Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Harden They Come | by Mike

Notre Dame appears to have received its fourth verbal commitment from the high school class of 2006 - 6' 7" SG Joe Harden of Stockton, California. Harden was recently selected the most valuable player of the Tri-City Athletic League. Local newspaper The Record reports:
St. Mary's senior Joe Harden said he is close to accepting a basketball scholarship to Notre Dame after Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey offered one Tuesday night.

"It's pretty much a done deal," said Harden, who averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds in leading the Rams to a 31-4 record and the CIF Division III runner-up spot. "When he calls me later this week, I'll make it official."
Upon hearing the news, we knew little about Harden other than that he bears any uncanny facial resemble to Saved by the Bell star Mark-Paul Gosselaar and sports the same floppy hair as fellow Stockton native Stephen Malkmus, so we canvassed the information on Harden's game available on the internet.

One of the more complete descriptions of Harden's game is's write-up of his performance at the Pangos All-American camp.
Harden had an outstanding camp, displaying a very good outside shot and a great feel for the game. He’s much bouncier than we remembered him from last summer and, overall, he’s a good athlete. He’s got a solid frame and should end up pretty strong by the time he gets to college. He’s got great hands on defense – he had a ton of deflections and steals. He’s very good at ripping the ball from unsuspecting opponents who let him get too close. Harden’s unselfishness was refreshing in a camp full of gunners. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: in an age where very few kids know how to play the game, the ones that do get it stand out in a very obvious way. Harden gets it and that’s why he is, in our opinion, a high major prospect.
Additional insight can be gleaned from perusing the stories chronicling the journey of Harden's St. Mary's team to the CIF Division III finals. One of the themes that emerges from the articles in Harden's local paper is his versatility:
Harden has played the point guard spot for EBO [Elite Basketball Organization, Harden's Fresno-based AAU basketball team sponsored by Adidas and EA Sports] but anticipates playing shooting guard or small forward in college.
In additional to positional flexibility, Harden contributes whether he is close to or far from the basket.
"He's a tough guy to guard, and he's got some outstanding range on the perimeter," [St. Mary's coach Ken] Green said. "He's an animal on both the offensive and defensive boards. I just think he's relentless."
In the first round of the playoffs, Harden had one of the best games of his career, dropping 40 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. He also displayed his dunking ability and trademark modesty.
Harden, who scored his previous high (36 points) against Edison this season, had two dunks, including a one-handed jam and a thunderous slam on a breakaway.

"Thanks to Ty Kelly - he hooked me up with both of those (dunks)," Harden said. "We had some guys step up, and they gave us a little energy - we fed off it."
Two days later, Harden scored 31 in another playoff victory, throwing down an alley-oop dunk at one point. Unfortunately, Harden's season came to an end with a loss to Artesia of Lakewood in the CIF Division III final. Nonetheless, even his opponents were impressed with Harden.
It came as no great surprise that when Joe Harden's glorious three-year career at St. Mary's came to an end, he left to a loud, heartfelt ovation.

What was a little shocking was that it was opposing players, from Artesia of Lakewood, who led the applause.

James Harden, who'd been in Joe Harden's face guarding him throughout the game, hugged him. So did Artesia sophomore Malik Story.

Shawntell Norman, a 6-foot-11 bear of a player who'd traded elbows with Harden underneath, walked to midcourt, turned and clapped as Harden made his way down the sideline to the Rams' bench.

The gesture screamed class act on the part of Artesia, which was well on its way to winning the California Interscholastic Federation Division III basketball championship, 60-41, by the time Harden fouled out with 3:17 left.

It also spoke volumes about Harden.

Artesia, ranked sixth in the country by USA Today, saw enough film of St. Mary's to know Harden was the player it had to stop if it was going to win a fourth title for the school. If holding him to 17 points and seven rebounds constitutes a stop, the Pioneers succeeded.

They did so by fronting him on the perimeter with their own Harden, James, and sticking the behemoth Norman underneath to impede his drives.
In reading the descriptions of Harden's game, the comparison that comes to mind is Dan Miller. While Harden lacks Miller's high school accolades (Miller, after all, was a McDonald's All-American), Harden is described as a player with height, a handle, and the ability to hit the outside shot. In the "outside-in" offense that Notre Dame has run for much of Mike Brey's tenure, this is a critical piece.

Given the glowing descriptions of Harden's game, one wonders why Harden had not yet received many high-major offers. Virginia and Southern Cal were mentioned as schools still staying in contact with Harden , but his only other reported offer was from UC Santa Barbara. He is rated a three-star prospect and a two-star prospect by Rivals and Scout, respectively. If we were to speculate based on the published reports on Harden - and this is nothing more than rank speculation - we might guess that some view Harden as a "jack of all trades, master of none" who uses his versatility to exploit the weaknesses presented by the average high school player, but who may not be able to do the same against high-major college opposition. Consider the difficulties Harden described in facing Artesia's James Harden.
"I've been face guarded this season, but usually I'm taller or quicker than the person guarding me and I can get by him," Harden said. "James is my size and he's quick."
Of course these difficulties were relative to Harden's earlier playoff performances. Harden still finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds.
He penetrated and took feeds from his teammates to deliver those rolling lay ups that are something of a trademark. He'd scored eight in a row during a two-minute span and looked like Joe Harden.
Against this speculation, consider that one of Notre Dame's weaknesses in recent years has been an abundance of players who did one thing extremely well but often had difficulty finding a way to contribute on nights when that one thing wasn't going well. By the end of this past year, Notre Dame's two most productive players were Chris Quinn and Russell Carter, the two players most capable of hurting opposing teams in multiple ways.

