February 23, 2010

Bracket Buster: How the Atlantic 10 gamed the RPI, and what Notre Dame can learn from it.

Like most college basketball fans, I'm just starting to now take a closer peek at the Bracketology projections and Bubble Watch stuff on ESPN.com to see who's in and who's out as we get closer to the NCAA Tournament. Anyway, I was sort of scrolling through the bracket on the Bracketology site, and glanced over at the number of teams from each conference that Lunardi has in the tournament.

ACC - 7 (ok, thought the ACC was having a down year but still a power conference)
Big 12 - 7 (lots of strong programs this year, 4-5 ranked teams, makes sense)
Big East - 7 (no brainer, best conference in America from top to bottom)
Big Ten - 5 (4 top 20 teams, power conference)

and then came

Atlantic 10 - 5

Five teams! Not only that, but I clicked on the Bubble Watch link and saw that there are two other bubble teams getting consideration. That floored me. I mean, I like the A10, but where is this coming from?? The A10 has been a 2-3 bid league for as long as I can remember. You can pencil Xavier in just about every year, and then you've had schools like Temple and Dayton and St. Joes and George Washington who have had varying degrees of success in the last 10 years. Right now, Temple is up (Fran Dunphy---one of the most underrated coaches in the nation), and St. Joes is down. This thing seems to run in cycles. This year, I figured Xavier, Temple, and maybe Dayton would be the A10 reps.

So when I saw five teams out of the A10, I started getting curious about what was going on. How did a league that has consistently been a 2-3 bid league (with literally no one else on the bubble) suddenly turn into a 5 bid league with 2-3 other teams on the bubble?? How does this happen all of the sudden?? I mean, even if the coaching and talent are a little better across the board, it's still the A10. There's only so much that league can do with its lack of exposure and resources.

And then it hit me. SCHEDULING! Of course. The old scheduling trick. As we've seen through the years (and written on this blog), these mid-major programs have become masters at rigging their OOC schedules to give them better computer and RPI rankings. Not only are individual teams doing it, conferences are literally organizing meetings to discuss scheduling and how to maximize your NCAA profile with smart scheduling. I'm not even knocking it. It's an intelligent way to run your league to get as many bids as possible. These mid-major teams don't have the ability to line up 18 tomato cans at home (mainly because they can't pay them to come) like the power schools do, so they have to be creative in setting up their schedules with home and homes and targeted "buy games" and some timely road games (which carry extra RPI points).

So I started to delve into the A10. Now, I'm not really looking at Xavier and Temple. Those teams are legit NCAA tournament teams. Temple beat Villanova, Siena, Virginia Tech, Penn State, and Seton Hall in nonconference play. Plus, they're 22-5. They're in no matter how you want to look at it. Same with Xavier. Xavier is going to be a 22-23 win team with wins over Cincy and Florida and they've won 7 out of their last 8. Not only is Xavier in, they'll be very dangerous when they get in.

Frankly, Richmond, believe it or not, is also legitimately deserving. I mean, I can't deny it after looking at their schedule. Richmond is 11-2 in the league, they've beaten Mississippi State, Missouri, and Florida, and they've won 8 games in a row. I can't even argue with that even though I didn't know they were 22-6 until five minutes ago. The Spiders pass the eyeball test. Maybe their RPI is a little inflated (more on that below), but they're still a top 50 team on Pomeroy. They're in. So that brings us to three.

Here's where it gets interesting though. Lunardi has Rhode Island in the NCAA Tournament. He's got them as an 11 seed right now partially because their RPI is sitting pretty at 26 right now.

And yet, when I look at their schedule, it's really not all that impressive in terms of name brands. They did beat Oklahoma State at home and BC on the road, but also lost to Virginia Commonwealth. Other than that, their nonconference schedule is a pupu platter. Plus, they lost to Temple (twice), Xavier, St. Louis, and Richmond. Basically, every other decent team in the league. Pomeroy has them as the 76th best team in the nation, and they're probably going to finish 10-6 in the A10 (which is nothing special in that league).

So how in the heck does Rhode Island have an RPI rating of 26 and a strong grip on an NCAA at-large bid?? If you're applying the Jay Bilas model of "who did you play and who did you beat" for selecting NCAA teams, they surely don't stack up. They've had maybe 2 good wins all year and haven't played an elite OOC schedule by any means.

So what gives?? Well, it all comes back to that time-tested model of RPI manipulation that we saw for so many years out of the Missouri Valley Conference. There are three really good ways to get a good RPI rating (Mike Brey.....please, please, get out your pen and paper)

1) Road games
2) As few RPI killer games as possible (200+ RPI)
3) A healthy dose of 50-150 RPI teams

Rhode Island has played the game to a science. They played 13 nonconference games this year. Here's how their nonconference schedule broke down using those three categories.

1) five road games
2) two 200+ RPI games
3) ten 50-150ish RPI games

You can't do it any better!! Rhode Island played and beat teams like Akron (101) and Drexel (112) on the road. Those teams aren't great teams by any means, but they're both upper-echelon teams in their conference. If you're going to play a team in the MAC, Akron would a good team to pick. But it's Akron. It's not like Rhode Island is going on the road to Syracuse or something. They targeted a few decent teams that they could play on the road and potentially win. Since the RPI gives you extra credit for winning on the road, those wins are huge RPI boosters.

Rhode Island also only played two 200+RPI games in OOC play. Meanwhile, Notre Dame played six games against 250+ RPI teams. The Mike Brey era!! The guy's been here ten years and still hasn't figured this out. Absolutely spectacular. And people wonder why ND sports haven't been relevant in almost two decades. We are the worst run athletic department in the country, and it's not even close. THE COLLARS!! God bless em. Where do I buy my Gator Bowl tickets for the next decade and some first round NIT tickets??

Here's the ultimate kicker though. URI played 13 OOC games, and ten of those games were against RPI 50-150 teams. Absolutely brilliant scheduling. They played teams like Davison, Providence, Northeastern, Akron, Drexel, and Fairfield. Any of those teams scare you?? Me neither. But every one of those teams is a solid 50-150 RPI team, and Rhode Island got a ton of credit of beating those teams.

Add all that up, and it equals a 26 RPI rating. That's how you do it. A team that has maybe 1-2 quality wins all year and has lost to almost every really good team they've played is suddenly looking like an NCAA tournament team. Heck, I give them credit for it. They scouted these midmajor teams and found the right combination of 100-ish RPI schools to schedule. Good work by their coaches and athletic department.

I don't want to single out Rhode Island either. Richmond took a similar approach with 5 OOC road games and a good diet of VCUs and William & Marys and Old Dominions. Dayton did a great job scheduling New Mexico (RPI 10) and Old Dominion (I feel like ODU played every team in the A10 this year) and teams like Creighton and George Mason. Same for Charlotte (yup, they played ODU too) who played 6 road games in nonconference play. Charlotte has no business getting an NCAA bid. Pomeroy has them at #101. But with a decent RPI and the perceived strength of the league, they're in the mix.

The other benefit of gaming your RPI in OOC play is that beating each other in league play gives you another quality win on the RPI. Because Rhode Island is #26 in the RPI, any win over them by Richmond or Dayton or someone else is viewed as a quality win. It's sort of a "rising tide lifts all boats" model. It's really a brilliant strategy.

So in a nutshell, that's how a league like the A10 goes from a 3 bid league to a potential 5 bid league. I don't want to give the impression that these teams are bad basketball teams taking advantage of these loopholes. The A10 is on an upswing right now with some solid coaches (Mooney at Richmond, Dunphy at Temple, and Majerus at SLU), so the success of the league this year is not just because of scheduling. You also obviously have to be good enough to beat the Akrons and Drexels of the world on the road, which is not as easy as it sounds on paper. The more of these 100-ish RPI teams you play, the more you risk stumbling and losing one of them. Anyone can come up with this strategy, but you still have to execute it. Credit to the A10 for getting it done.

This brings me back to Notre Dame for a second to finish up. ND is in sort of a tough spot when it comes to scheduling. Ideally, ND would do what a Rhode Island has done. We'd have 13 or so OOC games with 1-2 top 25 teams, 3-4 road games, only 2-3 200+ RPI games, and the rest of the games against teams in the 50-150 RPI range. If we did that, we'd probably be around 11-2/10-3 every year coming out of OOC play with an RPI in the 20-40 range. In other words, right in the mix for an NCAA spot and far better than the 75ish RPI that we always seem to have these days. With the current OOC schedules we play, we are forced to win 10 or even 11 conference games just to be in the mix. With a better strategy, we might be able to position ourselves much better going into conference play. Every little thing can help.

Problem is, this strategy costs money. And we all know that ND is run with basically one thing in mind these days: DOLLARS. ND wants to play 10 creampuffs at home (plus 2-3 neutral site games where we get paid) to maximize revenue. If you play a good mid-major, you have to pony up the cash to play them. Or you have to promise them a 2 for 1 arrangement where you play 2 home games and go to their place once. A team like Akron isn't showing up in South Bend for pennies and not asking for any return games. They have thirty other suitors looking for their services and willing to pay more. We'd rather play teams like Kennesaw State (RPI 292) and St. Francis (272) because they come cheap, we can get a home gate with no return game, and it's a guaranteed win.

Just like we've seen with football, it's an incredibly short-sighted strategy. The season ticketholders are turned off because the schedules stink, we get no RPI bump, and it hurts our ability to play in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe we squeeze some extra dollars in the short term, but it does nothing to help the brand.

This is the ND that we've come to know for a long time now. Short term gain, long term pain. We've seen it in football with the absurd 7-4-1 money-grab (which is turning off fans and ticketholders in droves and probably will jeopardize our national title chances and maybe even force us into a conference someday), and we've seen it in basketball with dismal OOC schedules that kill our RPI and send us spiraling down the NIT path before conference season has even begun.

