Sunday, March 14, 2010

Two Dudes, One Post: Guest Edition - Part II

The extended Two Dudes Q&A with Black and Green Irish Men's Basketball Report rolls on today. For Part I click here.

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?

We Never Graduate: 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. For the record I think the student body should be ashamed of their showing this year, but that’s a rant for another day.

Black and Green: The student support has been up and down this year. Obviously ND never has the kind of support seen at universities where basketball is king, but we typically can get a much better turnout than has been the case in several of the games this year. While there has been an uptick recently (the student section was pretty full for the UCONN game), Sunday afternoon contests against South Florida and St. John's barely drew anyone.

I think the way last season ended and this season began has been the number one factor behind our low student attendance. With the football team struggling and Coach Brey's squad ranked in the top-ten, basketball was king on campus for the first couple of months of the 2008-09 season. The College Gameday experience and subsequent support for the Irish against
Connecticut that January was one of the highlights of my basketball watching career. At the time, I felt that the program could carry that momentum and the construction of a new arena into a permanent place amongst the college basketball elite.

Unfortunately, that opportunity was wasted. The UCONN game just became loss number three of a seven game slide and even a huge win over
Louisville and deep NIT run were not enough to keep the students interested. The football team may have sucked again this year, but the hiring of Brian Kelly has kept students looking forward to next fall instead of focusing on the present.

With last year's letdown still a recent memory and nonconference losses to Northwestern and Loyola Marymount seemingly dooming the season from the start, it's been hard for anyone to get excited about a bubble program. The recent success has helped turned things around in the students' minds a lot, but it has come too late to display a consistent increase in attendance.

I think much of the internet bashing of students has been a bit unfair. It's a consistent topic for the message boards, but I haven't really addressed it too much on the blog. Yes, student support is too low and we need to see a change in the way the student body views the basketball program. However, there are so many factors involved: hangover from yet another frustrating football season, terrible
South Bend weather, cupcake non-conference opponents, the sheer number of home games. Without a good team to watch (a Sweet Sixteen contender), the students just aren't going to put in the effort to follow the program like they do for football. That's not an excuse, it's just a fact we have to deal with.

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

WNG: 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 (for a preview see the 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.

B&G: Again, I really need to stop predicting this team's behavior. With the right draw and the current momentum, I could really see them making it to the second weekend. However, this luck could play itself out very quickly. Regardless it will be interesting to watch.

3. 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?

WNG: 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.

B&G: Absolutely. As always, this help has been better late than never, but there is no reason why we could not have been playing Scott on a more consistent basis all year and giving Cooley/Broghammer at least five minutes per game. Scott has really come into his own recently and developed into the kind of athletic rebounder that the program has needed for years. His offensive development has been surprising, as he seemed to struggle with the ball at the start of the year, but could have come even sooner with a bit of game experience.

We could have used a big man off the bench all season and there is no excuse for why Coach Brey would have been willing to burn redshirts on two of his freshman bigs in meaningless contests without giving them a chance to spell Harangody in short stretches during the Big East season. Gody's injury forced him to open up the rotation a bit and we were able to see that these guys actually do have a bit of talent.

4. 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?

WNG: 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.

B&G: No, I really don't. I like Mike Brey a lot as a person and still think he is a very good coach, but my patience finally wore out on him this season. Unfortunately, I have no idea who the right guy could be. Is it Fran McCaffery? I like what he's done at Siena, but it is hard to say definitively that he would be an improvement over Brey.

Earlier in the year, I supported a coaching change if only to breathe new life into the program. Now however, that would be a much harder sell. There simply is not a Brian Kelly-type coach (or better) available for the hoops program. Any new blood would involve a lot of risk. If Brey continues to make the Big Dance at the current rate, he's going to be retained. I don't think that is the right mentality for the program, but I really don't know if there is anyone out there who can bring about the success we should strive for under the current conditions.

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