July 23, 2008

Bring Back the Prestige

ESPN trotted out an interesting analysis the other day ranking the most "prestigious" basketball programs in the country since March Madness expanded to 64 teams. As I digested the first breakdown, I started thinking to myself, "Please please please don't tell me Notre Dame didn't crack this list." I realize the John McLeod Era was a plague upon the program, but there have been plenty of areas of merit. 11 20-win seasons. 11 trips to the Big Dance, including the Sweet 16 in '03. NIT runners-up in '92 and '00. Pat Garrity, Troy Murphy and Luke "The Mongoose" Harangody all garnering All-American status. 2000-2001 Big East West Division champs. Surely this was enough to look past 6 moribund seasons of sub .500 ball.

When I saw that they had, in fact, ranked 51-300, I felt more queasy that ND's step-child program would find themselves on the scrap heap. I scanned the first twenty or so names and was happy/surprised to see the Irish not mentioned. A glimmer of hope flashed. The fleeting moment passed upon seeing Notre Dame next to "T-86." What kind of sick joke is this?! Tied with Mississippi State, ranked directly behind such "prestigious" programs as South Alabama, East Tennessee, Ball State, Pepperdine, Bucknell, Winthrop, Old Dominion, Montana, and Louisiana Tech. Read that list again and tell me your stomach doesn't churn and make you want to hurl.

Let me get this straight ESPN. In the last 24 years, a school that plays a national schedule in the premier basketball conference in the country, a school that has had four 1st and 2nd team All-Americans and a slew of NBA players, a school that has occupied space in the media Top 25 polls throughout, falls behind East Tennessee in its "prestige" rankings. No offense, but I find that system flawed.

Have the Irish consistently crapped the bed in the Big East Tourney? To the point where they now wear Depends, yes. Have they disappointed with 1st and 2nd round losses in The Dance to beatable teams? Like a hand-knit Christmas sweater from your aunt. Washington State in '08, Winthrop in '07, Mississippi in '01 in recent memory. And dating back to the beginning of this time frame, SMU ('88) and Arkansas Little-Rock ('86) bested the underachieving Irish. Have they had highly touted recruits turn their value upside down? Without question, Chris Thomas and Torin Francis became as valuable to the team's success as a turd sandwich in a lunch-room trade.

But it's not just the Irish lowball ranking that irks me to no end. Granted, the good people who concocted this ranking system decided to be fair across the board and award points for specific benchmarks, regardless of the competition these benchmarks were accomplished against. It's a pretty cool, in-depth look at who's done what for us recently in basketball. But there are some egregious misnomers created by this inexact science.

Murray State clocks in at #30. Really??? I couldn't name you a single player or recall any hype related to Murray State in the last 20 years. Yet according to the points system, winning the vaunted Ohio Valley conference 22 times (regular season and tournament) weighs more than Villanova (#31) winning a title, making two Elite Eights, and having some of the best players in the country don a Wildcats uniform. Something clearly is getting lost in the addition.

College of Charleston (#50) and Chattanooga (#48) dominate weak conferences year in and year out, thus inflating their 20-win seasons exponentially. Please tell me how either of these deserve to be ranked above Marquette (#61) or Boston College (#71)?

ESPN is doing a good job of dragging this out over 5 days, so I'm curious to see how the top 20 shakes down according to their flawed point system. The usual suspects will be in the top spots, but in what order? If ESPN conducts this ranking in another 20 years, I sincerely hope that the Irish will lay claim to a top 30 ranking. The program is destined for a prolonged string of competitive, 20-win squads. They need a transcendent team to make a deep run and become as storied as the '78 Final Four squad. Could this year's team fit that description? Football season first, but, as sacrilegious as it may sound, I'm definitely more excited for the exploits of Brey's ballers than Weis' warriors.


Doug said...

Jimbo, interesting stuff. I didn't know ESPN was putting together this list. While I would also like to see us ranked much higher on this list, it's hard for me to get all bent out of shape when we had a grand total of zero NCAA tournament appearances in the 1990s, only one Sweet 16 appearance in 20+ years, and multiple losing seasons in a row. We've had a nice little resurgence under Mike Brey, but it doesn't erase the fact that we were a legitimate Big East bottom feeder for a solid decade. Just looking at our records in the 90s is painful. When guys like Dennis Carroll and Todd Palmer are playing prominent roles in your program within the last decade, it's going to take awhile to erase the stain of the McLeod era from our slate.

I think your last point is the key here. The goal for this program should be to make the top 30 of this list when it is redone in ten years. I would much rather be having the debate of whether we belong ahead of Gonzaga and Maryland in the top 30 than whether we should be ahead of Siena or Old Dominion in the 70s.

Kenny said...

How about the Miami (OH) Redhawks checking in at T53??!! I attended maybe 5 basketball games in my 4 years there. The only reason students ever went was to enjoy the delicous hot dogs served up at the concession stand that you could buy on your meal plan. I'm assuming we got our ranking thanks to Ron Harper and Wally's World. Eat your hearts out Irish faithful!

VUhoops.com said...

A couple of us in 'Nova Nation were a little confused with how we lost the tie-breaker to Murray St too.

I guess National Championships aren't worth what they used to be...

Doug said...

Kenny, I was as surprised as anyone that Miami ended up at #53, but they deserve it. Miami has been the best program in the MAC over the last 25 yeras, and very rarely have they been down for that long. Throw in a couple superstar college players, and they have had a great run for a mid-major.

By the way, are we looking at a top 20 performance in this list for the Cincinnati Bearcats?? WOW. I did not expect that, but they haven't come up yet on the list and would have been listed by now. I guess you have to give UC credit for going to the NCAA Tournament like 16 years in a row, but I thought that all the 2nd round exits would bring them down.

Doug said...

Indeed, Nova appears to have been shafted in this list considering that they are the lowest national title winner.

Did Nova get any points for having a top 10 pick in the NBA draft since 84?? I figured that someone would have been a lottery pick along the way for them.

What are your thoughts on the 2008 season?? Do you feel good about Nova this year?? It's going to be an interesting year in the Big East with so many top 25 teams.