the concept was taken to an extreme, as this RPI (per analysis shows, and the sugar content of the non-conference slate hurt ND at NCAA selection time when the Fighting Irish were given a #6 seed despite being a BE semifinalist and matched up against the toughest #11.

#16 - @ Maryland (BB&T)
#27 - @ Butler (PNIT)
#49 - Alabama
#197 - Rider
#225 - Army
#241 - Lehigh
#243 - IPFW
#279 - Portland
#281 - Stony Brook
#284 - vs. Lafayette (PNIT)
#298 - Elon
#304 - Winston-Salem State
#308 - Citadel

Average opponent RPI: 212
Median opponent RPI: 243

To call the drop-off after the top three opponents precipitous would be an understatement. Given 336 teams in the RPI rankings, an average non-conference schedule would be rated at 168. ND's ranked almost 13 percent below that.

Granted, had ND defeated Butler, their game against #28 Indiana would have bumped the average to 190. And games in NYC, had the Irish made it that far, would have helped. But since those games aren't guaranteed, you can't schedule assuming they're going to help you. And even that 190 is below average.

As it turns out, last year's slate is looking arduous compared to what we're seeing so far this season (list based on ND department mailings and released schedules by opponents):

#56 - Kansas St. (Jimmy V Classic, NYC)
#61 - average of #52 Georgia Tech and #70 Winthrop (Paradise Jam 3rd round)
(#146 Charlotte and #159 UIC are also possibles for that game)
#120 - average of #100 Wichita State and #141 Baylor (Paradise Jam 2nd round)
#162 - San Francisco
#173 - Youngstown State
#230 - Brown
#235 - Eastern Michigan
#259 - Monmouth (Paradise Jam 1st round)
#261 - Colgate
#301 - Northern Illinois
#310 - LIU
#333 - North Florida

Average opponent RPI: 208
Median opponent RPI: 232

On the good news side, the median has gone up, meaning overall the range is better. The 250-300 range, which helped kill ND's SOS, has gone from four to two.

But the average is still horrendous. Three of the top four teams on the list -- Kansas State, Winthrop, and Wichita State -- achieved those rankings with coaches who are no longer there. The top-ranked team on the list, Georgia Tech, can only be an opponent if both they and Notre Dame win two games in the Bahamas. And there are now three 300+ ranked teams in there, two of which are ranked lower than anyone on ND's schedule last year.

To be fair, we're still waiting on two more games to be announced, and even though both are at home, there's the possibility there may be one quality opponent beginning a multi-year contract. But in order to improve this slate, both are going to have to be at least be in the top 125, maybe even the top 100.

Last season, Syracuse became the first 10-win Big East team to not make the NCAA tournament. One of the factors in that decision, according to the Committee members, was an un-challenging out-of-conference slate that included too many weak teams at home. ND seems hell-bent to put that theory to the test once again.

I've complained numerous times about the lack of fan support in the past couple of years, especially considering how exciting last year's team is. So I get incredibly frustrated when they trot out a slate like this one, replete with uninteresting matchups, because it kicks my argument right, as Cash would say, in the fruitstand.

It drives me crazy when I look at the RPI lists and I see traditional Irish opponents like Dayton at #75 and Loyola at #101, or other Catholic programs like Creighton at #20 and St. Louis at #74. Any of those schools would not only be a compelling game for the fans but also would give the Irish an RPI boost that would no doubt help them come tournament time. And God forbid we go on the road to play at least one of them, which would help even more.

If ND wins its first six games this season, they will set a new consecutive game win streak at the Joyce Center. That record will be a little asterisk-y if it's achieved against a slate of cupcakes whose RPI's sit on the wrong side of 250.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Timing is Everything

The Big East has finally released the planned conference slate for 2007-08. I was starting to think the expanded 18-game schedule had somehow flummoxed them, as this info is usually in front of folks sometime in June. But better late than never, I always say, and an important part of the scheduling puzzle is finally available to us.

ND's two-fer opponents will be Connecticut, DePaul, and Marquette, three teams that should be very attractive to ND basketball fans. Filling out the home and away schedules:

  • Cincinnati
  • Pittsburgh
  • Providence
  • St. John's
  • Syracuse
  • West Virginia

  • Georgetown
  • Louisville
  • Rutgers
  • Seton Hall
  • South Florida
  • Villanova

Some thoughts, as always.

The home schedule is very attractive. Just about every team on that home slate is expected to be competitive. DePaul and Marquette are long-time rivals and we can't play them enough for my taste. UConn, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are perennial conference contenders. West Virginia means Huggy Bear will be coming to South Bend as a coach for the first time. Cincinnati is a hotbed of ND alumni. No trips to Syracuse or Morgantown for the Irish this year, which is always a good thing.

Games in strong ND areas. At Georgetown means a game in D.C., at Villanova means Philly. No SJU, but Seton Hall is close enough for NYC. The wheelhouse will be more than served this season.

This slate will help the SOS. Just about all the conference games that might be considered "duds" for strength of schedule purposes like Rutgers or USF are on the road, which helps negate their deleterious effect. There are at least three challenging road tilts in Georgetown, Louisville, and Villanova. Unlike last season, the conference slate won't drag ND's selection chances down.

ND fans probably couldn't have asked for a more beneficial schedule. It's challenging without being murderous. It provides good home contests to whet the crowd's appetites. Good road destinations like Florida, D.C. and Philly. An ND hoops fans' dream.

Or it should be, anyway. There are still some bugs that could emerge in the system.

Bad Momentum. A quality conference schedule must be matched with an OOC slate of equal quality. As I noted, the BE assignment is challenging enough to keep our interest, but is hardly one to which we should be looking with dread. The same must be true of the non-conference grouping. A parade of cupcakes with RPIs on the wrong side of 250 like we had last season just will not work.

The low quality of opponent hurt ND's attendance last year, and they need some attractive non-conference matchups to get the momentum going for the crowd once Big East time arrives. While the bad home slate gave certain constituencies an excuse to stay away last year, this year the home schedule renders such whining moot. They shouldn't give the whiners an opening with a mediocre offering out of conference.

This is a seasoned team, and while it certainly has some holes to fill, there are more than enough experienced guys to do just that. The strength is in the junior and sophomore classes now, which means the freshmen won't have to jump in and contribute right away. These guys should be able to handle a couple of shots to the jaw before conference time, and there's no reason they shouldn't get two or three, with at least one of them in a true road environment.

In addition to the hoped-for matchup with Georgia Tech in the Virgin Islands, I'd like to see Mike Brey and company put together at least one strong matchup for ND at home and one away, and try to stay away from the sugary stuff we saw last year. There's certainly room for a cupcake or two, but LIU, Northern Illinois and Colgate should mean we're full up in that department. Give me a MAC or MW opponent or two to bridge the gap to the heavy hitters.

Bad Timing. It didn't help that three of ND's eight home conference games were already in the books by the time the students returned from Christmas vacation, and it hurt even more that one of the three was the best home game, Louisville. Having more and better home options this year will help, but I hope Kevin White and Mike Brey are impressing upon the Poobahs in Providence that the Irish don't need a front-loaded schedule. I'd like to see a maximum of two home games played without a student audience, and I'd like them to make sure DePaul and Marquette are weekend games.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Buckets of Ducats

It's the beginning of July, and like the swallows returning to Capistrano, complaints about ND's ticket policies return to the various message boards. I had a couple thoughts on the ways ND could handle their various constituencies and ticket policies in general, which I share with you in the interest of fostering discussion.

Embrace Technology

Putting on my Captain Obvious cape for a moment, Notre Dame must join the rest of humanity in the world of portable bar code readers.

At just about every sporting or concert event I've attended in the last five years, be it at Comiskular, PNC, the Rosemont Theater, Heinz Field, the Louisiana Superdome, wherever, I'm greeted by a ticket-taker holding a PDA on steroids in his or her hand. A quick laser swipe over my ticket, sometimes itself merely a sheet of paper printed on my inkjet at home, and I'm good to go.

Ah, but not at Notre Dame Stadium or the Joyce Center. There, my cardboard ticket is still ripped asunder or paper-punched. This throwback to simpler times, while quaint, impedes ND's progress towards not only a more efficient ingress to its events but also better use of data mining to determine how tickets are being used and all the associated benefits of having that knowledge.

It's difficult to enjoy the 21st century when you still have not embraced the 20th. I want to hear those beeps at every arena/stadium entrance.

Save the Trees

Most of the people who end up with Notre Dame tickets on a consistent yearly basis belong to relatively static groups:

  • Students
  • Faculty / Staff
  • Alumni
  • Season-ticket holders
  • University donors

The first two groups already are required to carry a specific identification card indicating their membership in their group. Why not create ID cards for the other two? It's not like someone would stop being an alumnus of the school, and while there's no guarantee someone would retain season tickets or continue to donate to Notre Dame at large levels, there usually isn't a tremendous amount of movement into or out of the group.

Members of those groups would receive bar-coded ID cards corresponding to their typical number of seats for a given event. A season-ticket holder, for example, with four seats would have four cards, each with his or her name on it, which would be used every year for entrance to the stadium. An alumnus would have two or whatever max number of seats he or she could win in the lottery for a given game. Students would use their ID's, while faculty and staff could use ID's plus cards for whatever other ticket(s) they were entitled to. The functionality would exist for card owners to convert their tickets into regular paper versions in specific cases, and lost cards could be replaced just as any other identification cards are.

The card(s) would be read at the stadium gate to indicate the owner had used that ticket for that event. Ushers would be armed with the same bar code reader to check cards in the event they need to determine if a person is in the right seat. In the event the ticket holder needed to exchange the card usage for a paper ticket or wanted to not use his or her ticket to that game, that could be facilitated by contacting the ND ticket office, much the same way that people arrange for the sale of unused tickets today.

I believe this approach can save the school some money. Tickets would be assigned to the cardholder's accounts. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars printing the same tickets for the same people every year on expensive cardstock, ND could print one page on a sheet of regular paper telling the ticket holder where his or her specific seats are for that game. In the case of season ticket holders, this would be moot since they have the same seats every time.

Some paper tickets would still be required, particularly for University guests or the visting team's allocation, but the costs of printing and shipping the tickets would be greatly reduced.

Students of the Games

Right now, students have to track full ticket books and show them at each game. Eliminating the books and tying the tickets to their ID simplifies things greatly.

For non-football events, it also makes the system more flexible. If a student decides at the last-minute to attend a basketball game, for example, they can go to a website on ND's network and purchase a seat. The ticket is added to their account, and instead of having to track down or pick up a piece of cardstock, they simply get their ID scanned at the Joyce Center. If another student cannot attend a given game, they can make their ticket available not only to other students but also to walk-up general admission traffic, and the ticket office will know about it in real time. The students could also "trade" tickets for games directly, eliminating the ticket office middleman. This kind of schedule flexibility might improve student attendance at basketball games.

The same would be true for faculty and staff. They could use their ID plus whatever additional card(s) they're entitled to. If they can't make a game or want to attend a game on a whim, the way is smoothed for them to do so.

Scalpers Beware

This system will also help curtail the scalping market, putting more at-cost tickets into the hands of Notre Dame alumni and fans.

A member of a card-holding group is not about to trust a complete stranger with their ticket cards, and the hassles associated with shipping cards around the country makes such a practice undesirable. Therefore, people are less likely to put in for games they or someone they know well will not be using themselves, leaving more available for people who do want to attend the games.

While it would be possible for card owners to convert their seats into regular tickets, they would have to go through the ticket office to do so. If a card owner used this process an excessive number of times, it would give the ticket office the sufficient red flag to check out how the seats were being used. It would also give ushers a list of tickets that had been converted from cardholder to paper, giving them the opportunity to see how those seats were being used. If visiting fans were turning up in those seats every week....

There is no perfect solution to the perceived problems of ND's ticket distribution system. But I have to think something like this would work better than trying to price the less rabid folks out of the market via PSL's, which seems to be the plan du jour. ND needs to use the existing technology to make its ticket processes more efficient before they try beating their constituencies over the head with price increases.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Zero to Sixty

Funny thing about ND basketball these days -- you can go a couple weeks with nothing of note to talk about, then get hit with three things in one week.

One Man Enter, One Man Leave

On the good news side of the ledger was the official return of Kyle McAlarney. While it was well in the works since about a week after he was originally suspended, nothing is sure in this man's world and having it actually happen beats any amount of woulda coulda shouldas.

The entire thing was frustrating, and like a couple other seasons in Fighting Irish basketball past, we're left to wonder how a key player's availability might have pushed what was already an enjoyable season into the realm of legendary. But it allowed TJ to come into his own, and the interesting thing to watch this upcoming season will be how he and KMac operate in tandem.

As KMac returns, however, another player has left. Backup wing Joe Harden decided to ply his trade closer to home and most likely will transfer to a West Coast Conference school like Santa Clara.

