March 03, 2009

A Eulogy for the 2008-09 ND hoops team

Tough game last night. We hung around for awhile, but Villanova was just a better team in every way. I was really really impressed with Nova. Their guards are terrific, they really get out and guard you, they take care of the basketball, and Cunningham and Pena do enough for them on the inside to keep people honest. They are like the Rolls Royce version of Marquette. Reynolds is an outstanding guard. Definitely one of the best players in the league. I think Nova can make a deep run in the NCAAs with those guards and Cunningham. Isn't that essentially the same formula they used in the Ray/Lowry/Foye days?? If you have guards that can take over games and one big man who can handle things down low, you'll be a tough out in the NCAAs.

Gotta hand it to Jay Wright. Hard to believe that it was only a year ago when you could pretty much put Wright and Brey in the same category, but Wright has blown Brey away at this point. He's about to take Nova to their 5th straight NCAA tournament, they have been to three Sweet 16s in the last four years and may go again this year, and he has another big recruiting class coming in next year. Nova's profile continues to climb while ND's profile seems to be waning.

As for the Irish, I'll be honest in saying that I pretty much threw in the towel on this team after the Cincy game and have only been moderately interested in things since then, but I was at least somewhat excited for the game last night knowing that ND had one last chance to try to salvage the season. Now that the game is over, I'm ready to put this team to bed and start some discussions for next year. There's only so many times I can watch teams successfuly deploy the "shut down KMac" strategy before getting bored with this season.

McAlarney and Ayers had pretty good four year careers at ND, but I'm happy to see both of them moving on. McAlarney is one of the best shooters I have ever seen, but playing him 38 minutes a night when he's being tightly guarded and can't get his shot off did nothing for this team. McAlarney never added anything to his game besides the 3 point ball. Was he just not capable of trying to create something off the dribble like Falls and Quinn and Carroll were able to do during their senior years?? I think Hansborough will give ND a more well-rounded presence at the shooting guard position. He's stronger, better defensively, and more aggressive going to the bucket. I think he's got a little bit of Gerry McNamara in him. I'm assuming that Hansborough will be playing 35 minutes a game next year, but I can live with that if he's putting up a 14-5-4 or something along those lines.

As for Ayers, thanks for your contributions, but I think the program will survive the loss of Ryan Ayers. 35 minutes a night with 11 points, 2 rebounds and 1 assist is replaceable. I expect Scott Martin to put up those numbers at a bare minimum.

Hillesland and Zeller were pretty much non-factors, so I don't even consider them as losses. I was never real big on either of those guys.

He's still a work in progress, but I really like what Tyrone Nash gave to this team down the stretch. The guy had 11 rebounds last night in 25 minutes and 9 boards in 20 minutes against UConn. He can't shoot free throws and doesn't really know how to finish underneath, but isn't it likely that he'll add those elements to his game next year?? At least he's active. We badly need a physical presence underneath to relieve some of the burden from Harangody. It really bothers me that Brey didn't give him more minutes throughout the year. What a terrible job by Brey of managing his roster. You had guys like Hillesland and Zeller each getting 20-25 minutes a game and giving you zero productivity while a promising sophomore big man sits on the pine. By the time Nash started to get minutes, it was too late for him to really get into the flow or make an impact on this season.

Am I crazy for seeing Nash as a 10-8 kinda guy next year??? Maybe not night in and night out, but he can be really effective for this team if he learns how to score a little underneath and gets more comfortable with the ball in his hands. Plus, he'll really help this team out in low post defense. Not all big men come to college ready to do everything. Nash is the type of project who will probably pay off for this program over the course of his four years. Either way, playing Nash 25-30 minutes a game next year sounds a lot better than what we got out of Hillesland and Zeller this year.

The other interesting name for next year could be Abromaitis. I don't know where he fits into the puzzle, but couldn't this team use his shooting and all around ball skills?? I keep thinking of him as a Kurz type player. Throw him in there with Martin and Carl Scott, and you have three options at small forward.