Five years ago, it would have really bothered me to see a team like URI in the NCAAs. Now I just take my hat off to them. I wish the team I rooted for did the same thing.

February 18, 2010

Notre Dame basketball: Ewing Theory potential in the post-Luke Harangody era??

Ever since the football season ended, I've been feeling some major Ewing Theory potential in the post Jimmy Clausen era. As great as Jimmy C was in the Weis offense, I'm intrigued by what Crist might bring to the table in terms of athleticism and mobility and leadership in the next couple years.

But now that we're heading down the home stretch in the basketball season, any one else getting an even bigger whiff of Ewing Theory with the basketball team?? I don't know if this team will be better next year without Luke Harangody, but suddenly things aren't looking so bad anymore now that we've seen this team play without him a few times.

I feel bad saying this, but I'd go as far as to say that if you polled all ND hoops fans today, I think the majority would be more interested in seeing what this team looks like the rest of the year without Harangody than how we look with him. There have been "Harangody fatigue" symptoms all year with the fanbase, and I think it might blow up when he comes back next week. Expect to see multiple "This team is better without Harangody" threads on the message boards after our next loss. Seems like the Louisville game might have been the tipping point now that we've seen the team play well in a game without him.

Now, don't get me wrong, Luke Harangody has been a great player at ND, and I don't want to give the impression that I don't appreciate his efforts for this basketball program. Harangody is the best individual player I've seen at ND since I've been following the program. An incredible scorer and rebounder, passionate player, very intelligent, great footwork and balance. How many times have we seen Gody throw this team on his back in the last three years and pour in 32 points and 14 rebounds in carrying us to a win?? He's had an amazing career without question, and the team would not have made the NCAAs without him in 2007 or 2008.

But in terms of what this TEAM needs in 2009-10, the current version of Luke Harangody might not be the best fit for this program. Let's be honest, Harangody is playing a different style of ball this year than he did in his first 2.5 or so years at ND. More like a small forward. He's freelancing on the perimeter, he's taking a ton of jumpers and threes, rarely follows his shot, and he's not playing any defense this year. None. He might be the worst defensive player in the league. Either he's saving himself for the offensive end, or he's just not interested in banging down low. Either explanation is not particularly flattering.

This team BADLY needed the 2006-2008 Luke Harangody who pounded the glass, camped out in the low block, got a body on people, and got to the free throw line a lot. The Luke Harangody who always seemed to be around the ball to tip in missed shots or drop little hooks in the paint and then followed up his own shot or get fouled. I loved that Luke Harangody. In his early years, it seemed like Gody would have 5-6 three point plays a game. Now, we're lucky to get one a game out of him. Not only are his rebounds down (even though he plays more minutes), but his free throw attempts are down too. We've become a team without an anchor in the middle.

The lesson that I'm learning from this whole Harangody thing is that once these guys "test the waters" with the NBA Draft, you're better off if they just get on with it and go pro. We've seen this with Chris Thomas and now Luke Harangody. The moment Harangody came back from the NBA draft camps, he turned into a different player. And honestly, I don't blame him for it. How could he not listen to all the scouts telling him he needed to show more of a perimeter game if he wanted to be a first round pick?? If scouts were telling me that, I'd be doing everything the next year to show that side of my game as well, even if it didn't fit with the team's needs. And to some degree, he has shown some abilities on the perimeter this year that he didn't have last year.

Trouble is, it hasn't really helped his draft stock, and it certainly hasn't helped the team. He was a 2nd rounder after last year, and he's a 2nd rounder now. And as great as he is individually, his goals haven't always been on the same page as the team's goals.

Maybe this is completely unfair to Luke. After all, he's been a fantastic player, and I really don't want to see his legacy tarnished (especially since he's coming up on some incredible individual accomplishments). And Brey does not help the situation out by giving his seniors free reign for the most part. But it's there, and there's a palpable sense that next year will be a breath of fresh air with a new core of players and leadership.

Anyway, next year is going to be interesting. The point guard situation is muddy, but the rest of the team actually looks better on paper in many ways. Cooley and Nash and Scott and Broghammer give us legitimate options down low, and we'll benefit from the addition of Martin and another year in the program for Joey Brooks. If we can get solid point guard play, this team might not be so bad after all and could actually be a pretty strong club by 2011.

February 15, 2010

Thoughts on these Texas to the Big Ten rumors, how they might affect Notre Dame, and the recent NCAA rule change proposals

With all these rumors out there about Texas joining the Big Ten, I thought I’d break this thing down. Three big questions on my mind:

1) Why would Texas be interested in joining the Big Ten??

The biggest question that seems to come up when you start talking about Texas is why they would even be interested. What exactly does Texas gain from joining a league in a dying economic region where the closest team to them geographically is Iowa?? I looked up the distance between Austin, Texas and Iowa City, and you’re looking at a 1,000 mile trip between the schools (16 hour drive). Then you start talking about trips to State College (1,500 miles) and Ann Arbor (1,375), and you start scratching your head wondering why Texas would be interested.

If we were addressing this question 15-20 years ago, there’s no way this could happen. But the world is flat these days so to speak. With air travel and internet and cable tv deals, there’s not as much separation between these two regions of the country as there would have been before the modern era of technology. Take travel for instance. Purdue takes a 3 hour bus ride to Champaign for a Big Ten basketball game. Meanwhile, it’s a 2-2.5 hour flight from Austin to Champaign.

Now, would shuffling around your women’s lacrosse team and your soccer team by air get expensive?? Oh yea, of course. It's a potentially big budget buster except for one thing. The Big Ten would be promising revenue that would make it more than worthwhile.

Why?? Four words. The Big Ten Network. I will admit that I was leery of the BTN initially (especially when cable companies refused to put it on the air and Big Ten fans suddenly couldn’t watch their teams play on television), but it has turned out to be a genius promotional and revenue-generating vehicle for the Big Ten. Not only does every team in the Big Ten draw in $20+ million from the Big Ten Network, they all have a partial ownership in the network that is something like a $35 million equity position. The thing has become a cash cow, and now that the Big Ten has done the heavy lifting to get it on all the major cable providers, these schools are like OPEC countries right now. Just sitting on a pot of gold.

To put this into perspective, a school like Northwestern (which can’t even sell out their own football stadium) is making DOUBLE what Notre Dame is making right now in television revenue. Can you believe that?? We have a national television deal with NBC, and we’re getting half of what teams like Northwestern and Purdue are getting. Imagine what we could do with an extra $10 million a year. Maybe we could build a new basketball practice facility or any number of projects.

And that’s before you start talking about ABC/ESPN television revenue. Say what you want about the Big Ten, but the league still draws television eyeballs. One reason might be all the transplanted Big Ten people that are all over the country. Think about all the people from the Midwest who went to Iowa and Wisconsin and Illinois and Ohio State who now live in places like Phoenix and Los Angeles and Seattle and Tampa and Miami and Jacksonville and all these other Sun Belt cities.

It’s amazing. I remember being in Seattle for a wedding a couple years ago during the college football season, and the biggest sports bar in the downtown area was rented out by the Penn State and Ohio State alumni clubs. What does that say about those fanbases?? They are national brands. There are huge alumni clubs from these Big Ten schools in just about every major city in the country.

Compare this to the SEC schools or the Big 12 schools. Once you get outside of their geographic footprint, it’s like a needle in a haystack finding their fans in other parts of the country. For the most part, Big12 fandom consists of the Great Plains region. Same with SEC fans. How many LSU fans are there in Philly and Detroit??

As much as demographics are changing in this country, the bulk of the American population is still congregated in these northern and eastern cities. In Big 10 country, you have cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Philadephia. In the Big 12, you have all the Texas cities (Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio), Kansas City, St. Louis, and Denver. In terms of population, it’s a smaller footprint. In terms of money and television revenue, the Big Ten is still a far bigger draw than the Big 12.

The other thing is branding. Texas doesn't need the Big Ten by any means to enhance their sports programs (if anything, it's a step down in terms of competition) but in terms of branding, the possibilities for Texas to take their brand to the national level would be enormous. As great as Texas is as a sports program, is anyone really paying that much attention to Texas outside of the southwest??

If they joined the Big Ten, suddenly they’d be getting a major platform in the Midwest and East coast on a week in and week out basis during the college football and basketball seasons. You’d have games like Texas-Penn State, Texas-Michigan, Texas-Ohio State that would be getting massive ratings on national tv. Not only would Texas remain huge in the southwest, they’d also be a major player in the north as well.

This could be Texas’ opportunity to make a move to become the heir apparent to Notre Dame and USC as THE national program going forward. They could have a coast to coast appeal, and it would take their brand to the next level.

Now, I do see some downside here that shouldn’t be completely ignored. From a competitive standpoint, is it a disadvantage to have all those games outside of your home base in Texas?? Last year, they played three football games outside the state of Texas, and one of them was a fluke game at Wyoming. If they joined the Big 10, they’d probably be looking at 4-5 games a year outside of the state.

Same thing with basketball and all the other non-revenue sports. You’d be going on all these long road trips to the Midwest throughout the year. That can become a grind after awhile.

Will the high school athletes in Texas be interested in playing Big 10 sports?? It seems strange that you’d go to school at Texas and then spend half your career in places like Madison and East Lansing instead of spending time in your geographic region in the Texas area.

And where do the fans stand on this?? Would they be ready to give up their various Big 12 rivalries?? Would they even want to join the Big 10??

The sense that I’m getting from the Texas fans is that they would be perfectly fine with joining the Big 10. They view themselves as a class above their Big 12 brethren, and seem to be attracted by the exposure and academic prestige that the Big 10 would bring. If you look at the US News rankings, it’s clear that the Big 10 is a much stronger academic conference than the Big 12. Not only do you have Northwestern, but schools like Michigan and Wisconsin and Illinois and Purdue have very good academic reputations. In fact, there isn’t a school in the Big Ten that is outside the top 50-60 range, and they all have major graduate and research departments. Compare that to the Big 12 where you have schools like Texas Tech and Kansas State, and there’s a noticeable difference.

