Tons of things going on in the world of ND basketball lately. A lot of encouraging news actually. Mike Brey is like the Wayne Fontes of college basketball. It seems like he does his best work when his back is against the wall. Just when it looked like the program was spiralling out of control after this past season, it looks like the 2009-10 season could put the Irish back on an upward trajectory.
On to some of the latest news in the world of ND hoops:
--Great news on the recruiting front. 2010 point guard commit, Eric Atkins, has shot up the charts to the #58 overall player in the 2010 class. Sounds like has had a great summer.
Gotta hand it to Mike Brey for landing this guy before he moved up in the rankings and caught the eye of some of the big boys on the east coast. Although Brey is far from perfect as a recruiter, I've generally admired his ability to find these diamond in the rough players like Tory Jackson and Chris Quinn and now Atkins. He seems to have a good knack for identifying players who are a little underrated and may blossom down the road.
I've had issues with Brey's recruiting and his lack of consistency from class to class, but I've never really doubted his eye for talent. Brey knows the types of guys that can succeed in his program, and this program has benefited from underrated players who have outperformed their star rankings.
It's not often that ND lands a top 50ish type player. I can only think of a couple that Brey has recruited to ND. Francis, Zeller, and Harangody make up the whole list. Atkins is right on the cusp of that top 50 group. According to Rivals.com, Atkins is the highest rated recruit we've had since Torin Francis.
Atkins is going to be a key player in 2010. That point guard spot will be up for grabs with Tory Jackson gone. Maybe Hansborough holds down the fort for a year, but maybe Atkins can be the guy as early as 2010. I'm hoping that he's at least ready to play 20-25 minutes as a freshman. A backcourt of Hansborough, Atkins, and Brooks could be strong.
--Looks like the nonconference schedule is all but wrapped up. Here's what we're looking at right now. I've included last year's RPI totals next to all these teams.
N14 North Florida (326)
N16 St. Francis(PA) (322)
N19 Long Beach State (156)
N22 Liberty (CIT) (151)
N24 Kennesaw State (CIT) (not rated)
N27 vs. Northwestern (CIT) (78)
N28 vs. St Louis (123)/Iowa State (CIT) (168)
D01 Idaho State (207)
D09 IUPUI (241)
D12 Loyola Marymount (320)
D19 UCLA (33)
D22 Bucknell (295)
This schedule is not final, and there are rumors that a Holy Cross game would be in the works (169 RPI last year). There may end up being 2-3 more additions before the schedule is officially released.
Just taking a look at the totals here. One top 25 type team (UCLA), one top 100 team (Northwestern), three 100-200 RPI teams, three 200-300 RPI teams, and 3-4 300+ RPI teams.
Philosophically, I do understand why Brey doesn't want to overdo it with the nonconference schedule. When you're a mid-level team in the toughest conference in America, playing a bunch of powerhouses in the nonconference would amount to suicide. There's no need for it. This isn't like the football schedule. We already play in the SEC of college basketball. Between UConn and Gtown and Syracuse and Pitt and Louisville and Villanova, we get plenty of "heavyweights" during conference season. Think about a typical ND Big East schedule. We're usually playing 7-8 games a year against top 25 teams in league play (if not more). Last year, we played 9 games against top 25 RPI teams in the Big East. Insane!! If you're going to play that many big time teams in conference play, you gotta build some wins into your OOC schedule.
Brey usually likes to play 2-3 BCS conference teams in OOC play, which is fine with me. We have UCLA this year plus potential games with Northwestern and Iowa State/St. Louis. That's three decent games.
The problem for me is that Brey somehow always finds the worst of the worst when he's looking to fill out the rest of the schedule. Look at all those dogs on there with 200+ RPI ratings. North Florida, St. Francis, IUPUI, Bucknell, Idaho State, Kenesaw State, and Loyola Marymount. It's all right to play a couple of those teams, but playing all five of them is going to kill our RPI rating. Even if we go undefeated in nonconference play, our RPI is going to be middling at best. We go through this every year.
If this team ends up on the tournament bubble, our nonconference RPI is going to weigh against us even though we play in the toughest conference in the nation. The committee has shown time and time again that they will punish you for a bad nonconference RPI. And if we do play ourselves into the tournament, it's going to cost us for seeding purposes. The 2007 and 2008 teams could have realistically been 3 seeds with a little better RPI rating.