As for Scott, I am going to be furious if he doesn't play at least 20 minutes a game for the rest of the year. We are eliminated from the NCAAs. It is time to focus on next year, so let's give this guy some minutes and see what he can do. If he doesn't play well, then maybe he won't be a big part of this team next year. But if he shows some promise, then he might be a guy who we can talk about as a key contributor off the bench for this team next year.

I don't know what we'll get out of the freshmen next year, but I would like to see Joey Brooks push Peoples for the 3rd guard spot. Peoples was ok this year, but is he really a 3rd guard in the Big East?? I think it's a reach. I think of him as more of a 9th man than a 6th or 7th man.

As for the big men, I'm hoping at least one of these guys emerges to give us minutes. If one of these guys can come in and pound the glass and give up some fouls, that takes even more pressure off Harangody.

That brings me to Harangody. First of all, he's coming back next year. He has not had a good finish to this season, and I think he's played himself out of any discussion of the first round. If he was a first rounder, I'd suggest he leave. But I don't think he's even close at this point.

Second, what should Harangody's goals be for next year?? I think Harangody needs to focus on two things: defense and efficiency. Harangody is a great offensive player, but he's been a miserable defensive player his entire career. For a guy with his size and strength, there is no reason for him to be that soft on defense. Put a body on your man and get in front of him. If Harangody wants to be on a good team next year, he needs to look in the mirror and realize that he needs to work harder on defense. And if he wants to have a future in the NBA, he needs to prove that he can guard people.

I also want to see Harangody improve his efficiency on offense. Instead of shooting every time you get it, focus on taking good shots and also occasionally kicking the ball out to get good looks for other people. Harangody was forcing a lot of bad shots down the stretch, and he compounded the problem by whining to the refs about not getting enough calls. Just play the game.

I love Harangody and am fully aware that this team would have won about 10 games without him, but he can do things to make himself a better player and also make the team better.

As for Tory Jackson, I thought he regressed in 2008-09, but is it all his fault?? The guy is not built to play 40 minutes a night for the entire year. He has worn down in each of the last two years. He's also not getting much help. How many other good teams in the Big East rely on one ballhandler for 40 minutes a night?? Tory needs someone else to step up to help him out. Tory is a key player for this team, but I think he is more effective when he can go 30 minutes really hard instead of preserving his energy for 40 minutes. The problem is that I don't see that guy on our roster going into next year unless Hansbrough can give us some point guard help. Tory is probably going to be carrying the load again next year.

Finally, I'll end with Mike Brey. I am a Mike Brey fan, but this season was nothing short of a disaster and a huge setback for the ND basketball program. We relapsed significantly on defense, and Brey did nothing to shake this team up before the year. Weak recruiting has also not helped.

I think Brey needs to do a thorough review of everything in the program and make some changes. In the short term, I would be adjusting minutes and emphasizing that everyone plays defense or they sit on the bench. Between Abro, Scott, Hansbrough, Martin, and the four freshmen, there are 8 new faces on this roster next year. There is no need to have sacred cows playing 40 minutes every night. I would rather have a bunch of guys going hard for 20-25 minutes than a few guys coasting for 35-40.

In the long term, Brey has to pound the recruiting trail and fix the schedule. Go out and make it a priority to land a top 50 athletic wing or big man in 2010 and a top 100 point guard. He needs to be looking to upgrade the athleticism on this roster. Nova made us look silly from an athletic standpoint last night. The Big East is an arms race these days with 7 teams in the top 25 on ESPN for recruiting in 2009. We need to find a way to keep up if we want to compete in the top half of the league.

Second, please fix the OOC schedule. This is not that hard. Go talk to Huggs in the offseason and find out how it is done. We cost ourselves 20 RPI spots a year by scheduling all those patsies. You don't need to schedule 10 top 25 teams in OOC to have a good OOC RPI. Just find the good "low majors" and "mid majors" and 1-2 BCS schools, and that's all you need.