Travel for the fans would be a pain if they want to go to road games, but you’re talking about 4 games a year. And Texas already goes on long trips to places like Ames, Iowa and Boulder, Colorado and Lincoln, Nebraska and Lawrence, Kansas as it is. There’s really not much of a difference.

I’ve always thought that this “Texas to the Big 10” thing was a pipedream, but it makes more and more sense as you think about it. For all the talk about this not making sense, I think there are a lot of attractive elements to Big 10 membership for Texas. The money is right, Texas is not enamored with their status as the lone breadwinner in the Big 12, and Texas could set themselves up as the marquee program in the nation by making that move.

2) What would the impact be on the Big 10??

Before we get to football, think about what this move would do for the Big Ten in basketball. You’d have the likes of Izzo, Barnes, Matta, Painter, Weber, Crean, Tubby Smith, and Bo Ryan. My goodness. There wouldn’t be many easy nights in that league.

But this move is about two things and two things only: Money and football. From a football standpoint, it would send a shot across the bow of the rest of the college football world. If the Big Ten could pull in Texas, the league would suddenly have four heavyweight programs (Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Texas) and would immediately be the 2nd best football conference in America with a legitimate claim to being the best, especially if A&M and Nebraska came as part of a 14 team package deal.

The Big 10 got its mojo back a little bit in the 2010 bowl season, but it’s still a league that is on shaky ground. If a Big 10 team goes undefeated these days, the country still views them with a skeptical eye. But if you added Texas, that would all change. Either you’d have Texas coming out of the Big 10 as the undefeated champ, or you’d have someone who beat Texas. Either way, that’s a game changer.

Think about the bowl lineup that the Big 10 could trot out. They could go 7-8 deep with high quality programs. Instead of Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, you get Penn State. Instead of Minnesota in some third tier, you might get Iowa or Texas A&M.

Only one concern there from a competitiveness standpoint. What would happen to the Minnesotas and Northwesterns and Purdues of the world?? They would be overwhelmed by the new Big Ten. You’d suddenly have Purdue going to a bowl game once every 5-6 years. In many ways, it would be like the new Big East with all the bottomfeeders who can't sniff the top half of the standings.

If you’re an Iowa fan and suddenly you have Texas, A&M, and Nebraska/Missouri to deal with plus the usual suspects, wouldn’t that make you extremely nervous?? Iowa has a lot to be proud about as a program, but that would be a major infusion of big time programs coming into the Big Ten. Right now, Iowa can crank out 8-4 seasons with an occasional run at a Big 10 title or a BCS bowl game. With Texas and Nebraska on board, would those goals still be feasible??

For the big boys, I think this move would turn about to be beneficial (although it would be an ego check when Texas shows up as the kingpin of the league from day one). Long term, adding a Texas can only help a school like Ohio State or Penn State. Maybe it would keep them out of a few BCS bowl game appearances, but it would validate their seasons if they do beat a team like Texas in the regular season or a conference championship game. Plus, for recruiting, it would be a possible boon for programs like OSU and PSU and Michigan to get more exposure in Texas.

The other thing is scheduling in general. I think it would be a lot of fun for a Michigan fan if you got to play at Texas A&M or Texas every few years, and you’d add another big time possible heavyweight opponent to the schedule. I realize that these teams wouldn’t play every year (which could be somewhat problematic for scheduling purposes), but they would be fun new additions to future schedules.

Money is obviously the other huge factor for the Big Ten. If there isn't a home run fit in the north, why not look south and west?? Adding Texas alone would bring you markets in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio. You add the Big Ten Network to all those Texas markets and go into the next round of negotiations with ABC/ESPN with Texas in the fold, and the Big Ten could make a fortune.

Texas is a no-brainer. I know the Big 10 would lose a little bit of its Midwest identity, but Texas is a home run. You put them in the Big 10, and it would send shockwaves through the rest of college football. Now the question is whether they can get a deal done.

3) What does this mean for Notre Dame??

Wouldn't be a Notre Dame blog unless I threw in some thoughts on how this might affect ND. I gotta admit that I'm staring at this list of possible opponents and feeling a little envious:

Ohio State
Penn State
Texas A&M
Michigan State

Are you kidding me?? I realize we wouldn't play all those teams in a 14 team league, but how great would that be if we played six or so of those teams every year?? We'd be getting 3-4 guaranteed heavyweights, plus a possible conference championship game, and whatever games we wanted to play in the nonconference. Plus, assuming we were in the western division, we'd be getting annual games against a Texas team for some national exposure.

I'm staring at a schedule like this and salivating:


Or this one:

@Texas A&M

How great would that be?? We'd have 3-4 heavyweight opponents every year, the November schedule could be phenomenal, the home schedule has 2-3 great games a year, and we'd still have room to play Navy and USC in the nonconference if we wanted to. And if we didn't, we'd already have a bunch of great games in the conference schedule. Plus, we'd have every game on either the Big Ten Network or ABC/ESPN. In terms of exposure, there's not even that big of a difference. How great would those Texas matchups be??

Put it this way. Ideally, we would remain independent, but what are we really doing with our independence these days?? It's not like we're doing anything with it. We're scheduling a bunch of dog Big East teams and bogus neutral site games and "buy games." It's not like we're paying any SEC or Big 12 teams as it is. We can sit here and talk about the teams that we could potentially schedule as an independent, but the reality is that we're not scheduling these teams like Texas and Alabama. I don't know if it's because no one wants to play us or we're afraid to play them or if it's some reason, but I'm tired of discussing it. If it takes joining a conference to get better schedules, I'm all for it. I'm tired of getting the ticket application and trying to decide if Purdue or Pitt is the 2nd best home game on the schedule.

I appreciate the argument that ND wouldn't be "special" if we joined a conference because we'd be just like everybody else, but why does that have to stop us from having a great football program?? We still have the ND brand name and the Catholic aspect and a nationwide network of alumni and fans. Every other school in a conference has made it work. Why couldn't we?? Instead of chickening out and throwing our hands up like we can't win, how about we sack up and become a great football program?? It doesn't matter what conference you're in if you are committed and willing to do what it takes to be a champion. If we hire great coaches and have great administrative support and visionary thinking, we can win in a conference.

I've generally sided with the idea of remaining independent in football, but I'm bored with ND football as an independent. I don't like the schedules, I don't like the efforts from the national media to marginalize us, I don't like the mid-majorization of ND football, and I don't like playing our games on god awful NBC with their Olympic broadcasters and NFL preview halftime shows. I could care less if we "lose" the NBC contract. Put us on ABC or ESPN all day long as far as I'm concerned. It's a better broadcast.

Something's got to be done. If it takes joining a conference to make this program exciting again and to put some juice back into Notre Dame Stadium, let's do it.

---) Finally, some brief thoughts on the proposed NCAA rule changes in college football:

--The taunting rule is insane. I'm not in favor of taunting by any means, but taking a touchdown off the board?? Come on. That's insane, and could lead to a disastrous scenario where a player is pumping his fist in excitement as he's running for the goal line and draws a taunting penalty that takes away his touchdown. There's too much gray area with something like that. Couldn't any form of excitement be ruled as a taunting penalty?? All I can think of is that Jake Locker celebration penalty from a few years back. You cannot let a ref take a game out of a team's hands on something like this.

--Interesting move with the television monitors in the coaches booths. Should lead to more informed replay decisions.

--Can we just call the new eye black restrictions the "Tim Tebow Rule"?? I kind of liked the various eyeblack designs, but I can understand why the NCAA felt the need to step in. It was only a matter of time before guys started taking political stands or doing all sorts of other stuff with their eyeblack.

February 11, 2010

Big East Power Poll Part Two: Thoughts on Marquette, Pitino, Pitt to the Big 10, Syracuse, and why Bob Huggins is the smartest scheduler in the game.

Ok, time for part two of the Big East power poll. If you missed part one of the power poll with teams 8-16, feel free to catch up to speed!

7) Marquette -- RPI 60 Pomeroy 18

Speaking of programs that are committed............

Now we're starting to get into the teams that are not only looking like NCAA Tournament teams, but might also make a little run if they get the right draw.

Marquette is heating up. Four wins in a row all of the sudden, and really starting to look like an NCAA team. Pomeroy loves Marquette this year (#18). Even though their RPI is 60 and Joe Lunardi doesn't have them in the NCAA tournament, my guess is that they're about to make a run here down the stretch.

Marquette is a great example of a program that has decided not to accept mediocrity as its fate in the Big East. Not only do they spend more money on their program than everyone else in the league, they have the nicest practice facility in the Big East with the Al McGuire Center. It has everything....state of the art locker rooms, great sports medicine and s&C facilities, a pool, player lounge, video editing room, etc. Top of the line. Meanwhile, ND has The Pit. And we wonder why our basketball program can't take it to the next level??

Imagine if you were a recruit looking at Marquette with what they have and then you show up at ND and see what we have, especially compared to the football program. This is why Marquette has consistently brought in 4 star guys in the last 5-6 years while we are bottom feeding for the 2 and 3 star guys and hoping we can coach them up. The Jerel McNeals of the world are the guys we need to get to the Sweet 16.

The other thing that I love about Marquette's program is that they have been fairly adventurous when it comes to nonconference scheduling. It's not all about squeezing every dollar out of the program at the expense of the brand. This year, they played Xavier, Florida State, North Carolina State, Michigan, and Wisconsin in OOC play. That's five really good games with two solid home and homes.

We should view Marquette as a model program. It all comes down to the collars. They don't have half the brand name that we have as a school, but they've been a consistently strong program that gets it. We don't need to resign ourselves to being a glorified mid-major with a bunch of white guys running around. Our collars should be talking to their collars to find out how to run a successful basketball program. In fact, if we wanted to trade all of our collars for someone else's collars, I'm all for it. We're the most mismanaged ahletic department in the country.