Everyone seems to expect that Harden's initial role will be to provide depth. Harden stated that Brey told him, "We're looking for more depth." Harden seems willing to begin with a lesser role and work for more playing time.
"A lot of the Big West and WCC schools said I could potentially start as a freshman," Harden said. "If I played high-major basketball, I'd have to work on a few things and possibly redshirt. I think I want to play at the best place where I can play."
Notre Dame's need for backcourt depth was evident in the NIT loss to Michigan, where Kyle McAlarney's injury and Russell Carter's foul trouble led to enormous difficulties handling the Michigan press. With Quinn's graduation this May, and the loss of Colin Falls and Carter after next year, it's nice to see that Kyle McAlarney will be joined by three guards with ball-handling skills - Harden, Tory Jackson, and Jonathan Peoples.

As he did with Peoples, Mike Brey is taking a chance on a prospect who appears to have the potential to emerge as an important player but has not yet shown enough to garner offers from many high-major programs. While a recruiting class composed entirely of such players would be cause for concern, that is not the situation here. Harden and Peoples appear to offer skills that complement the class's Top 100 recruits, Jackson and Luke Harangody. If you are going to take players you hope will develop in college, it helps to take high-character guys who were winners in high school. Peoples and Harden fit the bill. From another Record article:
EBO coach Darren Matsubara said Harden is a unique talent, but he hopes that the St. Mary's talent will compromise his unselfishness.

"He's a very good basketball player who brings a little bit more to the table," Matsubara said. "One thing that stands out is his willingness to make everyone better. Right now, because he's so humble, he's such an unselfish player that sometimes he doesn't look out for himself."

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Honorable Chris Quinn | by Pat

The AP All-America team list was just announced and Notre Dame senior Chris Quinn was named Honorable Mention All-American. The award is the first AP All-America honor for an Irish hoopster since Matt Carroll and Chris Thomas were both named Honorable Mention in 2003.

Additionaly, Quinn was selected to perform in the College Basketball Slam Dunk and Three-Point Shooting Championships to be held this Thursday in Indianapolis as part of the Final Four celebration. (In case you were wondering, Quinn is only in the Three-Point Shooting portion of the contest.) Shooting in the long range competition with Quinn are conference mates Steve Novak (Marquette) and Kevin Pittsnogle (Pittsburgh) as well as Bruce Horan (Butler). The contest can be seen on ESPN at 9pm on Thursday.

Irish star Megan Duffy will also be participating and has the rundown on the history of ND players in the event.
Quinn and Duffy are the fifth and sixth Notre Dame basketball players selected for this event, although this will mark the first time the Irish have had both a man and woman compete in their respective competitions in the same year. Sheila McMillen (1999), Martin Ingelsby (2001), David Graves (2002) and Alicia Ratay (2003) also have represented Notre Dame in the three-point shootout, but none advanced beyond the semifinal round.
So far for the season, Quinn has added up the following awards and honors.
• AP Honorable Mention All-American
• CBS Sportsline 3rd Team All-American
• 1st Team All-Big East
• Big East Sportsmanship Award
• ESPN the Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-America First Team

Monday, March 27, 2006

State Champ | by Pat

A quick update on incoming recruit Tory Jackson. This past weekend Jackson led his Buena Vista team to the Class C title in Michigan. It's the second state title for Jackson who also won one his sophomore year and was also named to the 2006 Detriot News Dream Team.

In addition to his basketball skills seems he will also be bringing a bit of confident, bordering on cocky, brashness to the Irish program. To be honest, that's something that the team can use after such a rough 2005-2006 season. Expectations will be low next year and the team will have a chance to play with a chip on their shoulder all year. Let's hope they do.

Arrested Development? (part 4) | by Pat

Here is the last player update on the look at Mike Brey and player development. Part 1 (Carroll/Jones/Timmermans) can be found here, Part 2 (Thomas/Cornette) here, and Part 3 (Quinn, Francis, Cornett) here. A final summary will be put out shortly.

Class of 2007

Russell Carter

High School:
RSCI ranking - not in Top 100 ranking - not ranked ranking - not ranked

A knee injury kept Russell Carter off the radar of most colleges despite his reputation as a scorer and all-around athlete. Surgery on his knee kept him out of the summer AAU tournaments before his senior year so many schools did not have Carter high on their lists. His final year at Paulsboro he was named Basketball Player of the Year by the Courier-Post and Newark Star Ledger but still didn't attract much interest. He bypassed the early signing period and when Notre Dame started to seriously recruit him the following spring, his only scholarship offers were from Penn, Drexel, and William & Mary.