I hate it when players leave, even when the decision is good for both them and the school. Although the recent grad rate calculation changes diminish the hurt in that area, a player walking away means there was some kind of disconnect in his ND experience, and I feel bad for Joe that the ND experience didn't work out for him.

But from what I can tell, there's no animosity on either side here, so there's no indication this is a symptom of anything larger, which is always a big concern. It also may say a lot about the quality of player ND is getting in Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott, who arrived with the start of the summer sessions (but don't have bios up on yet -- chop chop there, kids) last week.

The Story (or Progeny) of O

Harden's departure also gives Mike Brey an opportunity to re-balance his classes. The one-ride class graduating in the form of Rob Kurz can, as we've seen these last few months, put a damper on recruiting buzz. Having a second scholarship available, along with the potential red-shirt of either Tim Abromaitis or Ty Proffitt, can put three players on the same eligibility progression and not leave the coaches short again four years from now.

I also hope the second available ride can loosen things up enough to allow MB to extend a scholarship offer to Renaldo Woolridge, son of former Irish great Oooooooorlando and apparently the subject of his own website (although the content seems to indicate he's not the author). The 6'7" forward is rated a top-75 player by and has at least three stars on both major recruiting networks, so it's not like anyone would be screaming "nepotism" or anything else that might imply the kid isn't worthy of a full-time ride.

As I said when Mike Golic, Jr., committed to Charlie Weis, I hate it when talented progeny of Fighting Irish alums end up playing somewhere else. It ain't natural. I'd love to see big O wandering the halls of the Joyce Center with former teammate Tim Andree, both watching their sons write a new chapter in ND basketball history.

Back Up the Backhoe

Speaking of the JC, Mike Rothstein of the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette (which always has surprisingly good coverage of ND athletics, considering the distance), dropped a content bomb on us this morning with the news there's a tentative start date for the long-awaited facelift for the Joyce Center.

The project, according to the article, would take two to three years to complete, which would allow for them to schedule the work on the heavily-used sections (i.e. the playing arena interior) when it will least disrupt their scheduled occupancy. This, I believe, is a good thing, because it means they won't rush the entire project in order to fit some arbitrary schedule.

What we still await, however, is a concrete plan of attack. Other than the original documents released at the "Phil Purcell is giving us money" presser and this (admittedly kickass) picture), there hasn't been a comprehensive release of details on what this project will entail. I like that Mike Brey is talking about the right things in the article (e.g. an improvement in gameday atmosphere). Now the admin must put those things into practice. I expect such info will come out when they officially announce the start date, which hopefully will be soon.

And speaking of practice, also no word on new practice space being included in the big hockey arena upgrade. The primary concern from past communiques is the loss of the banquet space, but we hold out hope the new hotel space in the planned Eddy St. development will mitigate any issues those will cause.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Be Like the Russians

Every now and then, posts morph into blog entries. This is one of those.

We were talking on the Pit about programs and whether or not ND can become a quality one again. I, for one, think it's very possible to ND to re-establish itself as a consistent, quality program. They just need to be like the Russians and not do anything without a plan -- a plan that can make use of what they do well and minimize that which hurts them.

ND's primary advantage as a sports-participating institution has always been its dedication to the academic, intellectual and maturity development of its student athletes. Back in its hoops heyday, such an advantage was important to blue-chip players, as salaries weren't the lottery windfall they are today. At the very least, they would have to spend at least two to three years at the college level, and they would, most likely, have to use that education down the road.

Unfortunately, that natural advantage isn't as important to blue-chip hoopsters today as it was back then. Quality players, both black and white, are looking for the quickest path to the NBA and its riches, deciding (perhaps rightly) the college degree will always be there when their playing careers are over and they have the financial wherewithal from that career to fund it themselves should they be so inclined.

Throw in the lack of overall success -- ND has been to the NCAA tournament four times in the lifetimes of current high school juniors, and has had some pretty damn bad years in that span, although that period is aging out soon -- the lack of attention to physical plant, and the reputation ND has as being firm on discipline both in and out of the classroom, and Notre Dame seems to be behind the eight-ball.

Does that mean they can't have a consistent, quality program? Of course not. They just need to do it in a different way, turning disadvantages into advantages.

I think the Ben Howland model is very useful in these discussions. Howland came on board at Pitt in 1999-2000, and decided to build the program from the bottom up. He brought in players who weren't the top-flight blue-chippers, but were good, quality players who would give him four (or, in some cases, five) years and be excellent players by the time they matured.

His first season, Pitt were 13-15. They improved to 19-14 the next year, then exploded to 29-6 the year after and have stayed consistently good, as Jamie Dixon has continued to operate in that model. The frosh watch while the upperclassmen -- with established playing pedigrees and known to opposing coaches (and officials) as being worthy of respect -- contribute.

He's now doing the same thing at UCLA. His first year, they were 11-17 (and got destroyed by ND at home). Then they were 18-11, and we know where they've gone from there.

When Mike Brey first arrived at ND, he tried to do the Duke thing and recruit the high-performance blue-chippers, and he was successful. However, it blew up in their faces in the post-S16 recruiting effort when they lost the blue-chippers to Duke. I also don't think his personality lends itself to working well with players like that -- right or wrong, he puts a lot of the onus on his players to show leadership and maturity. That lends itself a lot more to the Howland model, which is why, three years ago, they retrenched their recruiting plan. So far, it's worked out pretty well.

Going into next season, there's a lot of proven quality in the junior (KMac, Hillesland) and sophomore (Jackson, Harangody) classes, and projected quality in the frosh (Nash, Scott), along with developing talent in all three groups (Ayers, Zeller, Peoples, Harden, Abromaitis, Proffitt). And all those guys should be around at least next season and the one beyond to get even better and contribute even more.

There are other ways they can turn the frowns upside down. Yes, there was an initial overreaction by ND to the KMac situation, and I talked about it at length. But the end result showed intelligence and compassion on both sides, and gives Mike Brey some ammunition sitting in a kid's living room talking to parents: When ND says we're going to take care of your son and make a man out of him, we're not just running our mouths. We sacrificed what could have been a really special season because rules and discipline come first. Whether he ends up in the league or not, you're going to want your son to be part of that.

It's not a foolproof plan ... no plan is. But it's a good, well-thought-out one. Coupled with the physical plant improvements, it makes for a good foundation -- the kind of foundation programs are built on.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What's Next?

This time of year becomes a guilty pleasure for me. The headlines don't take nearly as long to do. Once the pool is over, the upload level drops a lot. I get to shake the dust off the site code and toss in some updates folks have been asking for. It's a time to step back and take stock.

So it is also for the men's basketball team. Last year at this time, the talk was all about assistant coach movement and Big Man Camp. What's it going to be this year? Probably the same.

Stuff that will probably come in the next two months:

Recruiting. Probably won't be as under-the-radar as last year. The name Kenny Frease has already been bandied about, and it's no mystery the Irish could use a five-star true center. Having only one scholarship to work with will be difficult, but things like this have a way of working themselves out.

Returnees. The main question is whether or not Luke Harangody will get to a Big Man Camp this offseason or wait another year. The experience certainly seems to have helped Rob Kurz, who, as an undersized guy trying to maneuver in the post in Big East play, had to learn some of the same things on Harangody's list. The sooner LH can get there, the better.

Coaches. Good seasons tend to result in job offers for upwardly-mobile assistant coaches. Gene Cross' name was in the hopper for Northern Illinois, and I expect his name may come up for some other vacancies. The Coaches Convention during Final Four weekend tends to be one great big job fair, so with all the moving around so far this season on the job front, we might see some new blood on the roster next year.

Physical Plant. "After the 2008 season" tends to be a popular response when asking when the Joyce Center renovations are going to start. Since that's next season, I expect we're going to start hearing about the plan specifics as soon as the dust settles this off-season. Sometimes these announcements coincide with Trustee meetings, but since the project has already been green-lighted, I'm not sure if they'd wait on the 2nd Quarter meeting to release info.


Monday, March 26, 2007

One More Year!

A variation on an election year theme, that's become a rallying cry of sorts on the Pit since the postseason began, although it quieted a little in the post-Winthrop wake. And it's a cry I hate with a passion, because a sliding scale like that isn't worth spit.

What is the point of a coach "earning one more year"? A guy is either your coach or he isn't. To create a never-ending "I'm from Missouri" tap dance, with the watchers kicking the can down the lane waiting to see which side of the fence the guy falls on so they can say they "saw it coming all along" is an unparalleled waste of time and mental energy.

There doesn't seem to be any logic to the position. If the coach did things during a season that leads you to believe things are going well, why would you want to hold on to him for only one more year? Wouldn't you want to lock him up to make sure you don't lose him? At the very least, he's learning and getting better on your dime, and you're going to want a return on your investment.

On the other hand, if he didn't do enough during a season to lead you to believe things are going well, why would you want to postpone the inevitable? What does waiting a year do for you other than delay program movement back to where you want? Besides, recruits aren't dumb: they know a dead man walking when they see it.

A lot of people like John 3:16, but my favorite 3:16 has always been Revelations: "Therefore because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit thee out of My mouth." Those Laodiceans were cruisin' for an ass kicking. So are we. Make your choice, people -- he's either your guy or he's not. To quote George Carlin, pick a hole and stick with it.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Remember, It's Winthrop

Boy, did I have that one wrong. Never saw a game with that many horrific aspects coming.

It's season's end, and a looking-back-and-looking-forward-type article will be coming shortly. But reading Mark Schlabach's article about the game yesterday, some paragraphs jumped out at me:

The Eagles' trip to Spokane has been just as arduous as the sportswriters' drive from home. It was Winthrop's first win in seven tries in the NCAA Tournament, after two gut-wrenching defeats in each of the previous two seasons. In 2005, the Eagles led No. 3 seed Gonzaga for 36 minutes before losing 74-64. Last season, Winthrop was tied with No. 2 seed Tennessee in the final seconds, until Chris Lofton drilled a desperation shot at the buzzer to beat the Eagles 63-61.

"It's been a long time coming," Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall said. "It's been nine years. Nine years of pouring your heart and soul into something and being close in the past. Everything that we have done in the past 12 months, from the time that shot went in against Tennessee last year, we dedicated to this moment. That's a lot to invest in something."

Aside from wondering if that emphasis will mean they'll have anything left in the tank Sunday, I must confess I liked the focus. I liked the anger. I liked the single-minded dedication, although as I said, we'll see Sunday if that backfires.

From reading the ND stories post-game, it seems the Irish have that anger now. A lot of stoicism in the locker room, a whole lot of disappointment.


The underclassmen need to remember how this feels. They all need to remember how they played. KMac needs to remember how he could have helped had he been here. The season was good overall, but the NCAA game was like bombing a final when you have an A in the class. You end up with a much lower grade and memories of what should have been.

That anger needs to be harnessed, focused and utilized. It must be the crucible by which a team with emerging talent can get over the hump and back to where it should be after many years of being almost there.

So here's what I'd do if I were Mike Brey: Go online at my earliest convenience and purchase a Winthrop basketball jersey. I tried to do the work for him, but it doesn't seem like there's a place to buy them online. The closest I could come were some T-shirts and sweatshirts like the ones here. The good news is it seems Follett runs their bookstore as well as ND's, so obtaining something of this type will probably not prove difficult.

I'd get that jersey/sweatshirt/whatever, and I'd hang it in the middle of the locker room. Not the lounge where the media goes or anything like that --- the locker area where the players congregate. The players would understand that if anyone touches that jersey/sweatshirt/whatever, the entire team will run until they're hospitalized.

Then I'd leave it there for the entire season, hanging. I'd wheel it out on a rack during practices. I'd take it on roadtrips and hang it in whatever locker room ND used. In fact, for players who violate team rules or who are otherwise not focused, I'd make them wear it around campus for 24 hours.

Put it out there, right where they can see it and not get away from it. Put it out there, to remind them of what they could have done. Put it out there, as a motivator when things get tough.

ND has a lot to play for next season. They've got a 20-game home win streak that is five short of the Joyce Center record and 14 short of the ND home record overall. They've got a good conference performance to build on that will have to be maintained against what will undoubtedly be a tougher Big East slate next year. And now that they've returned to the NCAA's, they need to get there again and play better.

A little reminder of what happens when you don't meet those goals can only help.

No doubt ND will get a shot at revenge next season -- both the Fighting Irish and Winthrop are in the Paradise Jam in the Bahamas in the Fall, and the people who run it aren't stupid and know a buzz-generating rematch when they see it. But it won't be the same. Marshall will no doubt be gone to greener pastures -- probably his goal from the get-go, realizing he had an upperclassman-laden team that might get him a better opportunity than College of Charleston. Bradshaw and Martin, who led their team to the win and scored more than half of Winthrop's points, are seniors and will be playing elsewhere.

They'll never get this one back, and they need to remember that.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Amongst Our Weaponry

It's going to be a long week hearing about the Magic of Winthrop.

They're already the darling of the Bracketologists. They've played tough games, they say. They're an experienced team. Their coach is some sort of magician drawing attention from programs in need of quality leadership.

