Sunday, March 13, 2005

Northern Iowa and a Look Ahead to Next Season

Last like season, Notre Dame was firmly on the bubble on Selection Sunday, and like last season, Notre Dame is left out of the NCAA tournament. However, unlike last season, this snub leaves a bitter taste in my mouth based on a particular team that got in and that team is Northern Iowa. Who is Northern Iowa? Well, they play in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), finished with a 21-10 record and a RPI of 44. They lost to the powerhouse team Southwest Missouri State in the quarterfinals of the MVC tournament. Despite that lost, they were more deserving than Notre Dame, Maryland, St. Joseph's, DePaul, Miami of Ohio and Buffalo to be invited to the NCAA tournament. Excuse me? Take a look at their schedule here. They lost games to Evansville, Witchita State, Bradley and Drake. Their best two wins came against Southern Illinois and Iowa State. Both are good teams, but neither are expected to go deep into the tournament. I think if any of the bubble teams that I mentioned above had gotten in over Notre Dame, I probably would not be as irritated as I am now. I have to wonder if Iowa's AD's participation in the selection committee had something to do with the extremely questionable selection here.

Then again, I would not be on this rant right now if Notre Dame had taken care of business and beaten a team that was 2-14 in the Big East. This was the most frustrating Notre Dame season to watch in recent memory because you never knew which Notre Dame was going to show up. Would it be the team that beats undefeated Boston College or would it be the team that gets dominated by a mediocre Pac-10 team-UCLA? As I said in my last post about Notre Dame's basketball team, I think Mike Brey is firmly on the hot seat. He has to get to the NCAA tournament next season to keep his job. There is no reason why a program like Notre Dame should not be in the NCAA tournament 2 out of every 3 years.

The team should be better next year. Chris Thomas and Jordan Cornette will be gone, but neither loss will hurt Notre Dame much. Thomas did some nice things this year distributing the basketball and rebounding, but his shooting was atrocious all season and his defense left a lot to be desired. Chris Quinn became Notre Dame's best player as the season wore on and he will be an upgrade over Thomas at the point. As for Cornette, he has been one of Notre Dame's best defensive players, but his offensive game was pathetic. He played like he was a 6'2" guard on the offensive side of the ball even though he is 6'10". Not having to see Cornette hoist up bricks behind three point line next year will be a welcome relief. Incoming freshman and McDonald's All-American, Luke Zeller, should more than adequately fill Cornette's shoes. Unlike Cornette, he uses his size to take quality shots inside though he is a question mark defensively.

So what will be Notre Dame's starting five next year? A very good question. There is little doubt that the backcourt will be Quinn and Falls with Francis playing center or power forward. The other post position will be taken by one of three players: Latimore, Cornett or Zeller. The big question mark is who will fill that other spot. Will Brey go with Russell Carter, who has shown sparks offensively, but is not a strong defender or will he go with Omari Israel, who has the ability to put the ball on the floor and has great size, but has been erratic when he played this season. The success of Notre Dame's season next year could depend on the development of Israel and Carter who both should see major minutes next season. Another big question mark is who will back up Quinn at the point? I think it is unrealistic to expect Quinn to play 40 minutes night in and night out. There is no obvious answer and they might have to rely on incoming freshman, Kyle McAlarney, to provide quality minutes when Quinn needs a breather.

Notre Dame should have a quality inside-outside combination with Falls/Quinn and Francis/Latimore/Zeller/Cornett and that alone should be good enough for 17 wins. If Notre Dame can get good play out of Israel and Carter, and get some decent minutes out of whoever Quinn's backup will be, Notre Dame should have 20-21 wins and be at least a 5 or 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.