Carter at Notre Dame:
ClassPPWS eFG% %Shots FTR
A/100TO/100 Steal% Block%Min/G


Carter didn't play much his first two years so it is hard to really draw any conclusions from his junior year statistics. On their own, the numbers are all very solid as Carter combined an efficient shooting touch with a very high FTR for a guard. Usually that comes as a result of repeated drives into the lane and that certainly describes Carter's game. If his junior year numbers were broken into a season-long chart, a definite improvement would be seen from the start of the Big East season to the conclusion. After losing his starting role to freshman Kyle MacAlarney, Carter refused to sulk and elevated his game to the point where he was the team's leading scorer in the final three Big East conference games and earned a first ever nomination to the weekly Big East Honor Roll.

Next year's numbers should offer a better idea on how Carter has improved, but despite the short sample period, Carter definitely developed as a basketball player. He is the runaway choice as this year's Most Improved Player.

Colin Falls

High School:
RSCI ranking - not in Top 100 ranking - 113 ranking - not in Top 100

Coming out of Loyola Academy near Chicago, Falls had a reputation as a shooter with unlimited range. He managed to find a spot on some of the earlier editions of the Top 100 list but ultimately was left off the final version. Scout still tabbed him as the 13th best shooting guard in the country. Mainly recruited by midwestern schools like DePaul and Marquette, Falls decided on the Irish over runner-up Northwestern.

Falls at Notre Dame:
ClassPPWS eFG% %Shots FTR
A/100TO/100 Steal% Block%Min/G

Falls saw plenty of early playing time at ND so even though he's only a junior, some take on development as a player can be made. After a solid debut as a freshman, Falls nearly tripled his playing time in his sophomore year yet still managed decent numbers. His PpWS stayed about the same, which is hard to do with such a large jump in playing time. Likewise he showed an improvement in rebounding, which is always a good thing to see out of a young guard. During his junior year his stats stayed nearly the same though. Nearly every number was the same sort of the same, save a dip in rebounding and steals. To his credit though he did reduce his turnovers. It should be noted that Falls battled through plantar fasciitis this season and perhaps that might explain some of the dip in his numbers.

Falls started off his career with very high offensive efficieny numbers so it's hard to just look at those numbers and highlight development. Even the best players can only be so efficient. One number on Falls that does jump out a bit is that his FTR has dropped all three years. Usually that results from a player staying out of the fray so to speak and shooting more from behind the arc. If Falls truly does continue to develop into a better player, he will have to add a mid-range and/or dribble drive aspect to his game. Whether he does that or not will be reflected in next year's FTR. On the whole, I feel that Falls is developing as a basketball player, but the gains are not that noticeable when looking at his stats. Part of this is due to the fact that he came into ND as a very accomplished perimeter offensive player and thus far has not been asked to be anything more than that on offense. How he does next year when he will be one of the senior leaders will determine if he winds up as a definite development success story.

Class of 2008

Rob Kurz

High School:
RSCI ranking - 97 ranking - 85 ranking - 81

Kurz came into Notre Dame as a versatile 6'8" forward with a nice mix of skills for a player of his size. Despite needing to add some more strength, Kurz impressed at summer camps with his toughness inside and willingness to attack the basket. Colleges also liked his ability to handle the ball and shoot from the outside. After getting attention from programs like Stanford and UConn, Big East schools Syracuse and Villanova offered Kurz a scholarship as well as finalist Indiana so Kurz did have his pick of a number of quality programs.

Kurz at Notre Dame:
ClassPPWS eFG% %Shots FTR
A/100TO/100 Steal% Block%Min/G


It's way too early to judge anything with regards to Rob Kurz, but I just wanted to get his numbers out there for comparison's sake. After no real contribution in the Big East season his freshman year due to a broken jaw, Kurz made a very large leap in playing time and put up some solid numbers. His rebounding in particular kept improving as the year progressed. Even though the point of the above stats is to show things on a per-possesion basis, I do think it is relevant to point out that after the first 8 Big East games, Rob Kurz totaled 31 rebounds. In the following 8 Big East games, Kurz grabbed 44. With more quality coaching, and perhaps a trip to a Big Man camp this summer, Kurz looks likely to show even more development next season. He is on the right track. Perhaps the best place to look for development will be on his offensive numbers, specifically his effective field goal percentage (eFG%).

Friday, March 24, 2006

Arrested Development? (part 3) | by Pat

This post is Part Three in a continuing series on player development under Coach Brey. Read the Intro and Part One (Carroll/Jones/Timmerman) here, and Part Two (Thomas/Cornette) here.

Class of 2006

Torin Francis

High School:
RSCI ranking - 37 ranking - 3rd best Center ranking - 16

In a battle that came down to the Irish and North Carolina with schools like Duke, Maryland, and Virginia on the outside looking in, Brey landed a power forward from Massachusetts who seemed to have a very bright future. While still relatively new to basketball, Francis more than held his own against the nation's best during AAU tournaments and All-Star camps. In fact, looking back at some of the descriptions of his game from recruiting websites paint the picture of a very talented player. Reading things like "his quick moves in the paint are starting to make him more dangerous – as he showed on one occasion by beating a defender baseline and throwing down a one-handed reverse dunk on Friday night" from one story, a Nike Camp recap that states "Torin is well schooled in a number of effective post moves--including the drop step, the baseline spin, and the up and under", and a McDonald's All-American practice report that states "Torin Francis put a power move on Amare Stoudamire and took it strong to the rack -- afterward thumping his chest a la WWF" highlight just how impressed Francis left everyone.