I do subscribe to the theory that this team will be better next year. The Big East will not be as loaded next year, so the conference schedule should be easier. Marquette and Pitt will take a step back, and UConn will also probably be retooling a bit. The prospects for Louisville, Gtown, Nova, Cuse, and WVU will probably be dependent on whether guys go pro early. I hope ND doesn't get one of the "A" schedules next year. An easier schedule could probably turn this team from an 8 win team to a 10-11 win team alone.

I also think this team will just be better on the court. Mac and Ayers are not killer losses, there are replacements in the fold, Nash is going to be better next year, and there are an assortment of newcomers around to give this team a fresh look. Between Gody, Nash, Abro, Cooley, Knight, and Brog, there will be a lot of Big East type bodies around.

Let's be honest, ND under Brey has been better when we fly in under the radar. I expect this team to be around 7th or something like that in the preseason Big East polls, and that's how Brey likes it. We can sneak up on people, and the teams in the Big East will need some time to adjust to Hansbrough and Martin.

I think this team can get back to the NCAA Tournament next year. We still have Harangody around, and there are not many teams who will go into next year with a building block like Harangody.

Long term, I'm a little wary of the future for this program. I was optimistic about where this program was going, but this season has been a major setback. Brey has been here for 9 years and has been to the NCAA Tournament five times. In the last six years, he has only taken two teams to the NCAAs. That's not very good. We pretty much know what we're getting out of Brey. I do think the ND administration has screwed Brey to some extent by not giving him better support and facilities, but I also think Brey embraces the underdog role and seems to be content with being nothing more than an above-average program. If Swarbrick is really committed to bringing championship level basketball to ND, I think he needs to have a sit down with Brey after the year to find out if he can get us there.

I'm not throwing in the towel on Brey by any means, but it bums me out that we are right back to the 2004-2006 days with Brey on the brink and all sorts of speculation and uncertainty about Brey's future. I thought we were past that after 2007 and 2008, but there is no doubt that the pressure will be on Brey to produce an NCAA Tournament team in 2009-2010. If this team is playing in the NIT again in 2010, I think Brey is going to be in some very hot water.


Matt said...

While I certainly think that Harangody is coming back, I could see a scenario where he leaves. Let's face it - he is what he is as far as pro scouts are concerned. He's a 6'6 guy who is going to be an extremely undersized power forward or an extremely slow and overmatched small forward. Chad Ford has never predicted him anywhere near the first round - and I don't think that anything he does next year will change that.

Look at Hansbrough. He has fallen so far in the last two years that it looks like he could be a 2nd round pick now. And I think that most people would agree that Hansborough is a better pro prospect than Gody.

I'm not saying that he is going to go. Until about a month ago, he seemed to enjoy the college life. This past month he has looked really sick of carrying the team, and at times been frustrated with Brey. He doesn't have anything left to prove in college individually, so if he wants to go try to make it in the NBA, I wouldn't necessarily think it's a bad decision for him.

Otherwise, I agree with you regarding this team. Nothing against our four seniors, but no fans will be crying any tears seeing them leave. I do feel bad already at the way they are going to go out with ND hosting a nobody team in a 1st round NIT game with 2000 people in the building.

Couldn't agree more with you about Nash. Are you kidding me Brey? It is absolutely inexcusable that he didn't play meaninful minutes until the last two games of the year. And the fact that the same old sh*tshow kept unfolding game after game (KMac running fruitlessly around screens, Gody forcing everything, Tory finding himself going one on one at the top of the key with 8 seconds on the shot clock), the fact that an athlete like Carl Scott couldn't even sniff the floor either speaks volumes about how stubborn Brey is or how poor of a player Scott is. At least give the kid a chance.

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doug said...

I'm rethinking my stance on Harangody after reading your response. If Harangody thinks he can make an NBA roster next year, maybe he will leave. Scouts consider him a maxed-out player from a development standpoint, so he's probably not playing himself into the first round next year and getting guaranteed money. For his professional career, maybe it makes sense for him to try to make an NBA roster and make $500,000 as the 9th man somewhere. I hope he's back, but I can understand it if he leaves.

