Notre Dame always has a team that can beat anyone on any given night. They also always have a team that underachieves on a regular basis when it comes to tourney time. After losing alpha dog Luke Harangody from last year’s squad, the Irish have overachieved this season and ascended to a #9 ranking in this week’s poll. Have the Irish caught people off-guard or are they the type of team you might want to think about penciling into your Elite 8’s or Final 4’s?
There are a few coaches in the country that I just simply can not trust. Rick Barnes, Bruce Weber and John Calipari come to mind quickly. They are the type of guys that have had success with their respective teams, bring in lottery-type talent, get to the second weekend of the tourney on occasion, and have been to at least one Final Four to keep their fans happy (Calipari’s is not in the record books, but that’s a whole new can of worms). Despite their success, I just feel like they leave something to desire, falling short of expectations which sometimes are undeservedly national title or bust. Although he hasn’t had near the talent of the aforementioned three, I would throw Mike Brey into that group. If my team is in the final 2 minutes and one of those 4 is patrolling the sideline, I am pacing around and pulling my hair out due to lack of confidence. All four have proven my theory time and time again.
This year’s Irish team has a strange assembly that creates match-up problems for the opposition. Aside from Psycho T’s little bro Ben Hansbrough who is a 6-3 deadly shooter averaging 17 PPG, the Irish don’t have another starter under 6-8 and all 5 are seniors. All of them can handle the ball, shoot and defend (for the most part). Tim Abromitis is second-in-command when it comes to putting the ball in the hoop, putting up just shy of 15 a game and making life miserable for opposing power forwards. Tyrone Nash, Scott Martin and Carleton Scott round out a starting 5 where no one shoots under 43%. By my calculations, the Irish have 10 wins against possible tourney teams and every loss they have suffered is at the hands of a team vying for a spot in March. Their “worst loss” was to Marquette, who are 66th in the latest RPI.
Brey’s squad is sitting in a place where they didn’t think they would be coming into a season where they lost one of the best players in their program’s history, second in the Big East with and a top 10 ranking with only 2+ weeks left in the regular season.
All that added up sounds like a recipe for success. Right?
Then you look to the sideline and see Mike Brey and his mock-turtlenecks that rarely match the rest of his attire with his greasy slicked-back hair looking rather uncomfortable on the bench. The Irish have had some success under Brey, but in his 10+ years his teams have made the dance six times and won 2 games only once. In 4 years with Harangody, Notre Dame won one game in the tourney and were upset by a double digit seed twice (Old Dominion ’10, Winthrop ’07). I’m aware the best of coaches from Bob Knight to Coach K have had hiccups in March, but they also have national titles and multiple Final 4’s under their belt. Brey has only sniffed the Sweet 16 once.
We all know Notre Dame will always be considered a football school and anything they do in hoops is just polish on the Golden Dome. Hell, they let Digger Phelps stay for 10 extra years of mediocrity just because he snapped UCLA’s 88-game winning streak. All that being known, I refuse to think this year is any different from the past. History repeats itself.
Brey’s Irish are staring a #2 and possibly even a #1 seed in the tourney should they not crap the bed in their final 4 games (@Providence, Seton Hall, Nova, @UCONN) and make a semifinal run at MSG. On paper, they will look like the type of team you could go ahead and put into the second weekend. However, their lack of depth outside of their starting 5 seniors and lack of big-game experience on the sideline will prove costly if confronted by a team that meets their match.
The Irish are a good team. Fun to watch. Full of seniors. Nonetheless, the fact they are ranked in the top 10 is directly attributed to how wide-open the field in college hoops is this season along with a little bit of luck. I might be proven wrong, but until Brey shows me he can win a big tourney game in March, I’m not jumping on the band-wagon quite yet.