Francis at Notre Dame:
ClassPPWS eFG% %Shots FTR
A/100TO/100 Steal% Block%Min/G


Well, the thing that really jumps out at you is that nearly all of Francis' metrics got worse as he progressed through college. Clearly, he is far less effective as a senior than he was as a freshman and that is never what you want to see. Like Chris Thomas, not only did he not really develop, he actually regressed as a player. So how did this happen?

His first year at Notre Dame saw him burst onto the scene. In his first nine games he collected five double-doubles including a nearly triple double with a 21 point, 8 block, 10 rebound performance against #2 Texas. In Big East play he notched an impressive 0.80 free throw rate, which indicate a player that managed to get to the free throw line very often, and was named to the Big East All-Rookie team. He notched a career high in points (25) in a losing effort against Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen and the future seemed very bright for Francis.

After a summer spent participating in the trials for the USA Basketball Men's National Team, Francis came back to ND as one of 50 candidates for the John R. Wooden Preseason All-America Team. However, things started to head downhill for Francis as back spasms started to limit his ability to play. Two-thirds of the way into the Big East conference schedule, Francis was sidelined for the rest of the season due to injury. A month later he underwent back surgery to repair a herniated L5 disc in his lower back. Still, Francis performed well enough early in the year to ultimately be named honorable mention All-Big East.

His junior year Francis clearly was not the same basketball player. However you want to describe it, it was obvious that his back injury was affecting his play and the spring in his step. The dunks became fewer and lay-ins around the basket increased. Perhaps as a result, his shooting efficiency suffered and he actually dropped under the 1.00 PpWS level. His defense was solid, but with the ball on offense his fundamentals were not any better than they were his freshman year. In the entire year he had only one more double-double (6) than he did in those first nine games his freshman year. Curiously, at the end of the year he made the decision to declare for the NBA Draft despite a season that saw him passed over for All-Big East honors. Francis claims that it was an attempt to see where he stood regarding other draft prospects and, given his well-known back injury, I can understand a player trying to see if making the leap to the NBA was possible before the injury scared off too many teams. He did not hire an agent and after performances at the pre-draft camps that saw him labeled "inconsistent and somewhat passive" he dropped out of the draft as expected and returned to ND.

This season, Francis offensive efficiency is even worse and one of the worst from an Irish starter in the past six years. Worse yet, I see the same mistakes he has been making for four years. It's obvious to me that his back injury has affected his ability to develop as a basketball player. He clearly has lost some of his flexibility and vertical leap. But at the same time his hands are still inconsistent when it comes to corralling entry passes and his hesistant low post moves don't reflect the years of experience he has accumulated. So while I am sympathetic to the back injury, I feel that Francis' lack of development is largely the fault of Coach Brey and specifically his assistant coach who specializes in instructing the big men. One of the main reasons I feel this way is because while his offensive numbers declined, Francis became statistically a better rebounder every year on the team. If his back injury was the sole reason for his decline, then I would expect his rebounding numbers to suffer as well. Since they didn't, it leads me to believe he has received sub-par coaching at Notre Dame, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Chris Quinn

High School:
RSCI ranking - 75 ranking - 13th best Point Guard ranking - 66

Quinn was a bit of a sleeper in the recruiting world as a broken ankle after his junior year of high school kept him out of many summer camps that make or break a player's reputation. However, during his senior year in Columbus he established a reputation as a dead-eye shooter and a calm, efficient leader at point guard for his team. As the point guard for Team Ohio, Quinn lead his team to back to back championships in a 24-team international competition, was named MVP both years, and won the Three Point Shooting competition one of the years. While he didn't have the hype of other players, Quinn was noted by many as a player who should have a very solid Big East career.

Quinn at Notre Dame:
ClassPPWS eFG% %Shots FTR
A/100TO/100 Steal% Block%Min/G


As a freshman backing up sophomore Chris Thomas, Quinn put up a quiet, but remarkably efficient freshman campaign. With only 13 minutes a game, he was more of a spot player, but his 1.27 PpWs and 60% eFG percentage are terrific numbers. So early on it was apparent that Quinn made the most of his time on the court. As a sophomore his playing time nearly tripled so it's natural that his efficiency stats took a bit of a slide. However, his minutes per game stayed nearly the same his junior year and his offensive efficiency numbers took a big jump up. That is a sure sign of development. As a senior and the major offensive threat, Quinn is seeing more attention and likely being assigned the opponent's best defender. It's not surprising to see his efficiency numbers dip a bit, but considering that he is taking over a quarter of the Irish shots and playing pretty much every second of every game, the fact that he is still staying so efficient is truly remarkable. Another positive sign is that his FTR improved, showing an ability to draw more fouls. The drastic jump in assists is impressive, but not terribly unexpected as he finally became the lone point guard with the graduation of Chris Thomas.