6) Pittsburgh -- RPI 18 Pomeroy 33

Death, taxes, and Pitt making a deep run in the Garden this year at the Big East Tournament!! Great year for Pitt hoops. It felt like a rebuilding year going in, and yet they've stayed the course with some promising underclassmen leading the way. Ashton Gibbs should be an All Conference pick this year, and Wanamaker is doing his best Aaron Gray impersonation. Pitt is looking at a nice 2-3 year run here with one only real senior (Dixon) as a major contributor.

In other news, the "Pitt to the Big Ten" rumors continue to circulate, but I cannot see this going down. What does this do for Pitt?? Don't they recruit NYC for all their hoops talent?? Those guys don't want to play in the Big Ten.

And what does Pitt really add to the Big Ten?? What's the point?? You already have a big presence in Pittsburgh with Penn State. The Big Ten Network is on all cable packages in that market, and there's plenty of local coverage of Big Ten sports. Pitt might solidify that market a little bit, but you get NOTHING outside the Pitt area. No Philly, no DC, no southern markets, no Great Plains, no Maryland, certainly no New York. It's a school that has zero presence once you get 20 miles outside the city. I live three hours from Pitt, and I literally have never met one Pitt grad/fan in four years of living in Columbus.

I guess Pitt gives Penn State a rival, but is that even really a major priority?? I don't see any reason to expand in the Big Ten unless you're going to make a major addition. Taking Pitt is the equivalent of drafting Carlos Beltran in your fantasy baseball league. He's the best available guy on your board, but you know you're finishing 7th in your league when you take him. I'd rather hold out and swing for the fences with a Nebraska or someone like that.

Dominoes are starting to fall in the conferences, and you never know what opportunities might open up. If the Pac 10 raids Colorado and another Big 12 team, maybe Texas or Nebraska reaches out to the Big Ten about a spot. If teams start jumping leagues, you never know what opportunities might open up.

I really hope this does not happen with Pitt. Not only does it not benefit the Big Ten at all, it would be disastrous for the Big East. We can't afford to lose an anchor program like Pitt if the Big East is going to survive in its current form. You lose maybe the best football program in the league, and one of the top 5 or so basketball programs. The basketball side could survive of course, but the football would take another massive blow to its credility as a BCS conference.

5) Louisville- RPI 43 Pomeroy 23

You knew this was coming. The Cards are quietly rounding into form and maybe looking like they can make a late surge . Ed Sosa is finally delivering on the hype in his 20th season as a Card. Am I crazy to say that he was on that team with Francisco Garcia and the boys?? Feels like he's been there forever.

Wonder how the NCAA committee is going to treat Louisville. Those losses to UNLV and Charlotte (by 20) and Western Carolina look awful on paper, but Louisville was like a different basketball team back then. Pitino's teams always have a tendency to start out slow while they work out the kinks, and the committee might take that into consideration. Still think they need to get to 10-11 wins and show some friskiness in the BET if they want to make sure they get in.

How about these "Pitino to the Nets" rumors though?? Is Pitino feeling like he's stuck in a fishbowl down there after his nasty affair leaked out?? Or is he feeling underappreciated?? Seems like UL fans are groaning about Pitino a little bit, which is laughable if you ask me. Cmon, Cards fans. Pitino went to the Final Four last year!! Isn't that still considered the pinnacle of basketball?? What more do you want?? Even if you think he doesn't have the same fire that he used to, it's not like he's churning out chump seasons in the NIT. In the last two years, he's gone to the Sweet 16 and the Final Four. And he's got probably the #1 recruiting class in the nation coming in for 2011, including two five star recruits. That's disappointing??? If you aren't happy with Pitino, I'll happily take him off your hands at ND.

Speaking of Pitino, when is Rick Pitino Jr. going to get that first job?? I can't
wait to see where that paisan ends up. ND??

4) West Virginia - RPI 6 Pomeroy 4

Bobby Huggins.....there isn't a smarter scheduler in the nation. Let's break this OOC schedule down to see the master at work. Mike Brey, get out your pen and paper and start taking notes if you're reading this:

1) Lack of duds -- WVU played 12 OOC games. Of those 12 games, they only played one 200+ RPI team (Coppin State). They played five 100-200 RPI teams (Cleveland State being one of them, which is good scouting by Huggins and his staff), and got extra RPI credit for beating Cleveland State on the road (again, very smart move). So of their 5 "bad" games, they did pretty well to find teams like Duquesne and Long Beach State that have palatable RPIs in the low 100s. This is what Huggs and his crew do. They look at returning starters and snatch up the best midmajors they can get.

By contrast, ND played seven 200+ RPI teams this year. SEVEN. And we played four 100-200 RPI teams, including our one big marquee game against UCLA. We only played one 100 or less RPI team this year. Unreal and a complete disaster on the scheduling front. That will cost us an NCAA bid if we get into the mix.

2) Winnable but quality intermediate games -- Here's the true genius of what Huggins has done. They played four teams with RPIs under 100, but not one of these teams was a serious threat to them.

Marshall - 85
Portland - 84
Mississippi - 39
Texas A&M - 19

That's not exactly Kentucky and Duke and North Carolina there, but they got major RPI points for winning those games. Huggins is the best in the business at finding winnable 50-100 RPI games to schedule. Scouting, scouting, scouting. You can boost your RPI ten points a year by finding these types of games.

3) Two big home and home series -- Ohio State and Purdue

These games really aren't even necessary for the RPI at this point because Huggs and his staff have already laid the groundwork with the rest of the OOC schedule, but these games are for the fans. Even though Marshall and Duquesne are helpful RPI games, they aren't games that fans really care about.

So you line up two big home and homes every year, which guarantees you one big nonconference home game a year. This year, they went to Purdue and hosted Ohio State. They split those games, but the results don't even matter. Fans are happy because they get some value for their ticket packages.

This is why Bob Huggins is the smartest scheduler in college basketball today. He has figured out a way to get incredible computer rankings every year without having to play a bunch of heavyweights. And he's been doing it for years.

Huggins only has one flaw. NCAA Tournament play. He's had his moments, but Huggins Ball has never translated to the NCAAs. Huggins has never placed a great emphasis on playing the type of precision, halfcourt offense that you need to play in the NCAAs to advance.

This WVU team has talent, but I don't see them as a Final Four contender unfortunately. I like this team with that Butler-Ebanks-Bryant nucleus and a talented inside presence in Kevin Jones, but I expect another relatively early exit for the Mountaineers.

3) Georgetown - RPI 7 Pomeroy 15

Had to figure that Georgetown would right the ship this year after a disappointing 2008-09 season. Just too much talent in that program, and JTIII has proven that he can win big in this league. Nice big three there with Wright and Freeman and Monroe. I know the opinions on Monroe are mixed, but he seems like one of those guys who will flourish in the NBA once you take the JTIII shackles off.

If you look at big wins, the Hoyas can stack up with anybody. They've destroyed Nova and Duke, and won convincingly at Pitt. Lunardi has them as a 2 seed. I buy it. If they keep winning, I think they can lock that #2 seed up.

As good as JTIII has been in the league, anyone else think that his system almost holds that program back?? I'd love to see what they'd look like with all those athletes in a typical halfcourt Big East style offense. Almost seems like the Princeton offense stifles them from reaching their full potential. I do enjoy watching it when it works, but can you win a title playing that way?? They have 3-4 NBA guys on this team. On paper, they're a Final Four contender. Will they bounce out early again?

Big game coming up next week between Georgetown and Syracuse. Might be a good indicator of where both those teams stand heading into March. If Gtown wins that one, you can start talking about them as a legitimate Final Four contender.

The Big East! What a league. 4 teams in the RPI top 7 this year. It's the best conference in America, and it's not even close.

2) Villanova - RPI 3 Pomeroy 11

All right, now we're getting to the two teams that I consider to be the true Final Four contenders in the league. I'll start with Villanova. As much as I like Villanova, I think I liked them more last year with Dante Cunningham. As great as their guards are, Cunningham was the guy they turned to when they really needed a bucket. He'd quietly bang out 17-18 points every game with about 10 rebounds and anchor the middle for that team. I like Antonio Pena, but he's not the same caliber player, especially on the offensive end. What will happen with Nova once they get into the tourney and run into someone like Michigan State who can throw big bodies at them in spades and still match up reasonably well on the perimeter?? There aren't many teams like that, but they are out there.

Having said that, I love watching Nova play. Fun to watch. ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK. Spread it out, four guards, NYC/Jersey kids, beat your man off the dribble, push the ball, get in your face on defense. They bring these waves of guards into the game, and all of them are as good as the guys they are subbing in for. When they get hot and start creating turnovers and guys like Stokes and King start getting open looks in transition, they are lethal. Just an amazing team to watch when they are rolling. They take small ball to a new level.

Jay Wright has really got it rolling. Check out what they've done in the last five years:

2004-05 - Sweet Sixteen
2005-06 - Elite Eight
2006-07 - NCAA First Round
2007-08 - Sweet 16
2008-09 - Final Four

Nova's gotta be on the list of teams that can get back to the Final Four this year, but it comes down to matchups for them. They are clearly not as balanced this year as they were last year, and teams like Kentucky and Syracuse and Kansas can throw waves of big men at them. If they get into a halfcourt, slug it out game with one of those teams, it's a tough matchup.

1) Syracuse - RPI 2 Pomeroy 3

My vote for the best team in the Big East and maybe the best team in the nation is Syracuse. No brainer I guess, but who could have seen this coming?? I thought they'd have to regroup after losing Flynn and Devendorf. Was there a little Ewing Theory with those guys??