Should we even bother to play the game?

My personal belief: Winthrop is going to get stomped. While Charlie Weis probably won't be in the building (although it'd be cool if he were), I see the Irish as two-touchdown favorites on Friday because the Eagles have lost their primary weapon:


The problem with being called "This Year's George Mason" (assuming there even is a George Mason every year, which there isn't) is everyone's looking at you and waiting for you to actually be George Mason. There's no sneaking up on anyone. There's little danger your opponents aren't going to take you seriously. You're This Year's George Mason, for crying out loud! You're going to the Final Four! You're going to rise above your seed and make everybody take notice.

Trouble is, everyone's already taking notice. Colin Falls is taking notice. Russell Carter is taking notice. You can be damn sure Mike Brey is taking notice.

Think there's a chance in hell ND is going to underestimate Winthrop for a second? No way. And that screws the Eagles before the ball is even tossed up.

Let's look at all these "close losses" everyone's crowing about:

A seven-point win at UNC. This was, reportedly, a very close game throughout. It was also in the Preseason NIT, in which it can be difficult to grasp not only what your own team is doing but also what the opponent is going to do. But in any event, that game woke opponents up to the dangers of Winthrop, and five days later, Maryland beat the ever loving snot out of them.

A three-point overtime loss at Wisconsin. Certainly a close game, but also played more than three months ago. Let's also examine where that game fell in UW's schedule:

11/28 FSU (ACC Challenge) (W 81-66)
12/2 Florida Int'l (W 79-63)
12/4 Winthrop (W 82-79 OT)
12/9 at Marquette (W 70-66)

Let's see, you just had that Florida International powerhouse in town, and now you have Winthrop coming to Madison in December five days before you take your big trip to Milwaukee to take on Marquette. What are the chances the Badgers took the Eagles a little bit less than seriously? My thought: Pretty high.

And it's not like Wisconsin is an offensive juggernaut -- you could throw them in a cathouse wearing $100-bill underwear and scoring wouldn't be a guarantee. Most of their point totals this season were in the 60s. Compared to an ND team averaging over 80 points per game (over 75 in conference), Wisconsin isn't a very good benchmark.

I'm sure Winthrop is a decent squad capable of beating quality teams. But when they haven't faced anyone with an RPI less than 190 in two months, I have a hard time finding clear and convincing evidence. Meanwhile, outside of Rutgers, ND hasn't played anyone with an RPI over that level in that time, with all but USF, SJU, Rutgers and Cincinnati in the top 100.

But wait, I hear the Winthropians say, ND lost to two of those teams, and away from home! Why can't we pull it off?

Setting aside the timing of the KMac announcement, ND lost at SJU and USF because (all together now) they didn't take their opponent seriously. They'd pounded USF at their place by 24, and SJU wasn't expected to do anything. And while that lack of respect is a problem, you'll notice they had no problems respecting Cincinnati and Rutgers later in the year. Lesson learned? I think so.

Let the pundits prognosticate ... I'm going to spend my time worrying about Oregon.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Solid Six?

As much as I'd like to do an analysis of the job the Selection Committee did, the futility of their work exceeds the scope of this blog. So I'll limit myself to their treatment of the Fighting Irish.

Is ND a "solid six"? Yes and no.

If you're looking at the outcome of the season in a vacuum, six is probably where they deserved to be. A quality finish to the season, no doubt about it. But there's still the matter of the head-scratching losses away from home to SJU, USF (who just fired their coach) and DePaul, none of whom made the tournament and two of whom didn't even make the NIT. Throw in possible complaints about the excess cupcake-edness of the out of conference slate, and it shouldn't be a surprise ND ended up where they did.

Then again, one must look at the other teams seeded at or immediately above ND's level.

The other sixes: Vanderbilt, Louisville, Duke
The fives: Butler, VaTech, Tennessee, USC

Assuming as we must ND was the lowest six on the board (since they got the toughest 11), this means all seven of these teams were considered of higher tourney quality than Notre Dame. Butler, given their head-to-head win against ND, is defensible to an extent. But ND spanked Louisville more recently. Duke has been playing "how not to win" for more than half a season now. SC just got demolished in its home town in the conference tournament and somehow managed to lose to Arizona State. And Vanderbilt, while they have the FL win to their credit, have some head-scratchers against Furman and Auburn, not to mention a two-game sweep by Arkansas to end their season. I try to be an open-minded guy, but you can't convince me any of those seven teams are more deserving of their tournament bids than Notre Dame.

One must also look at location. With proximate first-round locations like Chicago, Columbus, Lexington, and Buffalo, ND had at least a 50-50 chance of a short trip to their tournament opener. Instead, the committee sent them the longest possible distance to that Mecca of human culture, Spokane, WA. Even the trains try to sneak through there at night so as not to be noticed. My manta in pool picking is to always bet against the team that has to travel through the most time zones, which does not bode well for Mike Brey and his squad.

Now the coaches and players have a decision to make: What will the story be? Hoops history is filled with tales of teams that felt they got screwed in their post-season assignments, and more often than not, those teams end up getting their doors blown off by someone who shouldn't be blowing anything. Granted, it happens more in the NIT than the NCAA ... which is why I wouldn't spend any money betting on the Syracuse Orange to go too far, although they certainly got the lubeless treatment this year ... but it's still a danger if the team is thinking more about what could/should have been rather than what is.

Yes, once again, they were subtly screwed (quelle suprise). But the more time they spend thinking about it, the better the chance Winthrop will sneak in and make hay on ND's sunshine. So it's time to forget about it and get the job done, which is why this is the last mention of the subject you'll hear from me either here or on the Pit until the tourney is done.

Onward and upward.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

If You Can't Beat 'Em ... Suck It Up

Driving home from dropping the kids at school today, I was listening to ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning. While I still have some residual dissatisfaction with the way Irish alum and program co-host Mike Golic handled himself in the wake of the Tyrone Willingham firing, his son will be wearing the Blue and Gold in a couple of seasons. Given that I also like Mike Greenberg from his days in Chicago sports media, I figured it was time to move on. Besides, given a choice between the WWL and Mike North (the presence of Irish alum Anne Maxfield notwithstanding) and a third run through the morning news, the choice is clear.

During the program, they were discussing the subject of player movement in the pros and how it can create interesting (if not awkward) situations both for players and fans. What do New York Yankee fans do when their team signs someone from the Boston Red Sox? Could Bears fans stomach winning games with Brett Favre at the helm? Can you envision Spike Lee wearing a Bulls jersey?

That got me to thinking -- if you can't beat them, should you really join them? Or is it better to suck it up until you can beat them?

Greenberg seemed much more in tune with my way of thinking on this subject -- I don't want to win with that guy, I want to beat that guy and have him leave my field with his head hanging in shame basking in his looserdom. Grow your own and use them to bludgeon your opponents into submission, I say.

Over the course of the drive, I tried to think of coaches or players I could not stand having on ND's roster, no matter how good it made the Irish.

It was difficult in basketball, because there isn't a lot of hate going around these days. Of course, there are the old standbys like Tom Kleinschmidt, but those are days long past. I did come up with a few -- Gerry McNamara, Eric Devendorf and Jim Calhoun sprang to mind immediately -- but I'd probably have to give it a lot more prayerful meditation.

In football, however, it was easier. Coaches made the list a lot moreso than players because players tend to be temporary while coaches seem to last forever.

The day Pete Carroll or Urban Meyer are named as coach of Notre Dame, I begin a hiatus from Notre Dame football until they leave, and I don't care if ND wins five MNC's in a row. Carroll is a snake oil salesman who has a maturity less developed than the players he coaches, and I want him at SC for a long long time until we can deliver a couple of well-deserved ass kickings. Meyer is a self-promoting jagbag who has already used ND for his own personal gain once. Karma, for him, will be a bitch and a half, and I want to watch it and enjoy every nanosecond.

Steve Spurrier? I'd take him. Yes, he's arrogant, but most coaches are, and I don't have a particular antipathy for him. Terry Bowden, on the other hand, makes my skin crawl both physically and metaphorically.

Corwin Brown I can handle just fine. Lloyydd Ccarr? Nuh-uh. And Cheaty McSweatervest can take his SUV's and AIDS Awareness curriculum and go scratch.

Did I miss anybody?

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Toil and Trouble

Down the stretch Mike Brey and the crew come, closing in on 10 Big East wins (which they should get at Rutgers even if things go wrong on Saturday vs. the Golden Gold). They've already passed the 20-win plateau in the regular season for the first time since the Sweet 16 season four years ago. Since no Big East team has ever been left out of the NCAAs with at least 10 conference wins and at least 20 overall wins, the Fighting Irish are a lock, right?

Wrong. It's despicable and senseless, but wrong.

The saying goes one should never speak in absolutes, but I've never been shy about doing so, so here goes: If things stay the way they are, no Notre Dame team even remotely on the bubble will ever make the NCAA tournament. If they can find a way to keep Notre Dame out, they will do so, no matter how the logic twists and turns.

For example, if ND loses two of its last three -- falls to Marquette, beats Rutgers, and loses in the first round of the EWSNBN, for example -- expect to hear a lot about (a) the non-conference SOS and (b) losing to SJU, USF, and [insert BET #12 seed here] as the reasons why they were kept out. Doesn't matter they're the first 10-BE-20-overall team not to make the tournament. It didn't matter they were one of (if not the) first 9-win BE team not to make the tournament four years ago, let alone that it happened to them twice. Whatever rule can apply to keep them out will be applied and all others will be ignored. There'll be furor, but in the end, no accountability. The story will waft away, just like it always does.

Sounds insane? It is, especially when you hear the reason.

Let's go back in time to March of 1990, the last NCAA tournament appearance for the Fighting Irish before the Decade of Dung began. Notre Dame was 16-13 as an Independent, and they were fighting with teams such as DePaul (who had swept ND that season) for a bid. Miracle of miracles, Notre Dame found itself in the tournament, where they got waxed by Virginia.

Jump forward to March of 1992, John MacLeod's first season. ND had faced 11 of the top 25 teams that season, most of them on the road during a 45-day span without a home game. They were just over .500, and were squarely on the bubble, but had a much better resume than they'd had two years before. Then they got screwed by a no-call in the waning moments at DePaul (sound familiar?) and even with an incredibly high SOS, were left out of the NCAA tournament (sound familiar?), getting to the NIT championship game instead (sound familiar?).

And ever since then, the bubble has been trouble. 1997. 2000. 2004. 2005. The list goes on, and it'll keep going on.

"Well, that's all well and good, Mike," you're saying now, "but you haven't told us the reason yet."

In a way, though, I have. And I'll give you a hint.

Between the first two dates we talked about -- March of 1990 and March of 1992 -- something momentous happened at Notre Dame, something that had never happened before at any school and has not happened since. It created incredible upheaval in the landscape of college athletics and affected every other major college athletics program.

The event? Notre Dame signed an exclusive contract with NBC to cover its home games in football.

To say the other schools were pissed is an understatement. They all lost out on their own television deal, which the networks demanded be re-negotiated since ND games in South Bend would not be included, which meant money came (and continues to come) out of their pockets. That contract means ND can afford to take the high road on moral issues like player suspensions, and doesn't have to crawl hat-in-hand to ESPN to get their games broadcast on Wednesday and Thursday nights. ND wins, every one else loses.

But what can they do about it? No school is going to turn down a football date with Notre Dame and the guaranteed national television audience (and boost to their season ticket bases if the contract included at least one home game) that comes with it, even if the Irish are in a down cycle. That's just making a bad situation worse, cutting off their noses to spite their faces. They were angry, but not stupid.

Outside of football, though? Ah ha. An opportunity to extract the pound (or more) of flesh. And what better sport to hit them where it might hurt (at least a little) financially than men's basketball?

Some of the responses weren't at all subtle, like Kansas pulling out of a planned four-game contract. But much of it was a lot more so, including that from the NCAA Selection Committee, which was (and still is) made up of AD's from schools that (for the most part) got screwed in the NBC deal.

Outlandish? Sour-grape-ish? I thought so too, because I didn't believe it when it was first mentioned to me after the screw job Matt Doherty's team got.

Then, a couple years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to some folks at the various conferences for reasearch for a book I was considering (but haven't written ... yet). During small talk, I mentioned how I was getting tired of being on the wrong end of the bubble come NCAA time.

The conference person's response, summarized: "Unfortunately, you're probably going to have to get used to that unless that football contract goes away."

I was stunned. Dumbfounded. Are they really that petty? Did Pat Garrity get his title of "best ND player never to play in the NCAA tournament" because of the NBC deal? Is Mike Brey on the hot seat because other schools are pissed we get Hammond and Hayden and (until this season) crappy production value?

Apparently so. And that blows.

So don't quote past performance to me with regard to win totals and RPI or anything like that. It's all meaningless when it comes to Notre Dame. Because anything but a pristine above-reproach resume will have the Irish on the outside looking in every time, integrity of the Selection Committee be damned.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Which stands for the Event Which Shall Not Be Named, also known as the season-ending event for the Big East men's basketball season held in Madison Square Garden.