So what could Brey have done to fix this RPI problem?? Simple. Do what guys like Bob Huggins have been doing for years and rig the RPI system. Look at WVU's RPI from last year. It was 21 even though they didn't play any really good teams in OOC play. Here it is. Tons of teams in the 50-100 range on the RPI. Huggins studies this stuff, and also strategically picks out winnable road games that will give an RPI boost. Those wins at Duquesne and at Mississippi were huge RPI wins for them even though neither team was all that good.
If I was Brey, I would have pulled out this RPI list and found a good mix of these 50-100 RPI teams that are beatable. Line up teams like Rhode Island and Wisconsin-Green Bay and UTEP and Houston, and then some lower level BCS teams like Auburn and Nebraska. Maybe you play a couple of those teams on the road to get a big BCS boost for beating them.
If you took out Bucknell, St. Francis, IUPUI and Idaho State and exchanged them with Rhode Island, UTEP on the road, Houston, and Nebraska on the road, our RPI would go up 20 points AT LEAST. And it's not like any of those teams are juggernauts. We could win every one of those games.
It amazes me that Brey has not figured this out. And if Brey can't figure this out, why can't Jack Swarbrick figure it out?? Isn't Swarbrick this big statistical analysis guy??
Anyway, I do understand why Brey does what he does and that he wants to get out of nonconference play with 12-13 wins, but a lot of those wins end up being empty victories that hurt us in the long run.
--Speaking of scheduling, how about Thomas Montgomery Izzo expressing interest in an ND-MSU series??
Where did that come from?? I agree with him that ND-MSU would be a great series given our history with them in football, but it's still kind of funny that he brought up the idea. I almost feel honored. Presumably, they can play anyone they want, and Izzo has never shied away from playing a big time nonconference schedule. Look at who they have lined up this year. Gonzaga, North Carolina, Texas, and Florida. Not too shabby.
I could get behind an annual series with Michigan State, especially if the UCLA series does not become an annual game. Personally, I'd rather play Indiana or Purdue than Michigan State, but MSU would also be a great game. I'm as big of a Tom Izzo fan as anyone, and they've been the premier program in the Midwest for a long time.
--Finally, I'll end with some very encouraging reports from Coach Brey on next year's team . Great article on next year's team from this Ballin' is a Habit blog. Brey had some great things to say about next year's roster, but this quote really stood out for me.
There were two players that Brey specifically mentioned being excited about. The first is Purdue transfer Scott Martin.
"He may be the most talented player we've had since Troy Murphy," Brey said.
WHOA. Brey isn't the type of guy who likes to get too carried away with the hyperbole, so that's a pretty interesting statement right there. Is Brey for real?? Most talented player since Murphy?? That puts him in a "more talented" category than guys like Matt Carroll and Chris Thomas and Danny Miller and Chris Quinn and Russell Carter. Not to mention....LUKE HARANGODY!!
I will say that I was really impressed with Scott Martin during his freshman year at Purdue. If you haven't seen him play yet, you're in for a treat. Hummel got all the attention, but every time I watched Purdue in 2007-08, Martin was having a big game. He's got perimeter skills and post moves and good touch around the rim. I think he'll be a Danny Miller type player at ND with a better post game but maybe not quite as much ability to penetrate to the basket.
The knock on Martin has been on the defensive end, but he's going to score points and rebound for this team next year. I think he's got a 14-7-3 in him or something along those lines.
In some ways, the Troy Murphy comparisons are maybe better than the Danny Miller comparisons. Like Murphy, Martin is an interior player who likes to get out on the wing. Miller was more of a perimeter player who could mix it up inside.
Is he going to be a sieve on defense?? Well, I'm prepared for that possibility, but he's still an exciting upgrade and a major improvement on Ryan Ayers.
Second, the article implies that Brey is really high on Tim Abromaitis.
Abromaitis is another kid with a good all-around game - he can score in the post and on the perimeter, and Brey said that he has developed into a "great athlete".
SLEEPER ALERT! Every time I've watched Abromaitis, he screams out "Rob Kurz, Jr." Abro is going to be a very nice contributor for this team over the next few years.
I like where this 2009-10 team is headed. Brey likes to fly under the radar a little bit, and this roster is perfect for sneaking up on people with the two transfers and Abro coming back after a redshirt year. No one is really going to know what to expect with ND next year. Now that the target is off our back next year, we're definitely in place to get back to the NCAA Tournament.