Where were all these guys last year?? Obviously, Wes Johnson was not available, but what about the other guys?? I don't even remember Kris Joseph from last year, and he's a beast now. Rick Jackson couldn't make a layup, and now he's a monster down low. Even Rautins has taken his game to another level this year.

I don't see any weaknesses on this team. They are the total package. Quality guards, great wing players, two monsters down low. The zone is as good as ever, and James Arthur Boeheim is as good as any coach in the nation at managing a game.

As talented as they are, Syracuse is not winning with the Carmelo Anthony's of the world this year. Take a look at their roster:

Triche -- 3 star
Joseph -- 3 star
Onuaku -- 3 star
Wes Johnson - transfer (2 star out of high school)
Rick Jackson -- 4 star
Jardine - 4 star
Rautins -- Canadian recruit who chose Syracuse over Providence and St. Bonaventure

That's the bulk of their team right there. They are winning with 3 star types and a couple 4 stars (Jackson and Jardine). Just goes to show that there a lot of different ways to win. You need talent, but there are a lot of talented guys out there flying under the radar. Credit to Boeheim for some shrewd scouting.

I'm hopping on the Cuse bandwagon as soon as the tournament starts (if not sooner). It's a fun team to watch, a well-constructed roster, and I'd like to see Boeheim get another ring. He's got a great chance to do it.

February 10, 2010

Big East Power Poll Part One: Thoughts on DePaul, Connecticut's future, Mick Cronin, South Florida's resurgence, and why I'm sticking with Mike Brey

Well, football is over, so it's time for a Big East power poll!! Here's how I'd break the 16 Big East teams down from bottom to top. Due to length, I'll break this thing up into two parts. Part two is right here if you're looking ahead.

16) DePaul- RPI 157 Pomeroy 162

DePaul is approaching futility almost unheard of in Big East history. They went 0-18 in the Big East last year and are currently sitting at 1-10. Looking at their schedule, I'd say their ceiling on wins this year would be 4. That could add up to something along the lines of 3-33 in their last two years in the Big East. What is the point of even having a program in this conference if you can't hack it??

If I was the brass over at the Big East headquarters, I'd tell DePaul that they either need to get their act together and become relevant or hit the road to the Conference USA or the A-10. A school like Memphis would love nothing more than to become a part of the Big East, and they actually have football to offer to the table. At least Memphis is committed to being a championship basketball program. Right now, DePaul is not. They don't have an on-campus facility, they are 2nd to last in spending on the program, and their minimal presence in the Chicago area is outweighed by the fact that they've been the worst program in the league for three years with no sign of hope on the horizon. Plus, they don't have any other exceptional teams in nonrevenue sports to the best of my knowledge (looks like women's softball might be the exception...yippee), so I don't see the point in keeping them around if they can't cut it in men's basketball. DePaul is taking money out of the Big East pot without putting any money back in.

The sad thing is that DePaul basketball could be great if they made the investment. They could be THE TEAM in Chicago and pluck gems out of that area every year like Villanova has done in Philly and Georgetown has done in the DC area. All it takes is a vision. These basketball-only schools have an advantage in that they are the only big time sport on campus, which might be attractive to BMOC recruits. If you spend the money, you can make it happen. Nova and Gtown spend double what DePaul spends on their program. It's not some coincidence that they are successful and the Blue Demons are not.

Memphis spent $8 million last year on basketball. DePaul spent $3 million. Memphis should be a part of this expanded Big East. They have a good recruiting base, good support from the locals in the Memphis area, and a big time financial commitment. I would hold the Memphis carrot over everyone in the Big East (much like the NFL does with the city of Los Angeles) to force these bottom feeders to get their acts together.

15) Rutgers -- RPI 127 Pomeroy 160

Speaking of a program in the doldrums, nothing really tops Rutgers these days (and we lost to them...ugh, that game will haunt us). Here are their conference win totals the last four years:

2007 - 3-13
2008 - 3-15
2009 - 2-16
2010 - 2-9

When does football start?!? Rutgers fans might as well put all their eggs into the Greg Schiano basket at this point. Rutgers hasn't even been to the NIT since 2005-2006, and that was during the Gary Waters era (who might be the most underrated basketball coach in America).

Just so I'm clear, what happened with Gary Waters at Rutgers?? Why did he resign?? I don't remember that. He led Rutgers to the finals of the NIT that year (which is probably the high point for Rutgers basketball in the last 20 years), and suddenly he's resigning?? Did he get in NCAA trouble or something?? If Rutgers actually forced him out, that is straight-up malpractice on the part of their administration. He was probably the best thing ever to happen to that program, and is doing an unbelievable job at Cleveland State.

14) St Johns - RPI 90 Pomeroy 94

Bring back Mike Jarvis!!! No?? He's actually starting to turn around Florida Atlantic. Maybe he'd throw the Johnnies back on probation, but Uncle Phil can coach and recruit. At least he'd make them relevant. Or how about Lou Carnesecca?? Is he still ticking?? Throw a sweater on him and get him out there.

Last trip to the NIT for St. Johns was in 2003. Could you imagine waiting 7 years for an NIT birth?? Brutal. No wonder they're averaging under 6,000 fans a game.

It all comes down to recruiting. If you can't get the players, you can't win in the Big East. Villanova comes into Jersey and NYC and Philly and just grabs one stud player after another. Same with UConn and Syracuse and all of the ACC schools. They grab the best guys, and then SJU and Seton Hall and Rutgers grab the rest. You need to get the 5 star horses out of the NYC area, and St. Johns doesn't get them. They did once upon a time (remember Felipe Lopez??), but guys like Jay Wright and Jim Calhoun have an iron fist around that area for the best talent these days. Not going to be an easy task going forward for SJU to start landing those studs again.

13) Providence -- RPI 108 Pomeroy 85

I took a peek at Providence's schedule coming up and almost fell out of my chair. How would you like to be Keno Davis staring at this schedule the next month??

Georgetown (#8)
at Nova (#2)
West Virginia (#6)
Syracuse (#4)
at South Florida
at Pitt (#21)

Brutal. They'll be lucky to win one of those games. Life in the Big East. If you don't take care of business against the meaty middle, the bottom can fall out quickly once you start running into the big dogs. Providence is not a bad team, but they probably need to spring a couple upsets just to get to 6-12 in the league. We can build on this! Yikes. If there's any good news, they are really really young with mainly freshmen and sophs doing the heavy lifting. And they have a Rivals Top 50 guy coming in next year, so maybe there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

Providence hasn't been to the dance in 6 years. Man, that's tough. It's like being a Milwaukee Brewers fan or something. The best you can hope for is that you make the postseason once or twice a decade.

The Big East is a nasty, nasty league. The money must be really good for these teams to want to take this punishment every year because I don't know how their fans can stand it. I get grumpy when ND misses the tourney in back to back years, and we hardly have it the worst in the league. If I was a Providence fan, I'd probably be throwing in the white flag and begging for the A.D. to get us into the A-10.

12) Cincinnati -- RPI 55 Pomeroy 73

If there was an award for "most disappointing team" and "worst coached-team in the league," I think Cincy would probably run away with both those awards. Cincinnati is in a tailspin, and it's about to get a whole lot worse. I'll go on record and say that they win one more game this season and finish 6-12. Their schedule is brutal, the team looks like it has packed it in, and the fans are really starting to get restless with Mick Cronin. Bad vibes down there at the Shoemaker Center. Fans were booing Mick at the end of the Syracuse game, and it's looking more and more like he is not the long term answer for that program.

Before the year, I think you could look at Cincy and project them as a team that would have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. UC actually has talent this year. Vaughn is a talented player, they have size down low with Gates, and now they have Lance Stephenson as a phenom out on the wing. But UC is probably the most undisciplined team in the league, they fold on the road, and they self-destruct at the worst possible times. When you watch them play, they just look like a team that isn't in sync, doesn't care, and tunes out their coach.

Mick Cronin will always have some backers because he’s a decent guy and a UC graduate. But he's just not winning games, and it's overwhelmingly obvious at this point that he is not cut out to be a head coach in the Big East. Year after year, UC wilts in the second half of the season and packs it in to the point where even the NIT is questionable. Isn't that coaching?? At what point do you just pull the plug?? If he can’t get UC to the Dance this year, when will he ever do it??

Then again, for all the "basketball school" talk, I'm not sure how committed UC is to this program other than the fact that they will let in anyone with a pulse to play basketball. Seems like UC and the fanbase are more focused on the football program these days, which might turn out to be a mistake now that Brian Kelly is gone. I know UC fans are starting to dump their hoops tickets and invest their money in the football program, but basketball has always been where the program’s bread is buttered. If you go all in on football and Butch Jones isn’t the answer, suddenly you’re staring at 12,000 fans at Nippert Stadium for Cincy-Rutgers in three years. The bottom can fall out on UC football in a hurry. Might want to make sure you stay on top of the basketball program before you risk the possibility that both programs go into the tank and you’re staring at a lost decade.

I don’t expect Mick to get fired after this year even if UC collapses and loses out. But the cries for his ouster will be extremely loud if he does get retained, and that will be the first time where I really feel like there is a consensus that UC should move on. There are no more excuses at this point. UC has let Mick bring in every thug with a pulse, and he has a full roster now. If he can’t make the dance next season in his 5th year, it’s time to make a change.

11) Seton Hall -- RPI 64 Pomeroy 64

I'll tell you what, Seton Hall is a lot better than their 3-7 Big East record. They've had several very close losses, including two in overtime. Reminds me a lot of that 2005-2006 ND team that lost a million games by 3 or less. They actually play a lot like ND does. Very good offensively with a dynamic wing player in Jeremy Hazell, but poor defensively. Not quite as bad as ND, but one of those teams that always seems to be getting in a shootout. Even though Seton Hall fans seem to be upset with him, I'm fairly impressed with what Bobby Gonzalez has done in making them competitive again.