I've never hid my disdain for the Big East's post-season basketball tournaments. Contrary to popular belief, however, it's not because ND historically has not done well there. Rather, I hold disdain for ALL post-season conference basketball tournaments, Big East or otherwise. I believe they are a blight on the landscape of college basketball.

First, they render the regular season meaningless. The hard work a team has done over 10 or more weeks can be undone by a bad 20 minutes. Teams get postseason rewards they do not deserve, both on the positive side (a team that underperformed for most of the season gets hot for four days and gets a bid) and the negative side (a team losing seeding position, if not their bid itself, because of a bad game in a conference tournament).

Second, they can have an adverse effect outside the scope of their own conference. When a team that otherwise would not have received a bid to the NCAA tournament gets one by virtue of winning one of these abominations (let's call them Team A), that bid is not always given at the expense of another team in that conference (as it should). More often than not, a team in a different conference (let's call them Team B) is deprived of that NCAA berth. Yes, a reasonable argument can be made Team B could have done more in its season overall to ensure the bid. But Team B certainly did more during the season than Team A, because until Team A took their slot, Team B had a much better chance of inclusion due to a better resume.

Third, they exist solely to make money. Spare me the pleas about cool games and appealing matchups. The conferences want to milk the cash cow via the television rights. The school wants their cut by demanding high donations from alumni and fans to get the limited tickets. Ticket brokers have a field day from both sides.

Fourth, they promote unbalanced scheduling in conferences. If the EWSNBN did not exist, the Big East could play 18 conference games instead of 16, which would allow all teams to play each other at least once. Think the teams finishing just behind ND in the conference would have liked to see the Fighting Irish have to take on league-leading Pitt, possibly giving ND one more loss? Granted, the BE is going to 18 games next season anyway, but it's at the cost of two non-conference games that could be used to create compelling matchups. Instead, we'll probably see even fewer quality opponents out of conference while the 18-games-plus-tournament rule remains.

Fifth, they're physically dangerous for the players. I realize they're young, well-conditioned athletes. But they're also at the tail end of a long season. Few, if any, other sports at any level demands its participants play four two-hour high-energy games in four days in this manner. The situation almost begs for serious injuries, and I can't see most college coaches happily accepting a loss of a key player for the meaningful postseason.

I realize the tournaments are unlikely to go away any time soon, but I'm not going to let that stop me from railing against them.

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The DePaul Blue Demons became the first double-victim in ND's current home win streak. They were the first back on March 4th of last year, and last night became the 19th as the Fighting Irish stayed perfect at home this season. 17 of those 19 have been this season, which sets a new record for the Notre Dame program for home wins in a season.

With 19 straight home wins, ND is now closing on another record -- the 24 wins in a row at the Joyce Center between February 1st, 1973, and December 11th, 1974, encompassing the entire 1973-74 season and parts of those that preceded and succeeded it. That represents the program's high-water mark in this facility. The current streak is good for third, behind the 22 in a row won between January 26, 1977, and February 12, 1978.

A win over Marquette on Saturday will not only put the Irish securely in place for a first-round bye in the EWSNBN, it will also make the Joyce Center win streak record a very reasonable goal for next season. The overall win streak record -- 38 in a row between December 11th, 1943, and February 9th, 1948 in the old Fieldhouse -- beckons after that, but one bridge at a time.

"We shall protect this house", indeed.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Tough Noogies

The minute this season's schedule was released, I knew we would start hearing about things like this post on Marquette's Scout site. I'm reproducing the key paragraphs here only because I'm pretty sure I'm the ND fan he's talking about -- he and I met at the ND club luncheon the last time the Irish and Warriors faced off in Milwaukee -- and I feel welcome to repeat my own thoughts:

A few yrs ago, a ND fan complained to me that ND was on the bubble and went to the NIT...he said that NCAA Tourney Committee did not take into account that ND had played tough opponents like BC, Sir and Pitt in their home and home games while another team that went to the dance had played Prov, Mia and SJ

I thought of this today while listening to ND beat Cinn by 10

Putting a finer point on the SOS discussion, ND's Big East slate this season didn't seem arduous in the preseason analysis and has proven not to be. While ND had no games against UConn, which is struggling to make the EWSNBN, it also did not play league front-runner Pittsburgh. Their two-fer games were against the current 8th, 9th, and 14th place teams in the conference. Of the current top five non-ND teams in the conference, the Irish will have played four games against them by season's end, with three of those four at home.

Yes, that's not the most arduous slate. Yes, ND will benefit from it. Yes, another team that might be on the bubble like Villanova (two-fers vs. 2nd, 4th and 7th, no game vs. 11th or 14th) will probably be hurt by the unbalanced slate especially compared to ND.

My response? Tough noogies.

With all due respect to John Dodds and Jim Ganzer, both of whom I've met and like and respect a lot, I don't want to hear the whining. With all due respect to the Wildcats, whose program I like and respect a lot, I hope they are hurt by the unbalanced schedule. Then they'll all know exactly how ND felt the last three years. Don't talk to me about strength of schedule, because the Irish had that in spades and got screwed twice.

Let's go back in time to 2003-04, with ND coming off their Sweet 16 appearance. In the Big East that season, Notre Dame played eight games against the top five teams in the conference, evenly split home and road. The Fighting Irish finished in seventh place, 9-7 overall, 2-6 against those top-5 teams. For a team whose starting point guard played hurt all year and whose starting center was lost for the year in February, they did pretty well, winning seven of their last 10 games, including a good win against WVU in the EWSNBN. But no bid for the Irish -- bad loss against Central Michigan at home (way back in December with only seven healthy players) said the committee. They were, according to conventional wisdom, the last team left out of the tournament. Sorry for that tough conference slate, ND, but tough noogies.

Now 2004-05, coming off that near-miss for an NCAA bid. This time, nine games for ND against the top five teams (5H, 4R). They finished in sixth place, 9-7 overall, 3-6 against those top-5 teams, with three of the losses being by 5 points or less on the road (65-60 @ Nova, 60-57 @ Cuse, 68-66 @ Pitt). Not only did they not make the tournament, a conference team who finished two places behind them in the standings, played a much easier conference schedule, and lost to ND by 13 at home that season, was given a tournament bid in their place. Granted, that ND team was in meltdown mode down the stretch that season, and an argument can be made if they'd done better in their last 10 games the question would have been moot. The bottom line, though, is ND got the toughest BE slate by a two-game margin. The Big East got the exposure and TV screens a Fighting Irish team always brings. ND got the shaft. Tough noogies for us once again.

So I really don't want to hear about ND's schedule this year. Yes, it could have been tougher, and if the Big East had decided on the number of conference games for next year a little earlier, they might have been able to put together a better slate. If the team didn't have eight freshmen and sophomores, some in key roles, they might have been more aggressive out of conference to start the season instead of wanting a young team to get its legs under them before the conference started. And if the game against Butler had turned out differently, we could replace Lafayette with Indiana on the schedule (and possibly pick up two games in NYC), and the number would be a little higher.

But for two straight years, ND had their hopes dashed on Selection Sunday while not getting an ounce of credit for taking one for the conference team with their schedule. No one on the selection committee said a word about ND's strength of schedule those two years while relegating the Irish to the Not Invited Tournament and putting Mike Brey's job status in question.

So if they decide this year to worship at the SOS altar, it'll be yet another brick in the ND discrimination wall. And I'll address that topic after the bids come out.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

This One Goes to 11, too

An entry in Tom Noie's Baseline Bits today caught my eye:

A win tonight for Notre Dame would be No. 1,600 in school history. Only 10 schools in Division I, led by Kentucky's 1,944, have won at least 1,600 college basketball games.

In addition to being top 20 in overall winning percentage and wins, Notre Dame's next win will make it the 11th program in Division I to win 1,600 games. Those are pretty impressive accomplishments, especially considering what it went through during the 1990's.

It's milestones like this one that remind us of what Notre Dame basketball was and should always be: considered among the better programs in the country. As I've said before, Notre Dame football will always be in a class by itself, but for long and long, basketball was 1A on campus. They certainly need more postseason success to truly break through into any kind of elite status, but what they've accomplished indicates, to me at least, there's no reason they shouldn't strive to regain that level of excellence.

Hopefully we'll have some evidence of that this spring, with an NCAA bid, a strong showing in that tournament, and the release of the renovation plans and schedule.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An offer we can't refuse ... or can we?

In the latest piece of evidence that there is almost nothing about $outhern Cal that isn't obnoxious these days, a teenager writing for one of the most unfortunately-named newspapers you'll find, the Daily Trojan, thinks $C and ND should play in basketball every year.

On the surface, a good idea. ND has a strong alumni presence in LA, which was one of the reasons the football series started in the first place. A series would have good synergies (although I dislike that word) with things on the football side. Once things settle in with the new 18 game conference slate, logistics on longer-term contracts might be easier to work out.

But I can think of a lot more reasons it would be a bad idea, starting with the fact ND already has a strong basketball relationship with a school in LA, one whose "tradition" is more than a "work in progress" (translated: one year old). If $C wants to get things going with ND in basketball, they (like in so many other things) need to get in line behind the Bruins. Perhaps this is what the article was all about -- $C desperately wanting another thing that UCLA already has. But that's their inferiority complex, not ours.

When ND joined the Big East, a lot of long-time rivalries had to go by the wayside, like Marquette, DePaul, UCLA, and Dayton. Additionally, there were teams like Michigan State that had been opponents for a while that had fallen off. Changes to the conference have brought some of those great series back into the fold, but before ND decides to try and spark a "rivalry" with a johnny-come-lately like $C, tradition dictates they at least make strong attempts to rekindle the sparks of yesteryear that already exist.

Besides, how long will it be before the current cavalier approach to rules that so disappointingly exists in their football program bleeds over into basketball? Between Bush's situation, conference calls, and the general atmosphere of lawlessness, whether real or perceived, hovering over the Trojans, I don't think expanding our relationship right now is a good idea. Maybe, when $C is about honor and respect again, it might be something to consider. Right now, as Andy Cross would say, not so much.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Return of the Native

You always like it when good things happen to good people. So naturally, I'm very happy Kyle McAlarney will be returning to ND in the summer.

This tells me one or more of a couple things happened in the past 48 hours:
  • KMac was able to look past the hurt and aggravation of the situation and make a mature, reasoned decision. He likes his coach, he likes his teammates. Why rush into a new situation requiring you to rebuild all those relationships?

  • Notre Dame managed to execute some original thinking in an extremely expeditious manner, and altered the punishment towards reasonableness enough to make things more palatable for this young man. Yes, people can take summer classes at ND as "unenrolled students", but remember that students under the kind of "suspension" that KMac is are banned from campus for its duration. So if he's going to be taking summer classes, something changed.

This was a bad situation on all sides. KMac did something stupid, and ND put its foot in it with an over-reactive punishment. That both sides could pull themselves back from the edge and not allow pride or intransigence to make the situation worse probably is the best possible outcome.

Having said that, both sides have some work to do.

This all started with KMac getting caught with marijuana. I'm among those who view marijuana use as a Not Good Thing, and my strong preference would be for him to look at this situation as a potential life lesson for him. This created a major inconvenience in his life, and could have been more costly for him. Assuming he was the one using the weed at some point that day, he needs to ask himself: was it worth all this?

That Notre Dame managed a partial recovery from their gaffe doesn't absolve them from the self-evaluation required to make sure it never happens again. I can understand a strong stance against controlled substances, but a policy of harsh punishments for good-citizen first-time offenders who are not even accused of use doesn't make a lot of sense to me, particularly when a student can drive while drunk and not be banished from campus. I also have a hard time with a system of justice where some offenders avoid ResLife review altogether while others cannot. Notre Dame needs to convene whatever kind of group it convenes for this sort of thing and review duLac from stem to stern to make sure these kinds of inconsistencies are ironed out.

This is a learning moment for both KMac and ND. If they take advantage of it, they'll be better for it.

And lest we forget, kudos to Mike Brey and KMac's teammates for stepping into the breach and helping to work towards a solution. This is just another example of the strong chemistry and camaraderie this squad has shown, which has gone a long way towards the unexpected positive results this season. Regardless of what you may think of coaching decisions, Mike Brey has shown once again he understands ND and what makes the ND family work, and is willing to put that into practice even in the face of the place's questionable decisions.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

And so it begins

This article by Gary Parrish is only the tip of the public relations nightmare Notre Dame has unleashed upon itself, yet again.

This is the kind of publicity that is going to give recruiting a kick in the fruitstand, no matter who is coaching here. And for my gridiron-focused readers, rest assured it won't stop with basketball.

For all of the people trumpeting how "he broke the law" and all that, recognize the reality that a blunt in a car is not considered to be a big deal by most people. How players and coaches will interpret this is Notre Dame let a kid who had never been in any kind of trouble dangle in the wind for almost a month and then suspended him for a semester for something that, in the grand scheme of things, is not a big deal.

