When one compares the current squad to last year's team, the immediate reaction is to say that Rob Kurz's departure hurt more than we thought it would. That is absolutely true. However, I would draw different conclusions from the loss of Kurz than many.
First of all, there is (as always) a desire to place some kind of subjective label to this season. Are we "better" than last year? Certainly not, as neither the record nor the statistics bear that out. Of course the immediate assumption, therefore, is that we most be worse. I don't necessarily agree with that sentiment. Stay with me for a second as I try to explain.
Last year's team would not have finished third in the current Big East structure. The league is vastly improved from top to bottom. Last season, we only faced five ranked teams a total of six times in conference play and just one was in the top ten (a 19 point loss to Georgetown). This year, we have already played four top ten opponents (at the time of the game), with three on the way. It's fair to guess that a lineup with Kurz would have had similar trouble.
With a additional year of development, Luke Harangody has added 4.6 points and 2.7 rebounds a game. He has forced more shots this season, but the jumper seems much more polished. No longer is he getting shut down to 15 or fewer points (as he was five times last year). While he snuck up on some teams last year, Harangody has developed into such a fine player that he can find ways to succeed even with a target on his back (as the reigning Big East Player of the Year).
If we're not worse (due to Harangody playing above the level of last season) and we're not better (due to Kurz's departure), what are we? Far more inconsistent. Without Kurz's steady 7 rebound a game production, our second chances are almost all gone, putting an emphasis on steady outside shooting. As seen the past two games, a hot night by Ryan Ayers would have made the difference between beating a top 10 team at home and snapping your winning streak.
Kurz brought a steady dose of double digit scoring as our third option on offense and a rock in the middle with a guaranteed few rebounds per game. While our upside is higher this season, it has become apparent that we are destined to wildly vary from a top ten offense capable of beating anyone to the kind of squad that struggles against St. John's on a nightly basis.
To win in basketball, you can have an All-American to lead your team (Harangody), a deadeye shooter to help out with the offensive balance (McAlarney), and a flashy point guard to run the show (Jackson), but the role players end up determining the fate of the season. Kurz was our rock last year and went unappreciated. Zeller and Ayers have shown the inability to provide a similar kind of security with consistent scoring and rebounding. To get the season back on track, we need to find that guy who can hold us in check, whether it is Luke Zeller becoming a decent post player in the waning moments of his career or the emergence of a guy like Ty Nash. Someone has to step up and be a consistent force.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
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If you want to make the case that "inconsistent" and "worse" go hand in hand, that's fair.
My point is that last year's team had a lower ceiling than the current squad. We have shown a lot more promise over the past three months, but also the ability to play far below an acceptable level.
How is our RPI and SOS so low? Forgetting a second the big east schedule, we played texas, unc, ohio state, and still have UCLA on the non-conference slate. I assumed this years schedule would help us on selection sunday.
RPI and SOS are very easily manipulated and it's something Coach Brey has either not learned how to do or doesn't care about. Thankfully the Committee is kind of phasing it out of the equation.
Take a look at the rankings and SOS from Ken Pomeroy (he calculates it a bit differently, but the idea is the same). Our nonconference schedule is ranked 305th, not what you would expect considering games against now #5 North Carolina, #11 Texas, and Ohio State (has fallen off a bit but still received a vote in the lastest AP poll).
Compare that to South Florida, a whose nonconference SOS was 65th, 244 places ahead of the Irish. The Bulls played no opponents receiving any votes in the most recent AP poll. What they did, however, was play a bunch of above average teams instead of the feast and famine approach Notre Dame took (five opponents ranked over 300).
Now, I would argue that the Irish had the tougher schedule. Neutral site contests against Texas, UNC, and Ohio State are far more difficult than all but one of South Florida's games. For our efforts, the result is not only a lower strength of schedule, but one 244 places lower.
That's 244 out of 344 Division 1 programs. Crazy.
The goal is to boost the RPI and SOS to make ourselves look better, we need to schedule more decent midmajor opponents instead of the Furmans and Savannah States of the world.
I have been saying for weeks now that it's become pretty clear how to shut us down, unfortunately. Our game is built on offense, not on defense, so we're more susceptible to a good game plan than, say, Louisville, which wins on defense.
Here's how to stop us: 1) Have a quick defender or two to keep an hand in MacAlarney's face at all times - doesn't need to be a great defender or greatly skilled player, just quick enough to keep up. Done, he's shut down. 2) Have a big guy or two who can bang around with Harangody, and hopefully trade fouls - again, doesn't need to be a great defender or greatly skilled player, just big and tough enough to man up. Not done - you're never going to shut down Harangody, but if you even hold him to 30 & 15, by himself he can't win games. Who else do we have to look to for even moderate consistent offensive production? Nobody. I love Jackson, but he doesn't create by himself. That's it. And you only have to slow us down offensively, because we're not going to slow you down offensively.
I hate it, and I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think I am. We're a two-trick pony, where one trick is easy to negate and the other is insufficient.
Tory is sometimes capable of creating offense by driving, but it wasn't working vs. UConn and Marquette, the former because they have a transcendent inside clean-up man in Thabeet and the latter because Marquette's guards are quick enough to defend him.
I don't know what's wrong with Hillesland, because it used to be that he could get some decent production by driving to the lane, and he had a good enough mid-range jump shot to use it if opponents overplayed the drive too much. But since DePaul, he's all but disappeared from the offense.
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