I feel like I'm banging on this drum year after year, but someone tell me why Seton Hall wouldn't be better off in the A10 or some other conference. I know the A10 is having a banner year, but The Hall would probably be in the top 3 or 4 in the league with an RPI somewhere in the 40s if they were playing A10 basketball. They'd be right in the NCAA Tournament mix. In the Big East, they are lucky to even be an NIT team with all the talent in this league.

I guess not all hope is lost for this season though. I'm looking at their schedule, and every game but the road game at WVU looks winnable. Could they get to 10-8?? Probably won't happen, but it's not completely out of the question. Still don't think that gets them into the NCAA Tournament with that weak nonconference schedule, but a strong finish would be a good sign for next year for The Hall. If Hazell comes back, you gotta put them on the list of teams that could surge into the dance next year.

10) Connecticut -- RPI 57 Pomeroy 54

This might be a bit of hyperbole (UConn has gone through rough stretches in the past and gotten through them), but is UConn basketball at a bit of a crossroads?? Calhoun has been out for awhile, and who knows how much longer he’s going to be on the UConn bench. He’s 67 years old, and this is his third straight year of taking a leave of absence with health problems. At what point does he hang it up?? And how long before his health starts affecting their recruiting? It’s not like UConn is Duke or Carolina or Kentucky where kids grow up dreaming of putting on that uniform no matter who the coach is. Kids go to UConn to play for Jim Calhoun and develop into NBA players. If there’s uncertainty about his future, it might start scaring off players.

Then again, UConn still gets a 5 star type player every year. It just seems like they have a bad mix of guys this year and some guys who haven’t panned out. UConn seems to go into a funk every 4-5 years where they miss the NCAAs and then come roaring back the next year with a better mix of guys. For whatever reason, this team hasn’t gotten it done even though they look talented on paper. Seems like Dyson and Stanley Robinson have one foot in the NBA, and some of the younger stud recruits have not developed. Kemba Walker is a bright spot, but this team is thin and not a typical tough UConn team that gets in your shorts and locks people down. I thought they looked like a Final Four contender on paper, and now it's looking less and less likely that they will even make the NCAAs.

The interesting thing will be whether UConn can get to 9-9 this year and put themselves on that NCAA bubble going into the Big East tournament. With their talent, would ANYONE want to face them in the second round as an 8 or 9 seed?? Imagine if UConn gets to 9 wins, wins a couple games in the BET and is suddenly sitting there as a dangerous 2nd round opponent for somebody like Kentucky or Kansas. UConn has as much talent as anyone and 4-5 future pros on their roster. If they get it together, they have the ability to scare the heck out of someone and make a run, especially if Calhoun is back come tournament time.

Having said that, I don't see them getting to 9 wins. UConn has been an absolute dog on the road this year, and they still have 5 road games left. Looks like they are headed for 7-8 wins at best. See ya next year.

By the way, that UConn job is going to be interesting whenever Calhoun does step down. How attractive is that job?? On the one hand, UConn has been a powerhouse for a good 20 years, they are in a good recruiting area, and they are committed financially with a new practice facility coming on board. Plus, they have created this "basketball hotbed" niche with the men's and women's programs both being elite programs. The only questions for me are:

1) Does a good coach want to follow in Calhoun's footsteps?
2) Is UConn capable of standing on its own as an elite job without Calhoun's presence?

I think it's an interesting question. If you're some hot shot young coach, would you be scared off by the shadow of Calhoun?? What if you struggle for a couple years and fans get restless?? And is UConn really a top 10 kinda job along the lines of a Duke or UCLA or UNC or Kansas?? UConn has the Big East dollars and Nike and all that, but I don't know where they fall in the pecking order in terms of being a job that other coaches covet.

The coaching searches at these big time Big East jobs that might open up in the next decade (Syracuse and UConn) are going to be fascinating.

9) South Florida - RPI 50 Pomeroy 65

For my money, hands down the most intriguing story in the Big East this year has been the South Florida Bulls. When is that statue of Stan Heath going up on campus?? Hands down the coach of the year!!

Not only have the Bulls risen from the ashes, they might be the most fun team to watch in the league. Look at some of the numbers Dom Jones has been putting up. Amazing. Also love that Jarrid Famous guy, and they have Gilchrist coming back within the next week. Oh and just to add drama, former Ohio State transfer Anthony Crater has worked his way into the rotation. Extremely intriguing team that seems to be getting better as the season goes along. Watching that ND-USF game on Sunday, I felt extremely fortunate to come out of that one alive with a win. We needed every bit of that 16-2 start to pull that one out.

Can they get into the NCAAs this year?? I think they've got a shot to get into the picture. 4 home games left that all look very winnable (Cincy, Providence, SJU, UConn), and they still have DePaul on the road. Couldn't they easily win all those games and jump up to 10-8, especially with how well they are playing right now?? If that happened, they'd have several things going for them:

1) red hot finish
2) 10 conference wins
3) big wins over Pitt and Georgetown

I'll go ahead and say they get to 10-8. I'm Not sure if that is enough to get them into the NCAAs unless they make some noise in the BET, but they'd have some stuff going for them.

Anyway, even if they don't make the NCAAs, I think it's great that college basketball is relevant in the Greater Tampa area. Looks like Stan Heath is building something down there.

8) Notre Dame - RPI 59 Pomeroy 74

I don't know what to make of Notre Dame basketball right now. Part of me is screaming out for change, but the larger part of me feels no urgency to make a change for the sake of making a change without a larger plan in place to take the program to the next level. If you think that a simple coaching change is going to get this program to the next level, you're kidding yourself. It's plain as day from the recent interview with Swarbrick in Blue and Gold Illustrated that ND doesn't view itself as a major player in college basketball. Swarbrick admits himself that we do not even have the DESIRE to go after the elite guys. ND is not comfortable with the AAU scene or the agents or the handlers or the Worldwide Weses of the world.

Here is Swarbrick's quote on what it's like to recruit in college basketball these days.

“One of the challenges in basketball that you don’t see in other sports as much – although certainly the trend is in that direction – is that [recruiting] has become almost completely divorced from the high school environment,” Swarbrick explained. “So when you recruit a basketball player today, you’re not talking to the principal and the high school coach. Not as much as you’d like to. You’re talking to the folks involved on the AAU team.

“Football, of course, continues to all still be within the school environment, so you get grade input, and you establish relationships with principals and guidance counselors and coaches that, for all the challenges of the process, especially with the oral commit phenomenon, is still significantly healthier, because it plays out in that high school environment.”

Swarbrick even goes on to say in the interview that he hopes there are rule changes that will someday allow us to compete again for titles. He's looking for the NBA to adopt the baseball rules for early entry where a high school senior can either declare for the draft or go to college for three years. We can debate that topic at another time, but this tells me that our athletic department is openly admitting that we are not equipped to compete for championships right now in college basketball. It doesn't matter if Brey is the coach or Rick Pitino. If you can't get the players, you can't win big. It's plain and simple. You need to play defense of course, but you need pros. Future NBA guys. And under our current structure, we're not capable of landing those guys.

Now that's not meant to absolve Brey entirely. I'm well aware of his flaws and have documented them on this site ad nauseum. And if he did a better job with his bench or defensively or in constructing a nonconference schedule, this team might get better seeds in the tournament, which might lead to a deep NCAA tournament run and better recruiting. Brey has flaws as a head coach. He's almost become like the Wayne Fontes of college basketball. Remember back in the 90s when Fontes would start out every year like 2-6 and then reel off 5 straight wins to save his job?? Just when the buzzards started circling, he'd suddenly turn into Vince Lombardi. Brey is sort of like that as well. We do our best work when no one is expecting anything from us. It's like we need the element of surprise to win games.

But lots of coaches have flaws, and it's hard for me to bag on Mike Brey too much when he continues to get this team to .500 or above in the Big East even though he presides over a program that gets very little support from the athletic department. ND spends on this program like we should be Rutgers or St. Johns, and Brey typically gets far better results than that. What more can you expect from him?? Top 10 teams and Sweet 16 appearances?? Even though ND is 12th in spending in the Big East and won't let him recruit the studs that he needs if he wants to get us to the next level??

Imagine what Brey could do if you added an Onuaku type inside, an Austin Freeman out on the wing, and maybe someone lke Maalik Wayans as a 3rd guard. You don't think he'd benefit from having those options?? If you added a couple of those guys to this roster, we'd be a Sweet 16 team AT LEAST. But we're not even allowed to touch most of these stud McD's All-American types because they are viewed to be academic risks or "unsavory characters" or whatever other reason the collars have for not allowing Brey to recruit them.

People act like ND is some sort of plum job. It's not. We don't pay for squat in terms of head coaching salaries, we have a small recruiting budget and staff budget, our facilities are maybe the worst in the Big East, we can't recruit the best of the best because of academics, the perception out there is that we only care about football, and we haven't had a big time winning cache in 30 years. And people think coaches will be lining up for this job if/when Brey is gone??? Child please.

We would be LUCKY to get Brad Stephens, and I'm not even sure I'd want that guy. Yes, he's been fantastic at Butler, but he's never coached anywhere else!! Butler is one of those programs that runs on autopilot these days. They are the best of the best in the Horizon League, and they only need to recruit a 3-4 hour radius from campus to load the roster with a bunch of underrated guys from Indiana and Ohio and Illinois. They can scour the region and talk to every high school coach in the area to find kids who didn't grow up in the AAU scene but know how to play the game. And Butler is an attractive place for those guys to go because it's a hoops crazy school that will treat them like royalty. Stephens has won big at Butler, but my fear with him is that he's riding the coattails of a program that has been successful long before he got there.