Players may not envision themselves as using marijuana, but I'm quite sure they can envision themselves doing relatively harmless things that aren't any big deal. Now Notre Dame has shown they react to those things with very harsh suspensions, no matter how good a person you've been otherwise. Not exactly the most positive environment, especially for 17-year-old kids who are thinking about both their academic and playing futures.

And what do you think if you're Mike Brey? Based on what ND has told you, you've given this kid hope he'd remain in school for the semester. Now not only did ND yank the rug out from under you, they did it an hour before you were supposed to leave for a road trip, leaving you no time to be with a player in your program desperately in need of counsel and advice. Between the renovation delays and now this, I'm amazed he hasn't resigned.

(and for those of you who clap at that possibility, remember other coaching candidates are watching this stuff very carefully, and if you think they'll want to cast their lot with an administration that does this kind of crap for any amount of money, you're crazy)

This has nothing to do with coddling athletes and everything to do with having, as Parrish put it, common sense. This has nothing to do with teaching, which is what Notre Dame is supposed to be about, and everything to do with image, which is what Notre Dame obviously remains obsessed with.

And it needs to be fixed, quickly and publicly, before it does real and permanent damage.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Rebuilding a Brand, Part II: Let Me Check My Schedule

In Part I of my rebuild plan (readable here), I talked about changing the attitude regarding basketball at Notre Dame and the innate silliness of the phrase "football school".

Having burned the football bridge, I shall now attempt to cross it by suggesting the basketball program take a page from the gridiron hymnal in this rebuilding effort.

Years upon years ago, Knute Rockne built the ND football brand by barnstorming across the country. This ensured his nascent Fighting Irish program could be seen all over and plant a seed in the minds of fans. Those seeds grew into one of the most rabid fandoms ever seen in sport. Kevin White recently talked about neutral-site football games to recapture that spirit for the alumni and fans.

That used to be the basketball program's plan as well. New Year's games in Chicago against Northwestern. Annual trips to alumni strongholds like Dallas, Los Angeles, and the Northeast. Holiday games in Louisville against Kentucky powerhouses.

OK, that last one was because Adolph Rupp was a coward, but the point remains: Lots of people got to see ND basketball up close and personal. If it wasn't at their local basketball venue, it was on television thanks to Eddie Einhorn and the TVS empire.

A lot changed over the 20 years beteween 1980 and 2000, and when it came to adapting to and dealing with those changes, ND was more on the cliff's edge than the cutting edge. To rebuild their brand, they need to get back there.

The television aspect is already decent, and with the new Big East TV contract, it's going to get better. ND basketball fans will be able to watch every conference game on one of ESPN's outlets. The contract also has non-conference aspects, but we'll have to wait and see there. There's hope the stranglehold ESPN has had on non-conference contests will be relaxed.

The Internet aspect is good and improving. Free audio streams of Jack & Phonz are already available on, and word is they'll be adding even more non-conference game video streams next season. UND also carries audio and video of press conferences as well as the Mike Brey show, so there's no shortage of coverage for the savvy electronic maven.

Unfortunately, media coverage is only (or some might say, less than) half the battle. Most of the people who will watch those games are already fans. Notre Dame needs to reach out and start regrowing its fanbase, and the best way to do that is via its schedule.

The 2006-07 schedule, to be kind, sucked dog meat. Way too many home games against no-name teams. Way too many home games while the students weren't on campus. Way too many uninteresting matchups. As a result, I'm not sure I've seen 11,418 announced as an attendance yet, and while that many tickets may have been sold for a game thus far, I find it unlikely that many fannies were in the seats.

So, how to improve?

First, let's review some facts:
  • Teams are allowed 28 games per season with a 30-game cap
  • Conference tournaments no longer count against the maximum
  • The Big East will go to 18 conference games next season, meaning teams can schedule 10 non-conference games
Within that framework, I have the following suggestions:

Get UCLA back on the schedule. That game was a natural for decades. I can see why the Bruins might not want to travel during the Pac10 season, so let's make it an early-season made-for-television matchup. Play the games in LA Thanksgiving Friday (the night before the football team plays SC there), and play the games in SB the Sunday before Thanksgiving at noon (which will oftentimes be the day after a home football contest, meaning people might stick around). If the games are pinned to specific dates, people will start scheduling around them, making them a stronger event.

Keep Indiana off the schedule. The losing streak and road-loss streak are done, so it's as good a time as any for a break. There's no such thing as a home court advantage when ND plays the Hoosiers at the JC. There are a number of other Integer teams we should be looking to get, including Michigan State (fourth-most played team ever, but haven't played them regular season since 1975 and at all since 1979), Illinois, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Home-and-homes or 1-1-1 contracts rotating between those squads makes for captivating schedules.

Utilize invitational tournaments. The "two-in-four" rule, which limited a team to two appearances in exempted preseason tournaments every four seasons, has blowed up real good. Notre Dame is the kind of program that will benefit from the change, because their name recognition will be a big plus to tournaments such as the Guardians Classic (or whatever they're calling it now). They're also advantageous in that they give ND up to three actual games while only dinging them for one against the maximum, and usually at least one of those games is a manageable win and at least one is a quality opponent on a non-home floor.

I feel like I'm cheating suggesting this, because based on future schedule discussions, ND is already looking to go down this road. The Fighting Irish will be playing in the USVI Tournament next season and the Maui Classic the season after that. Word is a return to the PNIT is scheduled four years from now, and the Guardians would like them for the season in between. The Great Alaska Shootout hasn't seen ND in quite a while, and new exempted tournaments are springing up all over the place these days.

Barnstorm. The football team is putting packages together to get itself in front of alumni. No reason the basketball team can't do the same thing. And they should do what they used to do -- travel over the holidays.

As I said, there were too many home games this season overall, and particularly too many while the students were away on break. A student-free Joyce Center doesn't have a good potential for atmosphere, even with the non-student fans getting as involved as they can.

But other strong alumni areas might have better atmospheres. Students are home on break. Families are looking for things to do together. And a hotel is a hotel, so it shouldn't matter much to the team where they are.

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is also starting to look at strength of schedule as a determining factor for bids. Loading up on home games, as the Fighting Irish did this season, will start to hurt the team in their efforts to get a high tournament seed, let alone a bid in the first place. Road or neutral site games might help the tournament resume.

Digger used to promise recruits at least one "home game" during their four-year career. Granted, it was easier to do as an independent with 15+ variable games to toss around, but it might be a nice carrot for Mike Brey & company.

Some places the team should consider, based on the size of their alumni clubs:
  • Chicago. Every New Year's Eve, Notre Dame and Northwestern used to play at the old Chicago Stadium. It became an event in and of itself. Playing the Wildcats at the United Center would be a good draw. Perhaps Wisconsin would agree to a 1-1-1 with the third game at the UC or the new Sears Center in the northwest suburbs. Other neutral-site possibilities would be Illinois State or Northern Illinois, both of whom would probably accept a Chicago game in lieu of a home date.

  • Detroit. Notre Dame / Michigan State at Ford Field. Definitely wouldn't be neutral, but it'd be interesting. If not that, I'm sure they could work something out at the Palace and bring in a local school.

  • Los Angeles/San Francisco. I already talked about LA with the Bruins, but USC is another interesting possibility. Plus there's no shortage of candidates from the California college system. Up north, Cal and Stanford are logical choices, as would be long-ago foe San Francisco.

  • Washington, D.C.. While Georgetown games would cover this area, it's not guaranteed Notre Dame would play them in D.C. every year. The occasional matchup with Maryland would be nice, as would George Washington.

  • Boston. BC's departure from the league has left a bit of a void in this area of New England. I'd bet UMass or Holy Cross would love a game at the Garden.

  • Dallas. Texas isn't the most fertile recruiting ground for ND basketball, but Carlton Scott is coming on board and it'd be nice to give him a game in front of the home crowd. Plenty of choices, from Texas to SMU.

  • Atlanta. A matchup with the Bulldogs would draw a lot of attention. Or perhaps Florida would agree to a neutral-site contest
If Notre Dame is going to re-enter the hearts and minds of its fan base in basketball, they have to put themselves out there. 20 games at home per season, most against teams over 250 in the RPI, is not going to get that done. They need to get out of the house and pick on a couple of the big kids if they want the attention.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rebuilding a Brand, Part I: Basketball School

Notre Dame is a basketball school.

Or at least it used to be.

Alumni and fans of recent vintage probably have a hard time believing that, but it's true. I spent three years of my life proving it.

But history only goes so far, and as the arguments on the Pit the last couple of months have shown, a lot of fans of the basketball program have wandered away over the years since the Fighting Irish were last consistent winners. Whether it was because of never regaining interest after the debacle of the 1990s, or the lack of consistent success since then, the flower of hoops fandom is not flourishing and lacks the strong roots it once had.

There are lots of reasons for this, some of which I'll address in the coming days, but the reason I will fight to my dying breath is the excuse that "we're a football school", which somehow excuses a lack of enthusiasm for basketball on Notre Dame's campus.

I would hope Florida's victory last season in the NCAA tournament would put that lame rationalization to rest. The most football-crazy school in one of the most football-crazy states in the nation won the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and no one cried they couldn't get to games because "we're a football school". That they are now the first school to hold the men's hoops and football titles simultaneously is proof positive success in one area does not preclude success in the other.

In short, "football school" is the result of lazy thinking and half-assed analysis.

In fact, let's take a look at the latest AP polls for hardwood and gridiron and see if we can find some overlap:

Florida (#1 football, #2 basketball)
Ohio State (#2 football, #5 basketball)
LSU (#3 football, #13 basketball)
Wisconsin (#7 football, #3 basketball)
West Virginia (#10 football, #21 basketball)
Texas (#13 football, #25 basketball)
Notre Dame (#17 football, #21 basketball)

And this doesn't count teams that received votes in the hoops poll like USC (#4 football) and Arkansas (#15 football) or teams that received votes in the football poll like Texas A&M (#8 basketball) or even also-rans in both polls like Maryland.

Over a quarter of the poll. That's a significant overlap.

Granted, there are some things ND can't do. For example, all of the other schools on the overlap list are state institutions (some in more ways than one). They have large student bodies and a large alumni base within a reasonable drive. Therefore, it's possible for them to show strong support for midweek games without having to depend on non-alumni fans. There's nothing ND can do about that (but then again, ND has always had that disadvantage, and was able to overcome it before).

But the other thing those schools are doing is supporting their programs with money as well as bodies, and God knows ND and its $3.4 billion endowment can do plenty about that.

The facilities list we had thumbtacked on The Pit prior to the renovation announcements featured most of those schools prominently. In the lead by far is Florida, which has spent $22.5 million in the past 10 years on their basketball facilities. Ohio State and Wisconsin both play in state-of-the-art facilities less than 10 years old. Texas built a new practice facility and renovated their arena in the last five years. LSU has had renovation projects going on for the last three seasons. West Virginia is in the final stages of a capital plan to completely revamp their hoops offerings.

Each of those schools made the decision to have a championship-level basketball program, and each of those school put their money where their mouths are.

ND has announced the renovations project, and that's certainly good. But we're still sitting on the damn funding, and there's still no release of concrete plans months after the project was allegedly kicked off.

And now, we have rumors flying around of a new hockey rink. If (and it's a big "if") that results in the basketball programs getting room in the North Dome for the practice facilities they still need, it's palatable. Not arousing, but palatable. But trust me, gentle readers, nothing is going to push me over the edge faster than a cost-center sport with no tradition getting a fully-funded state-of-the-art arena while a profit-center sport still goes begging.

Because that will lead to some very awkward questions I don't think anyone on Juniper Road is prepared to answer.

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Sunday, December 31, 2006


For those of you who don't usually read comments, former Irish basketball player Ron Reed responded to my previous article:

If you are putting "Academically Ineligible" in the category of "Foolishness" then I plead guilty as charged. But if you are putting "Academically Ineligible" in the same category as a "D.U.I." and "Illegal Possession of a Controlled Substance", which sounds like you are, then you are not nearly as intelligent as you think you are.

Sheff and I were certainly wrong for not keeping our grades up, and by the way it happened to me twice, and it has happened to other athletes at Notre Dame as well. But after two years in the N.B.A. and seventeen years in Major League Baseball I have never had a D.U.I. and I have never been arrested for any illegal substance use or possession.

Attacking someone's ineligibility is an attack on his study habits in and out of the classroom. Attacking someone's use of alcohol and or substance abuse is an attack on his character. Two entirely different subjects.

Ron Reed Notre Dame Basketball 1961-1965
I want to be crystal clear on this -- in no way do I equate academic issues of any kind with illegal substance issues of any kind, and it was not my intention to suggest that players who have problems with grades have the same problems as players who have problems with drugs.

