Wednesday, February 18, 2004

ND Men Creep Towards Proverbial Bubble

Thomas Creeps Towards Proverbial "Decision Making That Doesn't Completely Suck"

It was a big weekend for the Irish. Two more ESPN games, two more wins against quality teams. This time it was Seton Hall at home (they're actually good this year - who knew?) and in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse, no small feat indeed.
Against Seton Hall, ND just looked like the better team. Maybe it was the UConn game that snapped them out of whatever funk they were in, but they definitely played better than they had all year. Still, it did seem like Seton Hall was only one run away from taking over. Maybe that's a sign that the Irish now have the fight to shut down a late comeback.
Against Syracuse, it did help that Gerry McNamara started cold, and that the team doesn't have many other scorers. Yet, the Irish played hard for 40 minutes (which is OK for basketball, but not for football. Someone please remind Dicky V of this.) and they made their shots. As in the Seton Hall game, they kept the rebounding advantage close, and that was enough.
Let's take a look at how each player did:
Chris Thomas: Is he shooting the ball well? Yes and no. He's not shooting 60% from the field, but he's also not shooting 25%, so I guess I'll take it. The important thing is that his maturity is starting to show on offense. No more Kanka-esque full sprint threes or off balance hope I get fouled dives. He's in control and making smart passes. Hopefully this is something he'll remember, and not something Mike Brey will have to reteach him after ND starts next year 7-8. Thomas's defense is another story. Andre Barrett was running circles around Thomas like you wouldn't believe. This cause Brey to switch Torrian Jones over to guard Barrett, which unfortunately left Chris Quinn guarding someone five inches taller than him. Fortunately for the Quinn, Seton Hall completely missed their chances to exploit this, and fortunately for the Irish, Quinn actually plays defense so the Pirates thought his man wasn't open.
Chris Quinn: Just a few weeks ago, I was starting to worry that Quinn was going to go the way of Alicia Ratay: great when they're not the center of attention, and when their teammates get them open, but not so good when they are the focal point or have to create their own shot. After these past few games, that comparison is starting to move towards Mark Price. I'm not saying Quinn is the next Mark Price, I'm just saying that I idolized Price growing up, so he's my reference point for what a great point guard should be. In the Seton Hall game, Quinn would drive, and then immediately kick it out to someone wide open outside the arc. Unfortunately, this was more often than not Torrian Jones. Fortunately, Jones had the forsight not to shoot every single time. Now, if you put Colin Falls out there, we may be getting somewhere. However, over the course of the game, I noticed that Quinn made the same pass every single time he drove, and Seton Hall noticed as well. Great, there goes that, I though. Well, it wasn't a bad idea - the team they were playing wasn't outstanding, so he could try a few things, but now everyone's going to be looking for it. Then comes the UConn game. Quinn drives, and shoots off the dribble. I was worried that the new ND Basketball resurgence would end once Thomas leaves (and I was afraid this year was already the beginning of that), but after seeing Quinn this weekend, I'm starting to think we'll be in capable hands.
Torrian Jones: Last year, I suggested bulking Jones up and putting him on the football team as a safety. That may have been a good decision. "But Kanka, he's been playing well lately," you say. That's my point exactly. He flies to the ball, grabbing defensive rebounds away from opposing big men. He slashes through traffic. When someone needs to step up and make a play, he's willing to be that guy (that guy in a good sense). He plays with heart and hustle and brains. I'm no football expert, and this is a terrible metaphor, but I think those are pretty good qualities for a safety. They're also great qualities for a senior captian, and Torrian Jones is a big reason why this team is winning again.
Torin Francis: As soon as the UConn game ended, I thought, "Could we possibly be seeing the Ewing Theory in action?" It may be too early to tell (and, being as he's only the second biggest star on the team, this may not even qualify), but this may be the Theory in action. Or, it may just be a coincidence that everybody's started to turn it on just as Francis is out.
Tom Timmermans: The king of the hi-low formation 17 foot jumper is another reason why this team is winning. In Timmermans and Jones, you have probably the two starters with the least basketball talent. But, you also have the two starters with the most hustle. (Can you tell I was always the "no talent, hustle guy" when I played? Seriously, it's all I ever talk about.) He plays hard, knows his role, and has fight in him. He also has 880 nicknames at last count.
Rick Cornett: He's showing he belongs, both on defense and on offense. Kind of makes you wish Brey gave more guys playing time, to help tone the raw talent into experience.
Colin Falls: Yes Dave, he's still white. He hasn't been the second coming of Matt Carroll yet, but he's still working out the jitters. He plays with "I need to show coach I'm good" hustle, but he just needs to relax and get into his groove as a shooter. Once again, time and experience is the answer for this.
Jordan Cornette: He's almost getting lost in the shuffle in all this (probably due to a bad Syracuse game - 0 pts, 3 boards). You expect him to get quite a few boards, block a shot or two, and throw in a few points. Maybe Jones's trip to the Junenation machine and Timmermans's increased minutes have lead to this, but Cornette is still a solid player.
Well, call it maturity, leadership, heart, hustle, desire, or the fact they're actually rebounding and making shots now. The ND Men's team is going somewhere - let's just hope it's not too little, too late.