Think about the coaches who have been at Butler before Brad Stephens. Lickliter, Collier, and Matta. Lickliter and Collier have been absolute DISASTERS outside of the Butler cocoon. Matta has been fantastic at Xavier and Ohio State, but Matta also had great basketball mentors in his assistant coaching days and had longtime recruiting ties in the Midwest that set him up to be successful outside of Butler. Matta was the guy who established Butler's recruiting pipeline that has allowed that program to flourish to this day. Plus, Matta earned his stripes outside of Butler as a head coach. He went to the Elite Eight at Xavier. Maybe Stephens is the next Thad Matta, but Stephens has never left the little Butler bubble. Take him out of that scene, and can he do it on his own, especially in the Big East?? Is Brad Stephens prepared to show up in the Big East and start winning head to head recruiting battles with the Jay Wrights and Jim Calhouns and Jim Boeheims of the world?? Maybe he can do it, I'll believe it when I see it. Either way, I hardly consider him to be a sure thing.

For my money, I'd rather hang onto Brey for the next couple years and do the following in the mean time:

1) Make it a goal to be the #1 spender in the Big East in terms of budget. Double the recruiting budget, tell Brey he can hire whatever assistants he wants, and recruit whoever he wants
2) Break ground on the best practice facility in the nation -- We have an enormous endowment and football money coming out of our ears. Put it to good use and build the best basketball facility around. ND is one of the richest schools out there, especially compared to the rest of the Big East programs that don't even have football. We should not be crying poor.

After that, I'd give Brey an ultimatum. He has 3 years to either (a) go to the Sweet 16, (b) go to the Finals of the BET, or (c) bring in a consensus top 10 recruiting class. If he can't do that with the new commitment that we are showing to hoops, he is gone. I would completely support that decision. If we're going to make the effort to be an elite program, then the expectations for Brey should be that he can get us there.

But for now, I really don't have that big of a problem with keeping Brey around. The problems in this program go higher than him. He's the Marvin Lewis of college basketball. Even though I think he's a flawed coach, it's hard for me to blame him for losing games when the program is not committed to winning. And the fact that he does win 9-10 games every year and keeps us relevant is not something I take lightly. There are a lot of coaches who would come to ND and completely flame out. If we fire Brey just for the sake of doing something, we could end up with a Jerry Wainwright/John McLeod type who could run this program right back into the ground.

As for this season, I think this team will probably end up a 9-9 or 10-8 (depending on Seton Hall). If we get to 10-8, we'll be in the tournament conversation. Our RPI and Pomeroy ratings are lousy, so that might ultimately keep us out. But at least we'd be in the hunt. That's about all I can expect out of this program these days until I see a plan from Swarbrick and the collars to perform better.

February 08, 2010

Theo Riddick moving to wide receiver?

Seems like there are a lot of hints out there about Theo Riddick moving to slot receiver this upcoming year. Not sure how I feel about this move. Even though it looks like we have a lot of depth at running back, wouldn't a position change for Riddick make us a bit thin and inexperienced at running back after 2010? Here’s where we are at with the depth chart right now:

Armando Allen – senior
Robert Hughes – senior
Jonas Gray – junior
Theo Riddick - sophomore
Cierre Wood – sophomore
Cameron Roberson – freshman

Allen and Hughes are gone after this year (amazing how quickly their careers have flown by), and Gray only has two years left going into this year. If Riddick moves to WR, I guess we’re going to be relying on some combination of Gray, Wood, and Roberson going into 2011. I know Coach Kelly is high on both Roberson and Wood, but are they as good as Riddick?? I was really impressed with Riddick’s explosiveness and tenacity this year, and always viewed him as the heir apparent at running back after Armando Allen leaves. He put some moves on guys last year that we haven’t seen out of an ND running back since the Julius Jones days. Can we go into 2011 looking at Wood as the possible feature back??

Does Kelly view Riddick as too skinny to be a feature back?? He's only 195 pounds and did have some fumbling problems this year, so maybe that has something to do with it. But that’s a typical problem for a freshman, and something that you would think he would grow out of as he gets more experienced in college football.

Maybe Kelly views Riddick as the most explosive player on the roster and wants to get him into that coveted slot receiver spot that became the focal point for his offenses at Cincinnati. Mardy Gilyard was always getting the ball on little bubble screens and slant routes, and I think Kelly values a guy who can catch the ball in space, make one move, and explode. If we’re going to be a “big chunk” team that thrives on big plays, someone is going to have to show the ability to catch a 5 yard pass and turn it into a 40 yard gain. Kelly might view Riddick as that guy. As I think more about it, it makes sense to me because Riddick seems to be more explosive than the other rumored guy for that spot, Shaq Evans. Even though I like Evans, he is not as athletic as I thought he would be. Maybe I'm just spoiled comparing him to Tate and Floyd, but I view Evans as more of a possession guy at this point.

The other thing is that Kelly seems to be really impressed with what he has in Roberson and Cierre Wood. We all heard what Kelly had to say about Cam Roberson in his press conference on signing day, and Kelly has hinted that Wood is about to burst onto the scene this year at the running back position. Wood was a top 50ish recruit coming out of high school. Maybe Kelly likes that Wood is 225 pounds and might be able to take more of a pounding running between the tackles. Sort of funny because I always viewed Cierre Wood as the guy who would end up switching to receiver or safety, and now it looks like Riddick might end up moving elsewhere.

Should be an interesting development if this happens. I have mixed feelings because we’ve seen the promise Riddick showed at running back, but it may end up being a move that benefits the team. Kelly is a guy who is not afraid to make personnel changes if he feels that it will benefit the team and helps us win. If he thinks this team would benefit from Riddick moving to receiver and Wood/Roberson taking over at RB someday, I can get behind it.

February 04, 2010

Recruiting Roundtable: Thoughts, Conjectures and Random Assertions

A smattering of thoughts in the wake of National Signing Day. What thinkest you? Feel free to chime in with your Magic 8 Ball forecast for the Class of 2014.

1) Overall Grade for the Class:

: B-. I'd say we got some nice building blocks with James and Nix and Lombard up front, but there's not a lot of sizzle here. Of the 23 guys signed, 8 guys were Kelly recruits. That's a pretty good flurry of bodies down the stretch. Between James, Lombard, Nix, T. Jones, Utopo, Welch, Wood, Badger and Moore, we have a good group of 8-10 guys who you can look at on signing day and think about them as starters somewhere on this roster in the future. And if some of the other guys blossom or the QBs pan out or we get quality special teams contributions, this class will be fine. It's not a home run class, but it's a solid class.

Jeremy: Most years, this would be a comfortable C or even a C-. But given the circumstances (new coach, 16-21 in the last 3 years), I think Kelly did just about as well as possible. So I'll give him a B, but expect that he'll be able to bring in a home run class next year.

Jimmy: A solid B-. Not quite flashy enough, though not too bad either. On a scale of 1 to 10, it scores a 7.2. This has very little reflection on what I think of Brian Kelly and his ability to teach and develop talent.

Pokey Reese: With this class, Brian Kelly got a lot of "glue" guys (read "RKGs" I guess). I could see many of them being contributors, and a few potentially growing into more prominent roles. Kelly accomplished something in his first class that Snot Bubbles never did. He was able to recruit at position of need and not completely whiff at any position (although I'm a tad concerned with our pure numbers at corner). Given Kelly's late star, I thought he closed exceptionally well. Schwenke was a nice surprise late in the game. All that said, there is 0 star power in this recruiting class, and four classes like this don't put you in the "national championship" conversation. I'll give two grades...on the national landscape, C+. From the standpoint of a transition class...B+.

2) What Players Do You Really Like/Excited About?

: Even though the d-line class is small, I like what we've done. Nix is a bulldozer in the middle, Utopo seems like one of those guys who just gets it done even though he's undersized, and Schwenke has the raw tools to be a pass rusher. All three of those guys could start in my book. Offensively, I think we're solid on the o-line with two potential anchors in James and Lombard.

Also like all the Cincy area high school guys that we recruited, and I like that Kelly went right out and started implementing this "big skill" mentality in his first class. He took a lot of tall, big frame guys who could project to a lot of different positions. It gives us options in terms of depth and versatility. These "big skill" guys could end up anywhere from DB to OL, and it probably helps team speed overall to take undersized guys and put weight on them.

Jeremy: The Usual Suspects - Louis Nix is the stud DT that ND has been waiting for; Matt James and Christian Lombard look like the next great ND o-linemen; Alex Welch will attempt to continue the GCL TE pipeline; and Tai-ler Jones should be the perfect slot WR for the Kelly offense. But I've got 3 guys that maybe are flying under the radar a bit that could be some real mainstays on the Irish defense for years to come. The first two guys are both on campus now, and could see some early playing time in the Irish secondary. Chris Badger flipped his commitment from Stanford to ND after visiting in June and represented the first pure safety commit in the class. Given the open depth chart at that position and Badger's natural skills on film, Badger's got a chance to make an early impact. Lo Wood, from the talent-heavy pipeline of Apopka, FL is the epitome of a ball-hawing, lock-down corner. As an early entrant, Wood might be able to hop on the field early as a special teams contributor and should add important depth to the CB position. Finally, Kendall Moore seems like a perfect fit as an ILB in the 3-4 defense, and can hopefully join with Te'o to create a hard-hitting, run-stopping tandem that ND has been lacking for quite some time.

Jimmy: I'm giddy about a few names that could become defensive stalwarts. Prince Shembo looks and sounds like a bad mofo as a rush LB. Love his high school production and the fact that defensive-minded southern schools like Va. Tech, Tennessee, UNC and Wake were vying for his attention. We need some lunch-pail guys to transform the defense. Also love Lo Wood as a ball-hawing CB who'll be christened by the student section with a big play salute befitting his jazzy moniker. Wood blocked seven (7!) kicks last year. Sign me up for a taste of Beamer Ball!! A guy you're not hearing much about is Spencer Boyd - a burner who projects as a CB. He's an early enrollee with Lo Wood, creating some early competition among the freshmen DBs. Justin Utopo & Kendall Moore are guys who will put some serious bite in the D - just get after the ball and be active. And love the size of Kona Schwenke - he could blossom into a main cog on the line with Lou Nix. Basically, I'm eager for a defensive overhaul. Nothing like new look hungry to show what they got. Kelly should have not problem finding ways to score. Until there's a new defensive mindset with a different attitude, winning a BCS game can't enter the discussion, let alone contending for the whole enchilada.