I talked about the 1962-63 season because key players had made a bad off-court decision -- the decision not to study and keep the grades up -- and that off-court decision had an effect on the team's on-court fortunes, much in the same way whatever decisions led to marijuana being found in KMac's car were also bad ones that may lead to a similar seasonal effect for Notre Dame.

I certainly didn't mean to impugn Ron Reed's or Larry Sheffield's character. Their teammates all spoke of them as being high-quality people, and in the limited interaction I've had with Ron, I've found that to be the case as well. I didn't put a fine enough point on my analogy (assuming I should have made it in the first place), and I'm sorry.

(Also as a clarification, I'm not saying KMac has problems with drugs. In fact, the whole entry probably violated my own admonishments to folks to wait until the facts fully come out before commenting on things. Certainly not my best work. I guess I was right -- foolishness is not in short supply these days.)


Saturday, December 30, 2006


Definitely not in short supply today.

First there's the foolishness that led to the pot being in KMac's car in the first place. I don't want ND players using pot, especially during the season, but as hypocritical as this might sound, I understand how it's the "drug of choice" of basketball players in general and, like alcohol, realize there's going to be some use whether I like it or not. So it amends to not wanting pot use to affect the players' lives or the team's performance, and by being indiscreet with the materials in the car, KMac has violated that edict.

Next there's the foolishness that led to some of the reactions (since deleted) on The Pit. Draconian down-from-the-mountain crap isn't the way to go here either. You can be disappointed in the young man's choices without being a dick about it. Fire-and-brimstone punishment might make you feel a little more superior than all the rest, but it does very little for the young man wearing the Fighting Irish uniform.

Will the foolishness continue? That remains to be seen.

It certainly won't be foolish to punish the young man, although there's potential foolishness in the details of that punishment. As I said, I have a low tolerance for players who disrupt the team with bad choices. KMac did something dumb, and he's going to (and should) be punished for it regardless of what it means for the season. It blows that his teammates will suffer, but that's the point of being a team -- what you do affects everyone else, and what everyone else does affects you. But there's punishment that teaches a lesson to the punished and there's punishment that looks or feels good for the punisher. I want plenty of the former and none of the latter.

I think it would be foolish to make more of this than deserves to be made. On the grand scale of crime, I put things like a first-time possession charge pretty low on the totem pole. It doesn't indicate a pattern of behavior (although it can be used later to establish one if the behavior repeats), and, unlike assaulting a kid on a basketball court or driving under the influence, doesn't involve hurting another person either physically, psychologically or emotionally. It certainly doesn't fall under the purview of the NCAA rulebook. ND has a strong track record expecting accountability for its athletes both on and off the court, so I don't doubt they'll do their due diligence.

On The Pit, Kayo asked if we were King of ND, what we would do in response to KMac's situation. If my uneasy head wore the crown, I'd stop the foolishness this way.

First, I'd allow him to remain in school. Suspending him for a semester and putting his academic progress off track doesn't accomplish anything.

Second, I'd suspend him from playing or practicing with the team for one month. He could still work out with them or do whatever training table or other related activities he usually does with his teammates, but nothing on the court. I'd even go so far as to keep him off the bench during games for that month.

Third and finally, I'd require 100 hours of community service, to be completed before the start of the Fall 2007 semester. I'm guessing there are drug treatment centers in the greater South Bend metro area that could use some help.

I'd also tell him since this is a first offense and he has a clean record, he's getting off light. A second example of foolishness would result in the sky falling down on him.

Likewise, his teammates would be informed KMac had used up their one mulligan for the season and they should consider themselves on notice. Foolish behavior on their part would put them right underneath that falling sky as well.

Good seasons at ND have been affected by foolishness before. In 1962-63, the team started 11-3 before Ron Reed and Larry Sheffield didn't make grades, and the team barely snuck into the NCAA tournament. Last season on the gridiron, the Irish missed Rashon Powers-Neal after his suspension for a DUI charge.

We'll see how this Irish team reacts. Hopefully they can still make it a magical one.

I'm going to leave the comments open here, and invite response on The Pit as well. But there's one type of comment I won't even bother approving, so you shouldn't bother making it:

"You ripped on Troy Smith for his character issues, and now you're saying it's no big deal for McAlarney."

Yes, I did. I did so because (a) Smith physically assaulted someone and took booster money, which represents (as I said above) both a higher-echelon crime and an NCAA violation, and (b) the reason for the comments was Smith's being in contention for an award that has a character component. If later in his career, KMac is up for a national award and his primary competitor has a better record in this area, I'll point out the difference just as I did with Smith and Quinn.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Still Interesting

Been away a lot this very tough week, glad to have had two excellent performances by the team to boost the spirits.

A lot to like tonight vs. the Tide....

Giving a quality performance on national TV. Those haven't been too prevalent the last couple of seasons, but tonight the team put together an excellent performance under the lights.

Keeping a late lead. When the margin dwindled from 10 to three in a matter of 60 seconds, I had bad visions running through my head. But Russell Carter took the bull by the horns and hit that critical trey. That woke the team up and fueled the game-ending run.

Holding the #4 team in the nation to an A/TO ratio below 1.0 while keeping their ratio close to 2.0, giving up 42 percent shooting, and weathering 21 foul calls.

Most importantly, the minutes. Eight players in double figures. Yes, there were four of them over 34, but given the 81 points they scored, I'm willing to overlook it for now. MB stayed with the bench even though the opponent was tough, the game was close, and some of the guys didn't have eye-catching stat lines. Learning is a gradual process, and one hopes the bench usage is part of that process. Still need to work on the late-game slowdown, but one battle at a time.

Almost as importantly, in the words of Mr. Roarke, smiles everyone, smiles. It's been a couple seasons since I saw an ND basketball team enjoying itself on the court, and there was a lot of enthusiasm and energy tonight.

Speaking of energy, kudos to the student body and GA's for a strong turnout. How ... about ... a loud ... shout!

Going into the holiday lull, a good performance by everyone involved was critical to set a good tone for the NCAA resume. That tone has been set, and what will probably turn out to be a relatively weak SOS has been offset strongly by these two performances.

As I said in the preseason, if nothing else, this team is going to be interesting to watch. Color me interested.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Travishamockery, and other thoughts

A travesty, they say.

Or at least Mike Lopresti of USA Today says it.

When discussing Notre Dame's chances of making it to the BCS championship game, Lopresti (and probably many others) responds:

"Absolutely not. Notre Dame instead of Michigan would be a travesty after the Wolverines drilled the Irish 47-21 in South Bend."

So head-to-head matters.

I'm shocked, but still have a question: Where was this cold-hearted logic in 1993?

Notre Dame, 11-1. Florida State, 12-1. The head-to-head battle, played in late November, ended in favor of the Irish, with the game not as close as the final score indicated.

So who held the trophy in January? Florida State, of course. Because, we were told, head-to-head isn't the best determinant. Except when it is, and then it is.

That's the biggest reason I want ND to end up in the NC game on January 8th. The pundits will wail and gnash their teeth. The Michigan faithful will rend their garments (assuming they have any un-rent after Bo's passing).

Then Charlie Weis can get up in a press conference, and to every question posed him concerning the BCS, he can respond, "1993".

In fact, I just thought of a more delicious scenario. Some of it may be far-fetched, but stay with me:

Notre Dame wins comfortably in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Either Florida or Arkansas are upset by F$U or LSU, respectively.
The Florida/Arkansas upset victim then wins the SEC Championship game.

Come BCS selection day, the Irish and Wolverines are the only one-loss teams left. The pollsters and pundits, deciding to employ the cold-hearted logic, send the Skunkbears to the NC game for a rematch with tOSU.

The Irish are sent to the Sugar Bowl, where they unmericfully pound the SEC champ.
Michigan wins a mistake-filled game in Glendale.

Now what do the pollsters do? The coaches, by contract, have to vote for Michigan. But the AP folks aren't under the same restriction. They can choose a Michigan team that got a second bite at the apple, or an ND team that defeated two top-five opponents comfortably in the season's last two games.

Both teams 12-1. The head-to-head battle, played in September, ended in favor of Michigan (who had a distinct advantage in prep time).

So who holds the AP trophy in January?

Remember, head-to-head isn't the best determinant. That's what we were told in 1993.

Except when it is.

Either way, the reactions from Ann Arbor would be a lifetime's worth of entertainment.

Some other items tickling my brain, mostly on the hoops side:


Besides a distressing return to the Bad Old Days, the Butler loss had another negative effect -- on ND's strength of schedule.

Granted, if Butler does well in NYC (and over the course of the season), that neutral-site game will help the Irish. But neutral-site games against some combination of Gonzaga, Tennessee and North Carolina would have done even more.

Some people feel this schedule was set up for an NCAA bid. Outside of Maryland and Alabama, the remaining OOC contests weigh heavy on the cupcake scale, and the BE slate lacks any games against UConn or Pittsburgh while featuring South Florida twice. While this will do a lot for the win total, it's not going to do a lot for the SOS factor, which means ND is walking on a knife's edge. One bad loss might give the committee all it needs to relegate the Irish to the NIT once again.


I'm sure people are sick of ND people whining about 1993, but that pales to the degree I'm tired of hearing about how the ND basketball team quit two years ago. I'm tired of hearing it from ND students, tired of hearing it from ND alumni, tired of hearing it from ND fans.

Yes, that team fell apart. Yes, that team lacked any kind of cohesion. Yes, key players on that team mailed it in down the stretch. Yes, the coaching staff should not have allowed it to happen. Yes, it was a Bad Thing.

But just about everyone involved with that team is gone now. None of the players on the floor for the Irish can be accused of laying down that season. Most of them weren't even there. Of the ones who were, Russell Carter hardly played and the (rightfully) villified Holy Cross game was Rob Kurz's coming-out party. And I know people have a lot of opinions on Colin Falls, but I've never read "slacker" as one of them. I've never seen him give anything less than everything when he plays.

And last season, when this team had every reason to throw in the towel after so many close losses, they kept bringing it every game. That says something about the mental fortitude of the players and the coaches alike.

I think plenty of evidence exists to support a belief that situation was a one-time thing, and (to be blunt) I think the people who continue to harp on it are glomming on to a situation that fits the argument they want to make and are riding it long after it's been an effective argument.

Start your engines

The clamor already has begun for Mike Brey to work Luke "Bamm Bamm" Harangody into the starting lineup.

In today's SBT, MB is quoted as being concerned how that would affect the team dynamic.

I can't speak to dynamics, but if history is our guide, starting doesn't necessarily mean anything.

Over his last two seasons, David Graves was moved out of the starting lineup twice. But if you look at his minutes played, they stayed pretty constant. So while his name wasn't being called during the spotlight intros, he was still contributing in the same ways he had before the "demotion".

So I don't necessarily have a problem with him being out of the starting lineup. I would, however, have a problem with him not being among the leaders in minutes played among the Irish big men. Bamm Bamm has been pretty effective in his time played thus far, so if such effectiveness can be continued over more minutes, let's do that.

T'is the season for pushing envelopes, after all.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

N Apostrophe T

My kids and I really enjoy the Electric Company DVD set. The show is a happy childhood memory for me because I learned a lot about reading and enjoyed Morgan Freeman's work long before he was buying bus tickets to Fort Hancock, Texas.

I thought of those DVDs last night and this morning, in the aftermath of ND's loss to Butler in the Preseason NIT, when I read how it's difficult to get a post feed late in a game or how the young guys have a hard time against older competition or one- or two-and-done players probably won't choose ND.

I can't remember if it was Rita Mareno or Judy Graubart, but the sketch I thought of concerns a young lady who is always saying no to things. Suitors approach and are rebuffed time and time again. She thrives, she says, on "N apostrophe T".

I don't want to hear that out of any Notre Dame basketball person's mouth this season. I don't want to hear or read quotes from any player or coach that ND isn't / wasn't / can't / won't / shouldn't / couldn't do or be anything anywhere at any time. That's the kind of thinking that leads to conservatism, and conservatism is the absolutely last thing the Fighting Irish need this year.

If someone asks Mike Brey whether he believes Kyle MacAlarney could sink the winning three-point basket and then float to the top of the Joyce Center on gossamer wings while dropping a deuce on the opposing coach's head, I want him to respond, "Hell yes, we work on that every day in practice. Think that'll go well with Pitino's hair gel?"

If someone inquires about Luke Harangody's new shoes, I want to hear he bought them so when he leaps from the foul line for a monster dunk, he'll look good in the poster.

It has nothing to do with truth and everything to do with attitude. Until coaches and players alike learn, they won't believe, and until they believe, they won't win consistently. If you don't believe ND can win, you shouldn't be at ND, period.

We saw the old conservatism last night. Four guys with more than 31 minutes, three of them over 34. Limited substitutions. Over-reliance on the perimeter, especially late in the game. The result was a carbon copy of last season -- a hard-fought, close loss, with the Irish playing poorly down the stretch in both halves. And then the n-apostrophe-t's came out in the postgame.