This summary is short and sweet because there isn't much to explain. The stats clearly show that Chris Quinn became a better basketball player during his four years at Notre Dame. His steal totals did dip a bit, but I attribute that to the fact that as he assumed more responsbility, he began to be assigned to defend better players on the other team. Speaking for this season, Quinn is normally matched up with the other team's best outside scorer and his steal totals have increased from his junior year. In what is shaping up to be a mixed bag of player development results under Brey, Chris Quinn clearly stands out as a success story.

Rick Cornett

High School:
RSCI ranking - not in Top 100 ranking - 13th best Power Forward ranking - 89

Cornett came into Notre Dame with a reputation of being a tough, physical basketball player who was a solid rebounder and burgeoning low post threat. Coming from a very small school, Cornett attracted the most attention from his work on his AAU team that captured the 17 and Under AAU national championship. Cornett's team also featured current 76er's star Andre Iguodala and Michigan State Spartan Shannon Brown (as well as Colin Falls) so Cornett was not the first or second option, but he still contributed. In the championship game he chipped in 15 points, 11 boards (6 offensive) and was 7-8 from the free throw line.

Cornett at Notre Dame:
ClassPPWS eFG% %Shots FTR
A/100TO/100 Steal% Block%Min/G


His first year at Notre Dame, Cornett barely played and as such his stats can't really be viewed as anything other than numbers picked up in garbage time of various conference games. I'm inclined to discount many of his sophomore year numbers as well since he didn't even hit a 10 minutes per game average, but given that he hasn't averaged much more than that since I figured I'd leave them in. Still, given the smaller sample size for Cornett, it shouldn't be terribly surprising to see larger year to year flucuations since statistical outliers had a greater impact on the final numbers. Whether or not Cornett should have played extra minutes is another debate entirely, but at some level it does play into the development discussion. After all, the best way to get better is to play. It is difficult for a player to get better each year if they don't see much time of the floor.

One number that jumps out is his free throw rate. Sure, his free throw percentage was never good and the fact that it actually got worse is not a good sign. But as a power forward, the free throw rate, which basically tells you how much a player gets to the free throw line, dropped every year. His sophomore year his FTR was excellent at 0.73 (note this was also the high water mark for his free throw percentage). But then it dropped nearly 25% his junior year and then took another 25% drop going into his senior year. Cornett spent his time on offense banging in the low post in the rugged Big East and yet only got to the free throw line about the same percent of the time as guards Chris Quinn and Colin Falls. Compounding the problem is Cornett took 23% of the team's shots while he was in the game. That is second on the team only to Chris Quinn. This despite the fact that only Torin Francis and Luke Zeller had lower Points per Weighted Shot (PpWS) and effective Field Goal (eFG%) numbers.

The summer before his senior year, Cornett did attend the Pete Newell's Big Man camp. So he had the coaching to improve his low post game and in some spots that showed as his assist numbers went up while his turnovers went down. But even though it might seem like he played better offensively his senior year, his Big East stats don't really back that up. Like Francis, Cornett seems to have the ability to play -- he was the team's best offensive rebounder -- but his contributions in the post don't reflect that. Seeing as how both he and Francis both did not improve, especially offensively, I have to conclude once again that they were receiving sub-par coaching that hindered their development.

Next up: Class of 2007/2008 - Russell Carter, Colin Falls, and Rob Kurz.

POY | by Pat

Incoming point guard Tory Jackson recently was named Associated Press Class C Player of the Year (for the second straight year) and finished 6th in Michigan's Mr. Basketball voting. Jackson has been leading his team through the Michigan Class C playoffs and now has them poised to play for the State Championship tomorrow. In the state semi-final game Jackson finished with 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in an easy 70-41 victory. An article in the Detriot News talks about "Mr. Everything's" ability to adapt to the current game conditions.
"You got to be able to adjust. That is what makes a great player," Jackson said. "If you can't adjust to a defense or you can't change your role then you can't be a good player. You are one dimensional. If you don't make smart plays they will know how to stop you and that stops the whole offense and that makes your team lose."
Jackson still has one game left in his high school career and the South Bend Tribune covers how not being named Mr. Basketball fuels his competitive fire for that final game. Jackson also mentions his plans for seeing the floor early when he shows up at Notre Dame.
"I played quarterback for two years, so I can take contact," said Jackson, who has gained 25 pounds during his high school years. "The Big East is a guard's league. Notre Dame is a great school, top-notch academics -- and, they need a point guard."

"If someone is going to beat Tory out at Notre Dame, they're going to have to fight him for it," Chaffer said. "He's a fighter; a warrior. He doesn't back down from anything."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Fitting End | by Pat

Final Score

Michigan 87, Notre Dame 84 (2OT)

The Essentials

AP Game Recap
Box Score
SBT Game Story
Photo Gallery

This and That

I suppose it is fitting that the Irish season end on a buzzer-beating shot. It has been an extremely frustrating season for Irish fans, players, and coaches and while I hate to see Notre Dame lose, perhaps it is for the best that this season finally be laid to rest.

