ESPN trotted out an interesting analysis the other day ranking the most "prestigious" basketball programs in the country since March Madness expanded to 64 teams. As I digested the first breakdown, I started thinking to myself, "Please please please don't tell me Notre Dame didn't crack this list." I realize the John McLeod Era was a plague upon the program, but there have been plenty of areas of merit. 11 20-win seasons. 11 trips to the Big Dance, including the Sweet 16 in '03. NIT runners-up in '92 and '00. Pat Garrity, Troy Murphy and Luke "The Mongoose" Harangody all garnering All-American status. 2000-2001 Big East West Division champs. Surely this was enough to look past 6 moribund seasons of sub .500 ball.
When I saw that they had, in fact, ranked 51-300, I felt more queasy that ND's step-child program would find themselves on the scrap heap. I scanned the first twenty or so names and was happy/surprised to see the Irish not mentioned. A glimmer of hope flashed. The fleeting moment passed upon seeing Notre Dame next to "T-86." What kind of sick joke is this?! Tied with Mississippi State, ranked directly behind such "prestigious" programs as South Alabama, East Tennessee, Ball State, Pepperdine, Bucknell, Winthrop, Old Dominion, Montana, and Louisiana Tech. Read that list again and tell me your stomach doesn't churn and make you want to hurl.
Let me get this straight ESPN. In the last 24 years, a school that plays a national schedule in the premier basketball conference in the country, a school that has had four 1st and 2nd team All-Americans and a slew of NBA players, a school that has occupied space in the media Top 25 polls throughout, falls behind East Tennessee in its "prestige" rankings. No offense, but I find that system flawed.
Have the Irish consistently crapped the bed in the Big East Tourney? To the point where they now wear Depends, yes. Have they disappointed with 1st and 2nd round losses in The Dance to beatable teams? Like a hand-knit Christmas sweater from your aunt. Washington State in '08, Winthrop in '07, Mississippi in '01 in recent memory. And dating back to the beginning of this time frame, SMU ('88) and Arkansas Little-Rock ('86) bested the underachieving Irish. Have they had highly touted recruits turn their value upside down? Without question, Chris Thomas and Torin Francis became as valuable to the team's success as a turd sandwich in a lunch-room trade.
But it's not just the Irish lowball ranking that irks me to no end. Granted, the good people who concocted this ranking system decided to be fair across the board and award points for specific benchmarks, regardless of the competition these benchmarks were accomplished against. It's a pretty cool, in-depth look at who's done what for us recently in basketball. But there are some egregious misnomers created by this inexact science.
Murray State clocks in at #30. Really??? I couldn't name you a single player or recall any hype related to Murray State in the last 20 years. Yet according to the points system, winning the vaunted Ohio Valley conference 22 times (regular season and tournament) weighs more than Villanova (#31) winning a title, making two Elite Eights, and having some of the best players in the country don a Wildcats uniform. Something clearly is getting lost in the addition.
College of Charleston (#50) and Chattanooga (#48) dominate weak conferences year in and year out, thus inflating their 20-win seasons exponentially. Please tell me how either of these deserve to be ranked above Marquette (#61) or Boston College (#71)?
ESPN is doing a good job of dragging this out over 5 days, so I'm curious to see how the top 20 shakes down according to their flawed point system. The usual suspects will be in the top spots, but in what order? If ESPN conducts this ranking in another 20 years, I sincerely hope that the Irish will lay claim to a top 30 ranking. The program is destined for a prolonged string of competitive, 20-win squads. They need a transcendent team to make a deep run and become as storied as the '78 Final Four squad. Could this year's team fit that description? Football season first, but, as sacrilegious as it may sound, I'm definitely more excited for the exploits of Brey's ballers than Weis' warriors.
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