We didn't see that conservatism in the first three games. We saw a deep bench -- a nine-man rotation that got double-figure minutes apiece. We saw a lot of energy for thw whole game. We saw the ball pounded inside and players like Rob Kurz and even youngsters like Harangody responding with monster efforts. Granted, the competition level wasn't high, but let's remember in the last two seasons, even the gimme games were worry-inducing. This time, they were easy-peasey victories. And afterwards, we heard a lot about what the players could do and what the program could and should do.

I believe there's a relationship there.

Will they win them all? Of course not. Young players make mistakes, and mistakes are likely to cost the team wins here and there. But if they don't make the mistakes and then learn from them, they'll be making the same mistakes as sophomores and juniors, and that's when a team really has problems.

If you have the belief, you have the keys to a win. If you don't have the belief, you should turn your keys in.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006


I got the opportunity to attend the men's basketball reunion last week on campus. As a non-player (or even manager, for that matter), I'm always grateful when the guys I interviewed invite me to these things, and it provided a good opportunity to catch up.

The festivities started on Friday with a reception at the Warren Golf Course, followed by a 10:30am practice in the Joyce Center and a post-game gathering across from the Morris Inn. I wasn't able to attend the last event, but did get a chance to stop by the reception and practice.

Everyone seemed in good spirits. Bob Whitmore's health has improved and things are going much better for him. As usual, he and Collis Jones made the trek from the D.C. area -- they never miss one of these things. John Tully remains the best storyteller I interviewed, although Ed O'Rourke's tale of trying to get Tim Andree (Sr.) a contract with a team in Israel was definitely the highlight of the night (can't tell it here, couldn't possibly do it justice). Speaking of the big man, the Andree family is thrilled Tim Jr. is carrying on the Irish tradition, and with Tim Sr. no longer with the NBA, they'll be at plenty of games this year. Larry Jesewitz and his wife just celebrated their second wedding anniversary. Larry lost his first wife to cancer a few years back, and I like seeing good people happy. Dick Rosenthal is splitting time between Florida and South Bend these days. Tommy Hawkins wasn't able to make it, which was disappointing because he's probably one of my favorite hoops alums to talk to. Phonz was itching to get his new broadcast career started, although he was adamant that Jack Nolan could probably do it on his own. I got a chance to meet Dave Batton and Jason Williams, and both expressed interest in contributing to the next edition of EotH.

All-in-all, a wonderful time. But it wouldn't be a NftG entry if I wasn't complaining about something. Talking to a few of the guys, they mentioned one thing that could have made it even better: Have it earlier in the year.

Looking beyond the chilly weather, which is always a drag, the late date prevents the NBA folks in the Fighting Irish family from attending. When the schedule makes participation difficult for two of the greatest players in the program's history -- A.C., doing broadcast work for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and A.D., working as an assistant for the Denver Nuggets -- the schedule must needs tweaking. Besides the Big Two, Gary Brokaw, Pat Garrity, John Paxson, Troy Murphy, Matt Carroll, John MacLeod, and Chris Quinn are the names off the top of my head who could have attended.

I realize the ability to have a practice (and allow the guys to hang around an extra day for an exhibition game) is a driver for the scheduling decision, as probably is high schoolers coming to early games on official visits and taking up the coaches' time. But the NCAA is starting to loosen up regarding things in early Fall, so perhaps some kind of workout/scrimmage would be possible. And from my vantage point, there were some recruit-looking kids in attendance anyway.

Another thing I thought of: Have an old-timers game. No, I'm not suggesting that Collis Jones or Dick Rosenthal or Kelly Tripucka or any of those guys lace them up, although they'd be welcome. I'm talking about a laid-back scrimmage- or pickup-type game with some of the younger guys, maybe even against the current team. Imagine if you will David Rivers, Jason Williams, Troy Murphy, Tim Singleton, Matt Carroll, Pat Garrity, and LaPhonso Ellis playing against Russell Carter, Colin Falls, KMac, Tory Jackson, BammBamm, Rob Kurz, Zach Hillesland, et al. That's a game I'd enjoy watching.

One final note: I had the opportunity to discuss facility plans with some folks on campus during the reunion. As you know, one of my biggest concerns going into all this was the correct prioritization of practice facilities. After my chats at the reunion, I'm very confident that (a) the importance of practice facilities is being properly considered in the plans, even if they're not an immediate inclusion, and (b) the folks in charge have some good ideas how the need can be fulfilled. So I guess that means we can stop bugging them with correspondance ... for now.

And for putting the song in your head -- you're welcome.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Front-runners ain't worth it

I don't know what makes me want to vomit more -- the lack of student attendance at the game last night or the lame-ass excuses I'm hearing for that attendance today. If ND spends one dime in these renovations trying to move the students from their current position, I'll declare it a complete waste of funds.

"We still blame the team from two years ago for quitting". Apparently logic is no longer a required course in the Notre Dame curriculum. That's like me saying the student allocation should be cut because the students in the 1990s didn't support the team. Last year's team played their rear ends off every night. What kind of credit do they get? Apparently none.

"We don't like Brey and he should be fired, so we won't go." These same students thought Tyrone Willingham should be fired, too. It didn't stop them from going to football games. And spare me the "football is different" bleating -- it isn't. If your policy is to not attend games if you don't believe in the coach, it should apply even more to something you love as much as football. And yet it didn't. Student attendance isn't going to drive a decision to retain or fire a coach, so why not support your classmates?

And yet they complain that ND doesn't give them enough seats, and now want ND to spend millions of dollars so they can sit courtside??!? Yeah, right. They're going to drop seven figures on front-runners. That'll happen.

I'd rather see them cut the student allocation again. Then after this season, when either (a) the ship has been righted, or (b) there's a new coach with an exciting young team ready for next year, the front-runners will need split ticket packages or just go without.

Poetic justice. That's what it'll be.

I watched a 12-20 season my senior year. I bought season tickets and suffered through 9-18 seasons. I was at an exhibition game on a Wednesday night because this is going to be a young team that at the very least will be very interesting to watch.

ND should spend the money on the people like me. They should have gone through the crowd last night handing out applications to get the best seats post-renovation, because last night's crowd are the die-hards. They'e the people who truly support the program. They're the people who realize the program is bigger than the players in the uniforms and the coaches on the sidelines.

Why waste a dime on uneducated students who don't care?

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Speed Kills... come to Notre Dame and live forever.

OK, the t-shirt sold during my ND tenure talked about sex, not speed. But it remains my favorite bootleg ND t-shirt of all time. And I thought a slight play on that philosophy could also apply to the Notre Dame basketball teams of recent years.

The good news, though, is the coaching staff appears to be trying to remedy that situation with their recent recruiting. All four of the current freshmen can boast of quickness, even Luke Harangody, who is very fast for his size. Tyrone Nash has good quickness and defensive skills. Ditto Carlton Scott. Both were early targets -- Nash was on the radar long before he decided to prep for a year -- and both will complement the players in the classes that preceded them.

A strong nucleus built on speed gives me hope. ND hasn't had that in the last couple of seasons, and it's showed when they've tried to defend much faster conference teams. It's showed when they've run into offensive gluts against overplaying defenses that can't be made to pay for their mistakes. Negating that weakness is a good step.

That doesn't mean, however, there aren't also concerns. My biggest? The size of this class.

In the last week, ND picked up two surprise commitments: Ty Proffitt, a shooting guard from Kentucky, and Tim Abromaitis, a small forward from Connecticut. To say they came in under the radar is probably an understatement, as ND wasn't even listed with Abromaitis on the recruiting websites, and Proffitt was long considered a Kentucky lean.

Both can also be described as long on potential. Their coaches described them as heady, smart players who leave it all on the court and are leaders on their team. I like to see players like that at ND, because on-court leadership is a key ingredient for chemistry.

But I'd be more willing to reach a little in this class if ND hadn't already used eight scholarships in the previous two classes. I've always been a three-ride-per-class guy, with occasionally going to four if you come across a strong player who wants your program or you know you're going to have to replace an early departure. This will now be ND's third four-man class in a row.

Granted, the vast majority of those eight in the previous classes probably will be strong performers, so there's something to be said for building depth. But four players in this class leaves ND only one scholarship for next season. As was noted on the Pit, if either (a) we get the turnaround we're hoping for this season, or (b) the season is not a success and changes are made, ND is in a poor position to reap any short-term benefits from that via scholarships. The one-man class with Kurz has created a scholarship imbalance that is best corrected over the course of multiple seasons. Now, unless we lose players to the League or other causes (which I never like to see), it'll remain to be fixed.

The last time we had a scholarship imbalance, it was after Digger's last class -- a five-player group, out of which only Billy Taylor scored more than 500 points in his career -- that came right before the NCAA reduction in maximum scholarships from 15 to 13. This left John MacLeod with only four rides to give in his first two seasons, which cost us Raef LaFrentz and a couple other strong players.

I believe, regardless of what happens this season, ND is going to be attracting attention, and I would hate to see them caught in a numbers game. We'll have to see how it plays out.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Obviously, you don't have any experience...

(to avoid the inevitable confusion, if you don't get the joke behind the entry title, realize you're missing something and don't bother complaining about it)

Aside of giving me a chance to write (which I usually find theraputic), one of the biggest benefits of blogging for me is the opportunity to organize my thoughts better than message board posting usually allows. Blog entries have a little more permanence, and I can use that permanence to address issues I think are important.

Over the past few months, those issues have ranged from philosophical topics like VM performances on campus and The DaVinci Codes to athletic situations like the Joyce Center and former ND football coaches.

This time, though, I'm going to talk about me, which I usually try to avoid because of the risk of it being an uninteresting topic. Specifically, I want to address my philosophies of website operation with special attention towards The Pit.

If you've read a couple of the other boards lately, some folks aren't too fond of those philosophies. Let's review my favorite accusations via quotes from various emails over the past year or two.

You censor your site. Anyone who is critical of Mike Brey gets their posts deleted or gets banned. You hate free speech.

Coffey has to suck up to Brey to get access to the program. Brey wrote the foreword for his book and Coffey doesn't want him to leave.

Brey can't do anything wrong. You blame all the problems on the facilities.

Anyone who doesn't toe the line and talk nice about Mike Brey gets beaten up by the mob on the Pit and then kicked out.

So fine, as Dave Kovic would say, let's talk about it.

Do I think Mike Brey is a good man? Absolutely. In a profession featuring more than its fair share of assholes, it's refreshing in a way to see a good person try to succeed. I make no apologies for liking him or wanting him to have success.

Do I think Mike Brey can and has made mistakes? Also absolutely. No philosophies are bulletproof, and I think in some cases poor decisions were made. And as I've said in just about every entry and post I've made on the topic, the questions about facilities are not tied to the questions about coaching. Facilities don't help on defense or run a good play out of a timeout or give us any point bonuses in games. The day-to-day execution of the team is the responsibility of the coaches and always has been.

Do I kick people out for complaining about the program? Not as much now as I used to.

I'll happily cop to having had a quick trigger finger in MB's first couple of years. After being tortured for a decade watching ND basketball teams try but not get to where they needed (or I wanted them) to be, I considered people who were bitching during seasons that featured NCAA tournament runs to be way way too premature and knee-jerk. I didn't feel like reading stuff like that after suffering through the 1990s, and the quickest route was to just launch the perpetrators because I don't have all day to read the boards.

(Slight tangent: In other words, the same philosophy I use today regarding people who bitch about Charlie Weis. We just finished 10 years of excruciating football, and now we have a guy who understands the program and is having early success on the field. Yet we still have people who complain we're not getting the five-star recruits fast enough or the defense is giving up 20 points a game when it should be 10 or whatever. It's incredibly annoying to have to read, and as a moderator of the site, I don't have the option of ignoring it. Yes, it might turn out to be a problem, but for crying out loud, can we be happy for a season or two? As far as I can tell, that doesn't mean I'm in Charlie Weis' pocket. It would be rather interesting if it meant I were, seeing as I've only spoken to the man once for about 30 seconds.)

Additionally, there was a small but vociferous group who, for whatever reason, decided right after MB was hired that they didn't like him. Maybe he should have had the team wear bandanas to practice. We weren't even halfway through the first season and they were quickly pointing out every shortcoming, no matter how minor. I have no time for anyone who is going to make a judgement that quickly, and again, I lack the time and patience to tolerate it long-term. So they got bounced.

That may have set a bad precedent for me as the seasons progressed. Given the benefit of hindsight, I identified cases where I may have allowed that experience to color some of my decisions. In those cases, the people got reinstated. Some are still with us, some are not.

In some other cases, I allowed people who had been launched that I didn't feel deserved reinstatement the chance to prove their own cases on the merits, giving them new handles and then staying out of the way. In a couple of cases, it worked out. In a couple others, it didn't.

Some who may have been prematurely launched validated the decision after the fact by acting like tools via email and other message boards. Those people won't be missed.