• The most interesting part of this game was the presence of freshman Ryan Ayers on the floor for 34 minutes and the early cameo for Zach Hillesland. The injury to Kyle MacAlarney's ankle and foul trouble by Russell Carter most likely lead to the large spike in Ayers' playing time, but Brey went deeper into the bench early in the game more than he has all season. And when on the floor, Ayers didn't look like a freshman getting his first taste of extended minutes. He looked comfortable and competent. Competent enough in fact to raise questions about why he didn't see the floor in similar situations earlier in the year. I'll table those kind of questions until a later date and just note that Ayers looks like he can and should play a major role on future Irish squads. He made a few freshman mistakes, like letting Horton blow by him on a head fake, but on the whole he played under control, added a much needed defensive presence to the perimeter, and even hit a few big shots and free throws during the game.

• After his strong game against Vanderbilt, Torin Francis started off strong during his extremely physical low posts battles with Michigan's Graham "It's clobbering time!" Brown. The scuffles for position down on the block were some of the most heated I've seen all season. Rick Cornett fought admirably for position too and made some pretty nice low post moves of his own. Still, some of the old bad habits surfaced late in the game with probably none being worse than Francis taking an unnecessary dribble to steady himself before rising for a dunk that was spectacularly rejected. That play definitely helped swing the momentum Michigan's way as the Wolverines capitalized on the turnover for a four point swing.

• Colin Falls started off the game hot and his shooting resulted in a early Irish lead they held on to until the final seconds of the game. But once again he was more or less shut out of the offense once teams adjusted and committed to denying him the ball wherever he was on the floor. Colin is going to see this type of jersey-grabbing attention more and more next season so he's going to need to work on his dribble drive and pull-up mid-range jumper to keep defenders honest. To his credit, he hit a few in the game against the Wolverines which was great to see and a step in the right direction. And honestly, what will really help him are better screens from this teammates. It's always the responsibilty of the player using the screen to wipe his defender off on the set screen, but too often players like Francis and Cornett were a step slow getting to the screen and failed to set a solid screen. As with most sports, the attention to detail on fundamentals means a lot and when a player sets a mediocre screen, they have to resort to moving picks, like Cornett was called for in the game, in order to block out the defender. Fans hope Luke Harangody can come in and be an instant impact next year on offense. Well, the best thing he can do is provide a solid, dependable screen for Colin Falls so that Falls can get open and set himself for the three-pointer without a hand right in his face.

• The injury to MacAlarney stung the Irish late in the game when Michigan decided to stretch its press full court. In a sequence of plays that will replay in Irish coaches' (and fans') heads all off-season, ND was unable to get the ball inbounds, even after calling a timeout to regroup and settle down. It is those type of "minor" mistakes that afflicted the Irish all season long and most likely kept a few of those close losses from being close wins. Another factor is that far too often the Irish use timeouts to avoid the 5-second call when trapped by an aggressive defense. At least two, and perhaps three timeouts last night were used in that manner. It is never a good thing to turn the ball over, especially late in the game. But at some point a coach and the players must understand that holding on to that one last timeout can mean the difference between getting a chance to set up that final play or hoping everything comes together on the fly. Yes, Brey does tend to call a lot of timeouts for strategy reasons and sometimes leaves himself empty-handed at the end of the game. But what really saps the Irish ability to halt play late in the game are those quick player-called timeouts to avoid turning the ball over earlier in the half.

Stat Line of the Night
                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
42 AYERS, Ryan......... 2-3 1-1 2-2 0 4 4 1 7 0 0 1 0 34

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Inside Out | by Pat

Final Score

Notre Dame 79, Vanderbilt 69

The Essentials

AP Game Recap
Box Score
SBT Game Story
Photo Gallery

This and That

A bit late on this recap so I'll be brief.

• Torin Francis made his final game on his home court a memorable one with his 23 point, 11 rebound performance. But to be honest, the lackluster Commodore interior defense had as much to do with his offensive output as anything else. The Irish all played a quality game and just wore down a Vanderbilt team that never could recover from the quick Irish start. The key to the victory was the ability of the Irish to establish an effective inside game, which in turn later opened up the outside game for some easy three-pointers. This type of gameplan would most likely have resulted in an NCAA berth had the Irish been able to accomplish it during the regular season. But ND never did seem able to force teams to respect the inside game most of the time.

• The Irish defense wasn't great early on, but it did settle down. He had an off night shooting, but ND did hold Vandy's leading scorer, Shane Roberts, to only 4 points on 1-9 shooting.

• Only 3,317 fans bothered to show up for the game, but they were a loud group that sounded a lot better than they looked on TV.

• Kudos to Colin Falls for breaking Matt Carroll's single-season made three pointer record. Carroll made 99 three-pointers on 243 attempts (40.7%). Falls finished the game with a season mark of 100 three-pointers on 252 attempts (39/7%).

Stat Line of the Night
                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
34 Francis, Torin...... f 10-14 0-0 3-5 3 8 11 4 23 2 2 0 1 35

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

NCAA Tournament - Final Four | by Jeff

Rounds Five and Six:
Overall in the final three games, the better seeded team holds a 3-2 edge, specifically 30-19, with matchups between equally seeded teams occuring 22% of the time (14 out of 63 matchups). The best advice history tells us is to pick one upset in the final three games, and probably avoid more than one match-up between teams with the same seeds.

