Monday, March 15, 2010

Regular Season Year in Review (Part II)

Remember this post from last week? Here are Matt's responses to the same questions:

1. There have been multiple nationally televised Big East conference games where the lower bowl of the student section wasn't even close to full. To be perfectly blunt, it seems that the majority of the student body couldn't care less about the basketball team. You're a current student. Is the indifference that comes through on TV--and the message boards--as bad as it seems?

As much as I'd love to still be a student I'm not. I will now pull out my old student ID, stare at it, and silently sob. But for the record I think the student body should be ashamed of their showing this year.

2. Mike Brey deserves applause for getting Cooley, Scott, and Broghammer to contribute when Harangody went down... but does he deserve equal criticism for not utilizing them more at an earlier point in the season?

He absolutely does. I don't understand why he's so slow to move toward putting in younger players who can make a contribution if even it's limited. It happened with Russell Carter a couple years back, it happened with Nash, and it happened this year with Cooley and Scott. To me there is little to no upside having Jonathan Peoples on the court yet all year he ate up minutes while Scott and (even more so) Cooley collected splinters on the bench. Everyone--especially the media--has short-term memory though and the only thing people will talk about is how Brey brought the team out of the ashes when his superstar went down. Those that watched all season will realize he was responsible for being in the ashes in the first place.

Perhaps the thing that blows my mind the most is the fact that it took a shade under ten years for Brey to adjust to an effective strategy that neutralizes the athleticism of elite Big East teams. He's cried about how we can't possibly match up with the top tier of teams in the conference yet did little or nothing to adjust until three weeks ago. Now he's in the middle of a month-long coaching clinic where we might—HUGE, HUUUUUGE might--be on the verge of taking the leap to the next level. It's beyond baffling. When I try to understand it my nose starts to bleed.

3. Who is your MVP of the regular season?

I'm really torn. Ben Hansbrough blew away the expectations I had for him coming in to this season, but when push comes to shove I have to go with Tory Jackson. He's been a gutsy performer all year who was a big part of keeping the high-octane attack going for the first part of the season and an even larger part in making the adjustment to a slow, grind it out attack a smooth one. He's a sparkplug and when Brey gushes about him it's totally deserved. Tory really helped the team stay afloat when they could have closed up shop after Harangody's injury

4. In your eyes what was the season's biggest disappointment?

Uttering this on ESPN would lead to my public crucifixion, but honestly it's Luke Harangody. I'm of the opinion he got terrible advice when it came to what he needed to do this season to prove he could make it in the NBA. Luke had shown over the course of his first three seasons that he could be an extremely effective scorer on the interior. What he needed to do this year was prove he could man up and be more than a human turnstile on defense while continuing to be a Barkley-esque force on the boards despite being a little on the short side (you can call this the DeJuan Blair Strategy). Instead he went the route of trying to prove he could be a perimeter threat. The result was a softer Luke Harangody that hovered around the three point line Luke Zeller style and launched twice as many threes this year as he did last year.

To say we're a better team without Luke is inaccurate, but I commented a couple weeks ago that if there was a way I could have freshman year Luke instead of senior year Luke down the stretch I'd make that trade in a heartbeat. Harangody was much more raw then, but he went down low and punished people with his physicality. He used to knock teeth out, he was like the big kid who didn't know his own strength and hurt all his little friends. I blame Brey a lot for enabling him to take on this new approach at the expense of the team's success.

Fortunately, since he's returned from his injury it seems like he's snapped back into freshman year mode at least a little bit. He attempted zero threes in his first two games back—the only two games all year he didn't launch one. Perhaps he's finally seen the light. Or maybe Brey flatout demanded he see the light. I don't really care which it was, but I hope he embraces his new role because we'd become a FAR more dangerous team. Until we confirm that though I'll still label him with the unsavory title of biggest disappointment.

5. How did this season play out in terms of your preseason expectations?

Before the season I predicted we'd be living on the bubble which means we're right about in line with what I thought. It's been a roller coaster season but it appears we're peaking at just the right time. If we get the right draw (please for the love of God throw us in a 7-10 game with Purdue as the 2 seed in our pod) we can do some serious damage, which would far surpass my preseason expectations.

6. Let's take a small lead of faith and say the Irish sneak in the Big Dance. What's their ceiling when they arrive?

Well this isn't a leap of faith anymore. Their ceiling is based 100% on the draw they receive. If they land in the 8-9 game and have to match up against Kansas or Kentucky then the buck will stop there (see: ND-Arizona Sweet 16 game from '03). If we're in the 7-10 spot and find a weak 2 seed then we can start to dream big (Elite 8 isn't likely, but not totally unreasonable). It's just a matter of how the deck breaks. Check back on Sunday night and I'll tell you exactly what our ceiling is.

7. Nearly ten years are in the books of the Mike Brey era... do you believe he's the guy who takes Notre Dame to the next level?

As recently as three weeks ago I would've answered with a resounding NO, but I'm granting him one last reprieve. The reinvention of his squad has been a beautiful thing to watch and it's the most striking evidence as to why he's held in such high regard by colleagues. My decision as to whether he's the guy to take us to the next level will not be determined in the NCAA tournament; rather, it will come this offseason when Brey will be faced with the choice of talking his team down or embracing the challenge of being the hunted. I really think next year's squad has a lot of potential and thanks to this late surge of success it won't be under the radar like he hoped it would be. If he spends the entire offseason campaigning to avoid the "TV Schedule" like he did during the '08-'09 season then it'll prove to me he's not the guy. Should he go the other route then maybe there's hope.

8. What will be your lasting memory of the 09-10 season?

Boy has this changed over the last few weeks. It was going to be Harangody's de-evolution at the expense of the team's success, but now it will forever be how the team rallied after Harangody's injury and played itself back from miles off the bubble to potential middle seed in the tournament. No matter what happens in the Big Dance I'll vividly remember the fantastic stretch of basketball we played to end the season.


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Fred Benson said...

'Gody had a 'subpar' season, but 22 ppg/9 rpg is still very impressive. Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated (3/17/08) said that 'Gody was the most prolific player in Notre Dame basketball history. And I heard the Irish/WVU game on Friday, and Jack Nolan said that this senior class ('Gody, Tory, Jonathan Peoples and Tim Andree) were the winningest class in Fighting Irish hoops history, with 93 wins in these four seasons. Let's hope Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson become NBA All-Stars by 2015! Go Irish, beat Monarchs!