I could definitely see Harangody doing the "explore my options" thing after the season where he puts his name out there and does the pre-draft camps but doesn't hire an agent. Then he can see where he'd likely go and how committed he is to leaving school and going to the NBA.

The Hansbrough analogy is dead on. The guy went from a mid-first rounder as as sophomore who would have been making millions the last two years to a 2nd rounder who is going to have to fight just to make an NBA roster and make the league minimum. I'm sure he has no regrets about playing four years at Carolina, but was it a good move for his professional career?? You could say the same thing for Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. Those guys went from lottery picks to late first rounders at best.

Dickie V loves to point out all the examples of kids who left too early for the NBA and burned out, but why doesn't ever point out examples of kids who stayed TOO LONG?? Aren't there two sides to this debate?? Chris Thomas could have been a first rounder after his sophomore year but stayed an extra two years and didn't even get drafted. But I'm sure Dickie V was signing his praises for coming back to school even though he cost himself millions of dollars by doing it.

The vast majority of these "2nd round juniors" do come back for their senior years, so hopefully Harangody will be back. It seems like a lot of these guys cling to the hope that they might bump up into the first round the following year, and they want to have one last shot to play college hoops. Someone like Jeff Adrien probably could have been a 2nd rounder after last year, but he came back for his senior year. Same with McNeal and Dom James.

Mike said...

Good analysis all around. For me to believe that this program is ever going to reach the upper echelon of college basketball under Brey, I would like to see a fresh approach to scheduling, recruiting, allocation of playing minutes, emphasis on defense.

You touched upon these issues in your post, so I won't beat a dead horse. Suffice it to say, however, that changes must be made or we will continue to fade as a program. Given the difficulty of the Big East, it is time, for lack of a better phrase, to get busy living or get busy dying.

Craig said...

I don't really understand the comment about "with his size... Harangody should be a better defender". He may be 6'8 officially, but every unofficial estimate I've seen is closer to 6'6. Without another inside presence (until Nash started getting more minutes), Harangody's been guarding guys with at least two inches on him. Where he's not an "athlete" type of player, that's not a recipe for effective defense. I think Harangody would have been adequate if he weren't the only post defender for most of the season.

I blame Brey for coming up empty on incoming players for this season, and I blame him for how he reacted to his own (reasonable) projections prior to the start of the conference season, but I'm not sure how much more he could have gotten out of this team. Their limits were obvious, and there weren't that many teams in the Big East that they matched up well against. There were too many teams that could expose us at one or both ends of the floor.

Finally, I think Brey is catching a bit too much flack about not playing Nash earlier. There's a lot of smoke (both in the press and from "insider" types) about him not reaching a point where he was giving consistent effort day-to-day in practice until he was kicked out the Sunday before the Louisville game.

Jimmy said...

Nice thoughts Craig. 'Gody's height is a big limitation, but he doesn't use his body/bulk effectively down low. That said, he probably shouldn't be too physical or else he'd foul out and we'd really have no chance on offense.

On the Nash effort in practice point, I've heard those rumblings as well. There's two sides that I can understand. 1) You're a scholarship student-athlete and should be busting your a$$ every day, no ifs and or buts. 2) These are 19-20 year olds who have egos and a deep need to show that they can play. The fact that Nash played sparingly in the first 12"preseason" games is the wrong message to send to a young player. Those were the ideal opportunities to find out what your other bench guys were capable of. Instead, Brey stuck to his stubborn rotation and let everyone play 30+ minutes, even in routs. Brey was only asking for the kid to pout and slack a little in practice, because if he wasn't playing in the cupcake games, why would he play in the pivotal conference games?? Does it excuse Nash for not practicing as hard as he should? No, but Brey should know how to manage his bench a little better. The Nash experience screams of roster mismanagement. And don't even get us started on Carleton Scott when (if) this guy turns into Ryan Humphrey.