The Semifinals
Of the past 42 semifinal winners, nineteen were #1 seeds, and at least one #1 has made it in 76% of the championship games. Interestingly, four of the five times there hasn't been a #1 seed, the matchup was #2 vs #3. Last year, two #1 seeds made the championship game, ending a two year draught for the #1 seeds. Prior to that hiatus, however, #1s had made it for four years in a row and ten of the last eleven years, including a matching of two #1s in '99. In general, the matchups here are toss-ups with a slight edge going to the better seeded team (winning 56% of the time).
Seed Chance for any one team to make the Championship Game Average number in Championship Game
1 45% 0.90
2 21% 0.43
3 17% 0.33
4 5% 0.10
5 5% 0.10
6 5% 0.10
7 - -
8 2% 0.05
9-16 - -

The Championship Game
#1 seeds have faced each other in the final game three times (in '93, '99, and '05), and #3 seeds have squared off only once (in '89). Ignoring those equally seeded matchups, better seeded teams hold a 12-5 advantage over the worse seeded team, for a 71% winning pecentage. However three of those five upsets came between 1985 and 1988 (#8 Villanova over #1 Georgetown in '85, #2 Louisville over #1 Duke in '86, and #6 Kansas over #1 Oklahoma in '88). The last 16 years have produced only two upsets in the Championship Game. Overall, since 1985, #1 seeds have won twelve times, #2 seeds have won four times, #3 seeds have won twice, and a #4, #6, and #8 seed have each won once.

Seed Victories Percentage
1 12 57%
2 4 19%
3 2 10%
4 1 5%
6 1 5%
7 - -
8 1 5%
9-16 - -

Some stats on the past champions:
Year Seed Team Regular Season Record Conference Champs
Overall Conf Conf Tourney Season Tourney
2005 1 North Carolina 26-3 14-2 1-1 Y N
2004 2 UConn 24-6 12-4 3-0 N Y
2003 3 Syracuse 23-4 13-3 1-1 Y N
2002 1 Maryland 25-3 15-1 1-1 Y N
2001 1 Duke 26-4 13-3 3-0 Y Y
2000 1 Michigan State 23-7 13-3 3-0 Y Y
1999 1 UConn 25-2 16-2 3-0 Y Y
1998 2 Kentucky 26-4 14-2 3-0 Y Y
1997 4 Arizona 24-5 17-1 - Y -
1996 1 Kentucky 26-1 16-0 2-1 Y N
1995 1 UCLA 25-2 16-2 - Y -
1994 1 Arkansas 24-2 14-2 1-1 Y N
1993 1 North Carolina 26-3 14-2 2-1 Y N
1992 1 Duke 25-2 14-2 3-0 Y Y
1991 2 Duke 25-6 11-3 1-1 Y N
1990 1 UNLV 26-5 16-2 3-0 Y Y
1989 3 Michigan tbd tbd - N -
1988 6 Kansas 20-10 9-5 1-1 N N
1987 1 Indiana 24-4 15-3 - Y -
1986 2 Louisville 24-7 10-2 2-0 Y Y
1985 8 Villanova 19-10 9-7 1-1 N N

Commodores are coming to town | by Pat

After last year's paltry showing for the first round loss to Holy Cross, it was a bit curious when Notre Dame was selected to host the first round game this year against Vanderbilt. It was especially curious since Notre Dame is the #5 seed and yet will host the higher ranked #4 seed Vandy. When you factor in the fact that the ND students will be on spring break, just why did the Irish get picked to host the game?

The answer turns out to be the dreaded scheduling conflict. The official N.I.T website has the explanation.
With two exceptions - Butler and Notre Dame - the team with the better seed will play at home through the early rounds. The two Indiana teams were spared initial games on the road because of conflicting events at their opponents' gyms. The normal seeding would determine the home teams should Butler beat Miami or Notre Dame advance against Vanderbilt.
Hopefully the Irish won't be playing in front of a near empty house this Wednesday.

Monday, March 13, 2006

NCAA Tournament - Round 4 | by Jeff

Round Four:
(Picking your Final Four)
This time, there are 64 combinations to go through, again, it's not worth it to go through them in detail. However, only 20 of the 64 possible matchups have ever occurred, and only 13 of those have happened more than once. The Final Four generally works out as follows:

Put in at least one #1 seed (every Final Four has had at least one), with a 86% chance of a #2 seed, and and a 90% chance of either a #3 or a #4 seed. The remaining spot will most likely be filled by a #1 seed (71%), and there is a 50-50 shot that a #5-#11 seed will make it in as well. There has never been a final four consisting entirely of #1 seeds, and only three times have three #1s made it. The average number of teams by seed is listed below:
SeedChance for any one team to make the Final Four Average number in the Final Four
1 43% 1.71
2 21% 0.86
3 13% 0.52
4 10% 0.38
5 5% 0.19
6 4% 0.14
8 4% 0.14
11 1% 0.05