Pokey Reese: I like Tai-ler Jones, but mostly cause there is a hyphen in his first name. One of my friends teaches a girl named La-a (pronounced La-Dash-a). I'm only hoping that I can one day hear Hammond belting out "Ty-Dash-ler Jones into the end zone for the Irish touchdown." Hyphenated names aside, I'm most excited to see Louis Nix play a Casey Hampton (thankless) type roll in the middle. If he can learn to occupy blockers and allow our LBs to run free, we have made an immediate upgrade on the defensive side of the ball.

3) Biggest Disappointment About the Class:

: Just not enough impact horses. Look at USC. They landed five 5 stars and 7 guys overall in the top 50. Absurd!! We didn't get one top 50 guy. This is a product of the 6-6 season and 15 years of mediocrity of course, but it's still a bummer and something that might hold us back from getting back into the elite picture. You can't win titles unless you have the big time studs. There are sleepers of course, but go back through the years and look at the top 50 rankings on Rivals. (No really, take a look: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006) The top 50 is littered with the studs that become All-Americans and NFL draft picks. The Adrian Petersons and Rey Maualugas and Ted Ginns and Percy Harvins and CJ Spillers and DeSean Jacksons of the world. It's an impressive list, and we need to get more of those guys. We had some success in the Weis era with Clausen and Crist and Floyd and Te'o, but this year's class is more "solid" than something that jumps off the charts with high end guys.

Jeremy: Has to do mainly with expectations and needs. Rewind to the end of the 2008 season - Weis had just suffered an embarrassing home loss to a terrible Syracuse team and was on the verge of losing his job. But he was eventually retained, in part to keep his 2009 recruiting together. Also, the combination of a big Hawaii Bowl win and the surprise signing of the Hawaiian Hitman on Signing Day last year led some to believe that Weis' recruiting successes could help pull him out of the doldrums. The early verbals from Chris Martin and Christian Lombard, coupled with rumors of mutual interest from superstar recruits like Kyle Prater, Anthony Barr, Seantrel Henderson and others had Irish fans dreaming of perhaps snatching another Top 5 class. But as the losses mounted, the class started to stagnate. Superstar OT prospect James Hurst, from ND's backyard, verballed to UNC, interest from guys like Henderson, Prater and others waned and suddenly there were rumblings that Weis was headed for his second "filler" class in a row. Although the big USC weekend had some recruitniks thinking rejuvenation, the losses on the field were just too much to overcome, and the "next great class" quickly became an afterthought. The defection of Chris Martin was really just an example of the bigger disappointment - a continued failure by the coaching staff to meet expectations.

Jimmy: Since defense has been a glaring need, losing Chris Martin was a huge disappointment. He had star end rusher written all over him. His defection hurt. But if didn't want to be a part of what BK builds, we don't need him. Don't want to consider anybody that joins BK's first class to set the building blocks for a new winning tradition as a disappointment, even if one B. Heggie is the biggest head-scratcher of a signee in a long time.

Pokey Reese: I'm torn. Early in this recruiting cycle I was sure that we had two complete studs already signed, sealed and delivered. One hails from a traditional Irish pipeline (C-C-C-R-E_ _ _ T-T-T-T-N...C-R-E-T-I-N, Cretin-Derham Hall!) and the other is the son of Tony Brooks. In Snot Bubbles offense, Henderson is the shoe in winner for biggest disappointment. However, I agree with Kelly that left tackle is somewhat minimized in the spread. I'll go with Anthony Barr as the biggest disappointment. (not literally...Henderson is way bigger).

4) Thoughts on Kelly's Late Additions / RKGs in General? Do You Think Kelly has a Different Approach to Recruiting and Do You Like It?

: In terms of filling out the back end of recruiting classes, I don't mind this approach. This is something that Kelly can bring to the table in terms of finding undervalued guys who could project to different positions. He has spent a lot of years scouting under-the-radar prospects, and I would guess he has a system to know what types of guys tend to pan out. When you are a small school coach, you need to have a "Moneyball" type system to beat the big boys by finding gems who are a little too small or slow to be a DB but could be a great linebacker. Or maybe don't have the size right now to be an offensive tackle, but could get there with the right physical development. Or maybe the guy was a great high school quarterback and a leader but might be better suited to play middle linebacker in college as the quarterback of the defense. You can gain an edge if you believe in your system and know how to develop those types of guys.

Only concern for me going forward is if Kelly focuses too much on these RKGs and loads up the class with lesser talent when we could be out there targeting more elite guys. We will find out more about Kelly's recruiting philosophy this year. I think he will prove to be fine on the recruiting trail, and will go after all the big names. He has offered every big name out there in 2011 at this point.

Jeremy: Obviously there's been quite a bit of discussion about the "RKG" issue, and I think Doug has done a good job covering just about every angle. I did enjoy listening to Kelly talk more about his recruiting philosophy on Signing Day - particularly the 5 or 6 things he looks for in HS kids before even thinking about making an offer. It's obvious that the RKG label is probably going to keep biting Kelly in the ass, but I think next year's class, and the offers that have already gone out to 2011 prospects show that Kelly is not going to avoid the 4 and 5-star kids. He might be a little more selective than Weis or his other predecessors in making offers to the highly ranked guys, but I think this is going to end up being a non-issue. With regard to his approach, I think we're going to have to wait and see. Frankly, I don't really care who he recruits as long as he wins on the field. Weis brought in plenty of 4-stars but couldn't get it done where it really mattered - in the win column.

Jimmy: First of all, you need players. I'm sure Kelly tried like heck to land the big fish that were still in the pond the last few days of signing. But if ND was far down the list, why waste time if you can spend it more wisely on looking for some unpolished gems Surprised to see a number of Stanford de-commitments and players interested in Harbaugh's program - he clearly has a good thing going in Palo Alto for the time being.

Though there's a nagging feeling that BK went a tad overboard targeting his "RKGs", I'm a firm believer that you need the glue guys in place first to set the tone for success to come. Let the premier skill position recruits fall into place and reap the benefits of an organic team working together for one purpose. That's been a foreign concept for a while on campus. I'm also confident in Kelly's ability to teach and develop talent, MUCH better than Tubby McHoodie, which was a hallmark disappointment from day one when teams never improved over the course of a season. This will be different, I am sure.

Pokey Reese:
Was Jimmy Clausen an RKG? How about Michael Floyd? Kyle Rudolph? I mean...come on. RKG should mean the best talent that we can get [PERIOD]. The way it's being talked about in ND circles right now is embarrassing. Brian Kelly is not the Billy Beane of college football. He simply didn't have time to cultivate the relationships necessary to recruit the top level guys. If Kyle Prater was going to a school with a new coach, it certainly wasn't going to be in blustery, blue-gray skied South Bend. The only chance BK has is to show recruits that it will be different under his reign and develop relationships with recruits. RKG is a media spin to help us rationalize this class. Sure Briank Kelly looks at talent differently than Stoops and Meyer, but trust me...they all though Prater was an RKG.

5) Expectations for 2011 Class - Biggest Needs, Goals on the Trail, What Kelly Needs to Show, Etc.

Doug: Put it this way. This is Kelly's first big class. I think he needs to bring home a top 10 class with 20+ guys. Although we handed out a lot of scholarships late in the game, I still expect to have 18-20 to hand out next year. I'd put my wish list like this:

1) Impact safety and corner - Not only do we need depth, but we really need to get a couple studs back there. Should be interesting to see what our DBs look like this year. If they look much better, we might become an attractive place for some stud DBs.
2) 2-3 difference-makers at WR/RB/QB - Need to get that pipeline back up at the offensive skill positions.
3) Defense, defense, defense - Load up on front seven guys. You win in college football with the horses on defense. Kelly can scratch out offensive numbers with just about anything, but we need talent and playmakers in that front seven. Get me two stud defensive ends and a rush linebacker, and we could be onto something.

I'm pretty confident in Kelly's ability to recruit. I also think we're going to surprise some people in 2010 with the Ewing Theory in full effect.

Jeremy: Probably the two biggest needs will be at DE and S. The depth chart at those positions is frighteningly thin, particularly at S. I expect Kelly will also look to beef up the OL and bring in some great athletes to plug in on offense, particularly at WR. I fully expect that if Kelly has success on the field next year, he'll be just fine on the recruiting trail. Its almost a universal given that a new coach's 1st full recruiting class (after their 1st year on the field) results in a pretty good haul. Hell, even Bill Callahan had a great recruiting class after his first full season at Nebraska.

Jimmy: A few big splashes are sure to come. Major needs at RB and WR require addressing, though I don't think that will be too difficult. If Kelly molds his offense into the same high-octane force it's been, plenty of skill threats will clamor for South Bend. Defense still needs horses in the stable. Landing the difference-maker DT and CB who plays from the get-go is imperative. Most of all, Kelly needs to show that he can develop talent on the biggest stage. Do that and there'll be no shortage of top recruits lining up for the opportunity to place ND football in the national discussion for the right reasons.

Pokey Reese: The biggest need is for Brian Kelly to be talked about as a prime time recruiter. We need to have a big class (star power, not numbers). Outside of corner, I'm not particularly concerned about any position, but it is absolutely crucial that we land two or three studs. Buzz is the most important factor in recruiting. We need four or five kids being the ND crew at the all-star games. Snot Bubbles had it for a few years, and its really hard to compete consistently without it. There is always a need to find diamonds where others can't, but you also have to win your fair share of battles against Urbie, Stoops and Kiffykins.