So where are we now? Three years of improving results have been followed by three years where the team has fallen short, seemingly by a larger margin every season. Complaints I didn't consider logical three years ago after a Sweet 16 appearance are much more logical now. Shortcomings with a couple of seasons of data to back them up make for more logical and calm discussions. If some people consider that "relaxing censorship", that's on them.

As I said, I like Mike Brey and I want him to succeed at ND because I'm naturally drawn to wanting good things for good people. But if this season doesn't work out and/or the ND administration decides they want change, I'm not going to shut the site down. I'll keep doing what I've always done -- try to provide a place where people enjoy talking about ND basketball and pass along whatever info and news happens to come my way. I'm not going to grease up the frisbee because I thought we'd go farther these past few seasons than we did. If I knew everything, I sure as hell wouldn't waste my time here.

The program is bigger than me or MB or Kevin White or JAG or Phil Purcell or any other individual person associated with it (remotely or otherwise). And it'll continue after this season no matter what happens. So I will as well.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

We're Number ... 39?

Street and Smith's, one of my favorite prognostication publications before the advent of knowledgeable Internet sites, is coming out with a special issue ranking the top 100 NCAA Division 1 basketball programs of all time.

According to, S&S used "15 categories to determine the top 100, including NCAA and NIT appearances and wins, conference championships and tournament championships, graduation rates, all-time winning percentages, and NBA first-round draft picks." I understand most of them, but find the conference/tourney championships (other than NCAA) specious, and NBA first-round picks misleading. But the list has to go by something, so I can accept the panel's methodology.

This list is obviously for fun and discussion, as most lists of this type are. So let's have a fun discussion while running down the top 50.

1) Kentucky
3) North Carolina
4) Kansas
5) Duke

No surprises so far. Each of these programs has a long history of excellence and has won numerous national titles over the years.

Two things I find interesting here:

1) If memory serves, going into the 1990-91 season, the one that began the Decade of Dereliction of Duty, Notre Dame was third in NCAA appearances behind only Kentucky and North Carolina. I can't help but wonder if ND would be higher on the list had the Decade not happened.

2) Every one of these programs has a major practice (and, in some cases) venue facility upgrade to their credit, either in progress or in the recent past. If these programs find it necessary, it underscores the importance of not only doing it but also doing it right.

And yes, I realize only one of those five schools -- UCLA -- has a semi-decent football program to go along with basketball. But as much as people like to point out Duke football when talking about the relative merits of ND basketball vs. football, it's UCLA football that I believe should represent our minimum standard. The expectations are high, the support is strong, and the program has done some pretty good things over the years while laboring in the shadow of its more-famous brother.

6) Indiana
7) Louisville
8) Arkansas
9) UConn
10) Cincinnati

Now we start getting a little shaky. Indiana, sure -- success under multiple coaches, even bad ones. Louisville, OK. Arkansas? They're top 15 in win percentage but not in the top 20 in wins. And let's not discuss graduation rates. UConn? In the last 15 years, OK, but if this is an all-time list, I think they're a little high. Ditto Cincinnati.

This group is at least four-for-five on the facilities list, too ... I'm not sure what Arkansas has, I suppose I'll look it up at some point.

11) Utah
12) Ohio State
13) Oklahoma State
14) Arizona
15) Syracuse

Now the "football schools" start to appear. Ohio State is another good example of where ND basketball should be -- they're probably one of the biggest "football schools" out there, and yet here they are at #12.


16) Penn
17) NCState
18) St. John's
19) Princeton
20) Temple

Here's where we start getting into the "what the hell are these schools doing ranked ahead of ND" section. I understand St. John's tradition, and Penn and Princeton have been an Ivy powerhouse for long and long. I suppose a case could be made for Temple, although a shaky one. But North Carolina State? There is no reason ND basketball should be in a state where the Wolfpack rank higher on a list like this.

21) Georgetown
22) Kansas State
23) Texas
24) Oklahoma
25) Michigan State

Three "football schools" in here, two of which are probably the biggest in the category (and have pretty kick-ass facilities to boot). They do it. Why can't ND?

Again, the list skews recent, as evidenced by Texas and Oklahoma.

And again, more entries in the "what the hell" category in Kansas State and Michigan State.

Edit: Let me clarify here -- the "what the hell" category doesn't mean Notre Dame has accomplished more than the programs in that category. It means a well-run Notre Dame basketball program has the potential for and should be capable of a lot more than what those programs should be able to accomplish at their highest level.

26) Michigan
27) Illinois
28) UNLV
29) San Francisco
30) Purdue

That ND has not appeared on the list ahead of most of these schools is, frankly, embarrassing to me. Michigan? The poorest-run, biggest waste-of-resources basketball program in Division 1? Illinois? A UNLV program that has Jerry Tarkanian and little else? A program like San Francisco that actually shut down for a couple of seasons along the way? It's a testament to the inadequate leadership of the ND program since the mid 1990's.

At least Purdue is a basketball school. They should probably be embarrassed they're behind those four as well.

31) Western Kentucky
32) Villanova
33) Marquette
34) West Virginia
35) Maryland

Cripes, a mid-major. The embarrassment grows.

But again, we're skewing recent here. Maybe the methodology needs some tweaks after all.

36) BYU
37) Houston
38) Missouri
39) Notre Dame
40) Iowa

Ah, there we are, in the midst of powerhouse programs. Yikes.

41) Cal
42) Wyoming
43) St. Joseph's
44) Stanford
45) Creighton
46) Wake Forest
47) Miami (Ohio)
48) Xavier
49) UTEP
50) LSU

I started this conversation saying it would be fun. Suddenly, it's not so fun.

If I were John Affleck-Graves, I would take this list and thumbtack it to my wall where I would have to look at it every day. Every day, I'd see some of the programs ranked ahead of ND like Arkansas, Western Kentucky and BYU, which are dwarfed by ND's financial capabilities. Every day, I'd see some of the programs ranked ahead of ND like Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Oklahoma, which have used football success to jump-start a strong basketball program. Every day, I'd see some of the programs ranked ahead of ND like Michigan and San Francisco, which should not be blueprints for anyone building a decent program and yet appear ahead of the Fighting Irish.

That list would remind me of how this once-strong program was neglected for more than 10 years. That list would remind me of the work that needs to be done to not only overcome that neglect but also to put ND basketball back where it belongs. That list would remind me the positive momentum generated with the facilities announcement must be continued and strengthened.

It would remind me it's time to get to work.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Let Me Check My Calendar

Having received the blessing of the Student Athletic committee and the Big East (who probably had to wait on ESPN), ND released the men's basketball schedule for 2006-07 today.

Things to like and things to not. Amongst the likes:
  • Nine national TV appearances, including a return to ABC for a national game against Marquette in February. Given the results of the last couple of seasons, I'm very happy with nine because I thought we'd get less. We're not yet in the new BE deal, where every hoops game will be televised in some capacity, so the large number of TBA's on the times (especially those at home) give me hope there'll be a couple more announced before everything is complete.
  • A weekend trip to South Florida in February. While that creates a quandary for me, since my parents were planning a trip down at the end of March, it's one I'll live with. I may have to bite the bullet and go twice. I lead a difficult life.
  • Lehigh in the Joyce Center. Irish alum Billy Taylor has been making a name for himself out East, and I know he's been looking for the opportunity to come back into the JC and show his alma mater what he's learned.
  • Butler anywhere. The second-most-played opponent in Irish history returns to the schedule for the first time in over a decade. I'd like to see them more often, outside of pre-season events.
  • The PNIT. Thanks to the blow-up of the two-in-four rule, expect to see the Fighting Irish doing a pre-season gig almost every season. Next year, it'll be in the USVI, and then Maui the year after that. I'm saving my pennies for a 2008 luau, myself.
But there's not-to-likes as well:
  • SOS (literally). As I feared, this schedule is cupcake-heavy. Elon, IPFW and Army aren't going to help the RPI. Throw in Winston-Salem State, making the migration to Division 1 currently, and this is a slate almost guaranteed to not only not impress the NCAA selection committee in March but also possibly give it an incentive to choose against the Fighting Irish when the time comes.
  • Too many home games. As I noted an entry or two back, this kind of schedule is a Digger Phelps fantasy come true. The first game ND plays on an opponent's campus isn't until January 17th when they go to Philly to face Villanova. Maryland and Butler could be considered "road neutral" games given the proximity to the opponent's campus, but the bottom line is a lack of tempering in the out-of-conference portion. Although I see the wisdom in allowing a young team to gel, and I realize if ND gets out of Indianapolis they'll get quality games at the PNIT, I don't think a road challenge in December -- over the holidays, perhaps -- would have been a bad idea, especially with eight home games over the Christmas break when the student portion of the home-court advantage won't be around.
  • Speaking of which, the Villanova game. I can't remember the last time we played the Wildcats in Philly that the game wasn't at the Spectrum or the Wachovia Center (or whatever those venues are being called these days). I would hope they'd do it at the Palestra for tradition's sake. But the Pavilion? I'm hoping against hope it's because 'Nova wanted more of a home court advantage -- games at the pro arenas tend to bring out the Subway Alumni. I'd hate to think it was a reflection on recent results.
  • The slow finish. ND plays only one game in the 11 days that precede the BET -- a road game at Rutgers. Bad timing for the bye week. If things go south, it might be a very long two weeks for Irish fans.
Something tells me the schedule is going to be a major topic of conversation down the stretch. Hopefully that discussion won't involve too much invective. I fear it might.


Monday, August 21, 2006

No Tickee, No Washee

The season ticket renewal finally arrived. And well-timed to boot -- the missus and I had just been discussing whether or not we wanted to renew since my daughter can't handle the games and it's more difficult to get to South Bend during the week these days. But we're still hoping the long-awaited renovations end up giving us a chairback seat in the current Section 110, so it's at least one more year of ducats for us.

A couple of interesting things in the renewal packet this year.

Meet the team, meet the team, step right up and greet the team. Season ticket holders will have an opportunity to attend a free dinner and open practice in mid-October, date TBD. Called the "Meet The Team Dinner", it promises "up close and personal access to the Notre Dame basketball players and coaching staff" and is sponsored by Famous Dave's BBQ. While it isn't the Midnight Madness I wanted, it's certainly a step in the right direction and shows good thinking for all involved.

As usual, however, I have a suggestion: make the dinner season ticket holders only, but open the practice to the students as well and really talk it up in the dorms (provided the event is not during Fall Break). It'd be good to get the players' classmates out early and interested.

The price is right. Ticket prices will stay the same this season, which is good. The check I'll be writing -- or, to be more precise, the online form I'll be filling out -- will be more, however, because there'll be 20 home games this season. That has to be close to the record. I don't think Digger in his Fairfield-and-Marist-fueled wildest dreams ever got to 20.

But that leads me to...

The games. Oy, the games.

The Big East slate is decent, relatively speaking. Louisville is expected to do well while showcasing a lot of young talent. Ditto Marquette. Villanova is a question mark, but if the game is late in the season, it could provide excitement. And DePaul is always a tradition-laden excellent affair no matter how their team is expected to be. But not a lot else to get excited about on the other half. South Florida, Providence, and Seton Hall aren't expected to do much, while West Virginia replaces their top seven scorers from last year and something like 90 percent of their floor minutes. And Connecticut and Pittsburgh, two teams considered to be among the front-runners for the title, aren't on the schedule at all.

Then there's the non-conference slate. 20 home games minus eight in the conference leaves 12. Take out the two exhibitions and that leaves us 10, and since ND can play only 12 non-conference games total, that's 10 of 12 games at the Joyce Center. Alabama and IPFW will conclude their game contracts, while Portland and Winston-Salem State (recently arrived in D1) are scheduled to come in, probably for one-game contracts.

The remaining six games are TBD. One would hope considering the relatively watered-down BE slate and the presence of RPI-killers like IPFW and WSS on the non-conference list, they'd have some quality programs on them. But the Integer, the ACC, and most of the SEC schools have already released their schedules, and the Irish aren't on them.

I realize the conference is going to 18 games next year and multi-year contracts might be tough right now. I also realize if the Irish get past Butler in Indianapolis, they'll most likely get a game against the Hoosiers, with more quality games in NYC should they overcome Indiana.

But I'll say this now: six "bought" one-timer games is not the way to go here, so I hope that's not what we're going to see. First, the season ticket base isn't going to get emotionally erect over watching Patriot League patsies in the December cold. Second, a schedule this heavy on the cupcakes leaves ND with a razor-thin margin come Selection Sunday. The committee will no doubt be looking to hold the puff piece parade against the Irish, and one misstep could give them that opportunity. Trying to schedule an NCAA appearance seldom works.

I'm hoping for a surprise like UCLA or Arizona or Washington out of the Pac10, or Xavier or Dayton or Creighton, more traditional opponents who are expected to have strong seasons. If at least two of the six come from a group like that, it would go a long way towards stabilizing the SOS component of the RPI, which can only help a Notre Dame team looking to break a three-season NCAA-free skid, and would contribute to an overall-interesting home schedule.

But a steady diet of the Patriot League or America East is bound to give the Irish indigestion in March.