A little history on the Final Four:
Seed Average per year Occurrences Comments
No teamsOne Team Two Teams Three Teams
1 1.71 - 9 9 3 -
2 0.86 6 12 3 - -
3 0.52 13 5 3 - -
4 0.38 14 6 1 - -
5 0.19 17 4 - - Mississippi St '96
Florida '00
Indiana '02
6 0.14 18 3 - - Providence '87
Kansas '88
Michigan '92
8 0.14 19 1 1 - Villanova '87
Wisconsin & UNC '00
11 0.05 20 1 - - LSU '86

N.I.T.-Bound | by Pat

The brackets are out and the Irish will host the Vanderbilt Commodores in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament this Wednesday. Check out the full N.I.T. bracket here. has the rundown on the history between the Irish and the Commodores.
The contest will be the ninth meeting ever between the two schools with the series tied at 4-4. Notre Dame has been victorious each of the last two times the teams have met. The last matchup between the two schools was during the 2002-03 campaign when the Irish earned a 76-63 victory at the Joyce Center on December 30, 2002. Wednesday's contest will mark the fourth visit by a Commodore team to the Joyce Center. Vanderbilt teams are 2-1 in the three previous games they have played at the Joyce Center. It's last victory over Notre Dame was an overtime decision (87-85) at the Joyce Center on December 4, 1999.
Historically, the Irish are 22-9 in the N.I.T. with this being their 10th appearance. Notre Dame has never won the post-season tourney, but out of the previous nine showings, the Irish finished second four times (1973, 1984, 1992, 2000). ND placed third overall in 1968 and participated, but failed to make the N.I.T. Final Four in 1983, 1997, 2004, and 2005.

While just getting to the N.I.T. was an accomplishment for this program prior to Brey's arrival, the level of expectations surrounding the program have risen and this year's trip is a lackluster consolation for a team that suffered through a heartbreaking season. It will be interesting to see if the team decides to re-group and attempt to end the season on a winning note or if they will pack it in early like last year's embarrassing first round defeat at the hands of Holy Cross.

Personally I do hope that the Irish keep advancing and winning. Not only because I enjoy watching ND basketball, but because the N.I.T. can be a great way to build up playing experience for the younger players on the roster. As much as I appreciate the efforts that Quinn, Francis, and Cornett gave to the program, there needs to be some sort of push for the future.

Hopefully Brey will adopt a bit of a pre-pre-season mentality for the N.I.T. and give some of the underclassmen such as Ryan Ayers, Luke Zeller, and Zach Hillesland some more time on the court to see what they can do. The seniors should still start, but they should also spend plenty of time watching the game from the sidelines. I'd love to give Ayers 10 minutes and see if he is able to raise the defensive intensity of the team. Zeller has had some time on the court and not been entirely efficient, but added experience is just as valuable as time in the weight room. Finally, I haven't seen a single minute of Hillesland this season but his redshirt is gone so he might as well get out there.

MacAlarney has been seeing regular playing time already and has impressed me so far with his hustle, outside shot, and relatively quick adaptation to the Big East. But he's going to be our point guard next year so hopefully Brey hands him the reins for a decent amount of time during each game the Irish play. Quinn doesn't have to take the bench during that time. He can slide over to the 2-guard spot the way that Chris Thomas slid over when Quinn was allowed to run the show for a bit last year.

There is precedent for doing this type of roster shuffling. Last year heading into the N.I.T., Rob Kurz had played a grand total of four minutes during the Big East regular season. True he was out with injury for much of that time, but he definitely wasn't part of the regular rotation come the postseason. But then during the Holy Cross game, Brey put Kurz out on the court for 19 minutes to see what he could do. And while the Irish lost, Kurz did manage 11 points and 7 rebounds and gave a few glimpses of someone who would be able to contribute in his sophomore year. Could Ayers or Hillesland accomplish something similar given the same amount of time? Time will tell.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

NCAA Tournament - Round 3 | by Jeff

Round Three:

OK, the math will get really ugly here, because there are 32 possible matchups in this round. So we’ll just take it all with two fell swoops.

In the upper half of the bracket, your Elite Eight should consist of at least two #1 seeds, with an 70% chance of three (there are an average of 2.71 number one seeds in every Elite Eight). The odds for the other seeds are listed below, but a good rule of thumb is to pick a #4 seed or possibly a #5 or a #8.
Seed Chance for any one team to make the Elite Eight Average number in Elite Eight
1 68% 2.71
4 17% 0.67
5 6% 0.24
8 7% 0.29
9 1% 0.05
12 1% 0.05
13 0% 0.00
16 0% 0.00

And in the lower half, the likely participants are two #2s seeds, a number #3 (81% of the time), and one team from the #6, #7, and #10 group. The #11 seeds rarely make it (4% of the time) and the #14 and #15 seeds need not apply. A good bracket would be two #2s, a #3, and one from the rest of the teams available.
Seed Chance for any one team to make the Elite Eight Average number in Elite Eight
2 48% 1.90
3 20% 0.81
6 14% 0.57
7 7% 0.29
10 7% 0.29
11 4% 0.14
14 0% 0.00
15 0% 0.00

Check previous posts for matchups in the first and second rounds.