I don't fumble

After a game in which future Heisman Trophy winner John Lattner had five fumbles, coach Frank Leahy called Lattner into his office. After asking Lattner if his family was doing alright or if he was having girl troubles, Leahy said, "Lad, I want you to go to confession, and I want you to confess those five mortal sins you committed on Saturday."

NBA All-Star Weekend

Rookie-Sophomore Challenge

I was waiting for a LeBron to Carmelo alley-oop that would be shown forever on ESPN, and instead I got several Carmelo to LeBrons. Oh well, I'll take it. Carlos Boozer had 25 points. To quote former roommates of our Morrissey alumni, "He's pretty good!" The thing ended in a dunk contest which amusing to watch, but I missed most of the game because I chose "going out and doing stuff" over "being lame and staying home to watch TV on Friday night."

Slam Dunk Competition/Three Point Shootout/Skills Competition/Etc.

Um, yeah, I completely forgot this was on. Whoops. Well, I'm not going to report on anything I didn't see, so you'll have to go somewhere else for news on this part of the weekend.

The Game Itself

So, "Hey Ya" has officially jumped the shark now, right? Speaking of which, I have a story from visiting my high school's jazz band last week. Everyone's getting ready, and the director walks in from his office. "Did everybody see which song the Trojan Marching Band played at the Grammy's?" Dah.
For the Canadian National Anthem, it was amusing to see Nelly Furtado taking jersey dresses to the next level with the low cut, full length jersey evening gown. Being as it was jersey-related, I am secure enough in my manhood to admit I noticed this. I couldn't understand her bando-esque double braids, however, until I remembered that Furtado is in fact a former trombone player. Don't ask me how I know this, you'll only get an answer.
As for the game, it resembled one of our Bookstore Basketball practices: no one wanted to run real offensive plays and no one wanted to play defense. Of course, the only difference is that the NBA all-stars have talent and can dunk, and we're fat messes.

I'm sure Ellen would like me to point out that the Big East swimming championships start Thursday in East Meadow, NY. A whopping 26 of her swimmers will be competing this weekend.

Women's RPI Watch

The wins were decisive, but the opponents were crappy. Solid showings against RPI #215 Providence and #163 St. John's actually cost the Irish a few spots, dropping their SOS to 6 and their RPI to 16. Still in good shape to play in March, though.

Bubble Watch

There are 31 conference in the NCAA tournament, and 34 at large bids. Theoretically, those 34 spots go to the teams that are in the top 34 RPI slots after taking out the conference champions. So, if you take ND's RPI and subtract the number of conference leaders above them, you can see how close ND is to that magic number 34.

Current ND Men's RPI: 60
Number of conference leaders with RPI < 60 : 16
Adjusted Bubble Watch RPI: 44

So, as you can see, the men are at least 10 slots away from dancing in March. But, with a good schedule ahead, if they keep playing like they have been, it's not out of reach.

Finally: here's looking at you. ND Basketballer Torrian Jones and Bowling Green (not a state) QB Josh Harris. (It looks a lot closer when Harris has a helmet on, but I'm too lazy to find a good picture of Harris with a helmet.)

Tomorrow: the obligatory A-Rod edition: Transaction Wire and AL East Preview