Greetings, Irish fans. As you've probabably figured out by now, this is my first post. I recently saw the Domer Sports Report was looking for writers and jumped at the chance to write about the teams I have been following since I can remember. First, a little about me. I have been a sports fanatic my whole life. I have especially been keen on the Fighting Irish. I played football through high school and basketball through two years of college. I am currently a high school basketball coach. I plan on posting for both football and basketball, but will probably lean more to the basketball side due to my better understanding of the game.
Enough about me, lets get started.
With the football season beginning it's second half and upcoming games against some less-than-stellar competition, I figured I would take a look at the approaching basketball season. I have read all of the preview articles and see the same questions over and over. I wanted to take a different approach, so here are some questions I have leading up to the season.
Can the Irish be as good, if not better, without Gody?
If anyone has consistently read some of the work of Bill Simmons they more than likely have heard of The Ewing Theory. This theory goes back to when the New York Knicks seemed to play better without their star, Patrick Ewing, in the lineup. Late last season, when Luke Harangody was sidelined with an injury for five games, Notre Dame lost two straight games before proceeding to win three straight games without their star. This was the beginning of what turned out to be be a six game win streak that turned the Irish from barely on the bubble to an NCAA tournament team.
When the three game sequence was completed, my phone was abuzz with emails and text messages referencing the Ewing Theory and how much better the Irish were without their star, Gody. Being the domer that I am I quickly scoffed at all remarks and said they were just stepping up and playing better.
Was that the case? How did the Irish win without their star player? We won't know for sure until this year. Looking back, I don't think it was an addition by subtraction sort of deal (Notre Dame would win three more games with Gody in the lineup). In my personal opinion, I think players who weren't asked to do much before started realizing they could actually score, and maybe got a D1 scholarship for a reason. One of the reasons I think Notre Dame struggled with Gody in the lineup was the offense would become stagnant. After Harangody's breakout sophomore year it seemed as though the offense was give the ball to 44 and watch him go to work. I think you can looking at the 2008-09 season becoming a dissappointment for this very same reason.
Gody's injury forced other Irish players to be more aggressive on the offensive side of the ball. Carleton Scott, who left the team for a couple days and was said to be considering a transfer, became a a solid scorer and offensive rebounder. Tim Abromaitis stepped up his scoring and became the go-to-guy in crunch time. Tyron Nash became a physical presence on the boards and and in the post. Jack Cooley and Mike Broghammer stepped up and became viable options in the post, when called upon. Lastly, Tory Jackson and Ben Hansbrough were solid in the backcourt, taking care of the ball and hitting shots when needed.
With that being said, the biggest reason for the late season emergence of the Irish may have been Mike Brey. For years under Brey, Notre Dame has been all about up-tempo, high scoring offense, and maybe play a little defense here and there. (Sounds like recent years of Irish football, really) Brey slowed the pace down and instituted a "burn" offense The slow burn offense consisted of good ball movement and working the shot clock, making the defense work for 30 seconds or so before making their way back on offense.
While the "burn" may have benefitted the Irish greatly, Brey's best work may have come on the defensive side of the ball. I'm not sure Brey did anythng spectacularly different on defense, other than shifting his focus to it and realizing that they may need to stop someone to win meaningful games. The "burn" offense limited Notre Dame's defensive possessions, but I think you saw a much grittier defensive team that cared about getting stops.
So were the Irish better? Yes. Did it have anything to do with Gody being out? Probably only from a mental standpoint. Can the Irish be better this season? It really depends on the above factors. Will Scott and Abro continue to improve their scoring? Will the youngens in the frontcourt continue their progression? Will Brey finally learn that defense will win him more games? The answers to those questions will probably be big factors in how this season goes.
Will Mike Brey use his bench?
For any Irish basketball fan, one of the biggest complaints about the Brey tenure is his unwillingness to use his bench. Brey rarely goes more than seven or eight deep, and depends on his starters to log major minutes, which may be reason for some of the late-season collapses during his time in South Bend.
Last season, with Harangody's injury, Brey was forced to use his bench. Is it a coincidence that the winning streak started around that time? This year Brey has one of the most experienced and talented lineups we've seen in South Bend since the days of Matt Carroll, Chris Thomas, Danny Miller, Torin Francis, and Chris Quinn.
Abromaitis, Hansbrough, Nash, and Scott all started at some point last year. Joey Brooks, Cooley, and Broghammer all received meaningful minutes in spurts. If Scott Martin (sat out last year with injury) lives up to expectations he should be a quality contributor, if not a force, for the Irish. Mike Brey went as far as to call him the most talented offensive player he has coached. Brey also has high expectations for Eric Atkins, an incoming freshmen. Many expect Atkins to start at the point from day one.
The pieces are there, will Brey exit his comfort zone and decide to use more of his players?
Is Mike Brey the man for the job?
One reason I decided to start writing this blog was to have a place to vent, if need be. One of my favorite past times is talking ND sports with my mom. Over the last few years, my mom enjoys making fun of me because it seems as though I annually flip flop on my opinion of Brey.
Let me put my opinion into perspective. I am 25, I can only remember watching bits and pieces of the Digger Phelps era. I remember the doldrums of the John Mcleod era. I was there for the short-lived jubilation of what many thought was a resurgence under Matt Doherty. Lastly, I have been here for the up and down years of the Brey era.
I couldn't have asked for more from Brey's first three years: two 2nd round appearances, and a Sweet 16. I guess where I went wrong is I expected more. However, what I got was 3 straight NIT appearances. Not just NIT appearances, but NIT's with players like Chris Thomas, Torrin Francis, and Chris Quinn when many expected deep NCAA tourney runs from the Irish. The next two years, we returned the NCAAs with Harangody, Kurz, Jackson, and McAlarney leading the way. Once again, I expected more progress after this. What did we get? Another NIT appearance followed by another first round exit. This NIT appearance was especially frustrating, because the Irish once again had Final Four aspirations leading up to the season.
Brey seems to be at his best as an underdog. Looking back at most of his NCAA appearances not much was expected. When you look at his NIT years, much was expected from most of those squads. Is brey simply incapable of coaching with a target on his back? Or have those teams been overrated?
I like Mike Brey. As a person, he is one of the best in the business. As a coach, he is not bad by any means, (he has built Notre Dame into one of the more successful Big East teams over the last 10 years), but is he the coach to get Notre Dame to the next level?
While negative at some points, I have been a big Brey supporter, mainly because I can remember the McLeod years vividly. He has done some great things for Notre Dame. I want Brey to succeed and take ND to the next level. Will this year be the year? I think they have some pieces in place to to be a potential second weekend team in the NCAAs. Whether the Irish will do something with their season or not will depend heavily on Brey.