Sunday, January 16, 2005

Pointless | by Dylan

As we head into the long dark of the post-bowl, pre-Big 12 vs. Division III portion of the college football year, I think it’s high time we diverted from the oblong and talked a little roundball. Hence, BGS’s first basketball post.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.I have to say that, despite the gaudy 11-3 record, I am not terribly high on the Irish right now. At the end of last year, I was terrifically optimistic about the returning team, particularly with the addition of Latimore. I had visions of a top 10 squad and a return to the Sweet 16. But when I look at the schedule and the dearth of RPI-bouncing wins, I see a ten-loss Irish squad (potentially 9-7 in the BE) once again bubbling down the stretch to an eventual date with East Tennessee State or somesuch in the NIT.

Defensively, there are few places to find fault, so I won’t. But this team is an offensive enigma. When you take the parts individually, you see a team that should cruise into the mid-70s in every game, but they’ve scored more than 73 points only five times, and two of those games were the exhibitions against St. Joe and Quincy. Their output in their three (!) road games has been 60 (Michigan), 55 (Indiana), and 66 (SHU). So what gives?

My incredibly technical analysis of the situation is this: they are too guardable. Even Chris Thomas, who was an absolute ankle-breaker two years ago, seems to be unable to shake a defender. I’m trying to figure out how this could still be the case, since it was also true last year, and I can only think of two possible reasons. One, that Brey is unable to implement an offense that makes the most of the players’ abilities, or two, that the players are collectively unable to execute Brey’s offense. I tend to think it’s the latter. For the sake of brevity, I’ll settle on one primary culprit, and that’s the high pick-and-roll.

This is the second consecutive year of watching us butcher this most fundamental of offensive plays. It would be easy to blame the lack of effectiveness on Torin Francis, whose footwork seems to have been taught by a tag team of Tim Kempton and a Class Two Power Loader and whose hands make the Seattle Seahawks’ look like the Indianapolis Colts’. It would also be fair to question why Brey insists on using Francis when it’s clear that, were Francis ever to get the ball on the “roll” portion of the play, he does not have the “face-up” moves or the explosion to the bucket needed to finish the play. However, I think the problem really lies at the point. Thomas, who is generally running the point more effectively, doesn’t set up the semi-mobile Francis properly, and doesn’t force his own man into the screen. This generally results in one of two bad outcomes, either Thomas’ defender slides over the screen and Francis’ man does not have to fully commit to the switch, or Francis’ man simply abandons him and joins in a double team out of which Thomas refuses to pass. In either case the high pick works to the advantage of the defense, which is the definition of a poor offensive play.

This leads to phase two of the problem with the Thomas-Francis pick-and-roll combo. As Thomas tries to dribble out of a double team thirty feet from the basket, the offense just...slows.....down. What happens next is a hasty reset, some listless perimeter passing, and then a three. Luckily for the Irish, those threes have been falling pretty consistently (with the exception of the 9-30 effort against Syracuse). ND plays best when they shoot 15 to 20 threes a game. Chuck more than that, and they throw themselves at the mercy of the defense and the iron. That’s what happened against Syracuse. Threes became a substitute for offense. Thirty of fifty-two field goal attempts were threes. Against St. John’s, the number was thirty-four of sixty-five. That is simply not going to work on the road in the Big East, where they play seven of their remaining twelve conference games.

Mike Brey is the coach. He’s quite good. But I know he’s waiting to hear what I have to say, so here’s my three point plan:

“Alfordize” Colin Falls – Break out some tape of the 1986-87 Hoosiers. Run Falls through the lane, around baseline screens, curls, whatever. He’s a spectacular shooter, but his current M.O. of floating outside the three point line does not put enough stress on the defense. ND needs to make Falls a team-wide defensive priority for the other guys. Force their bigs to account for him on switches. Set up mismatches. Get them confused.

Let Francis Become His Inner Dale Davis – This is not meant as an insult. Dale Davis was a great NBA player. But he was never the first offensive option on any of his teams. He and Francis share the same plodding, two-footed jumping technique, the same stony hands, the same trouble initiating the break, and the same warrior’s heart. Francis (and Brey) needs to focus his game on his rebounding and shot-blocking abilities. He plays like he’s 6’8” at one end and 7’0” at the other. Let Latimore roam the offensive low post. Torin should be weak-side support.

Expand The Rotation and Solidify The Roles– I know, I know. Hit me with the Jere Macura jokes. But we need to have a Torrian Jones-type back on the floor. We need to have some semblance of an athletic “3” to get things moving, both in transition and in the half court sets. Quinn/Thomas, Quinn/Falls, and Falls/Cornette are near-redundant combinations. Carter and Cornett need to see more time. Cornette, though a nice shooter, needs to play more like a “3.5” than a “2.5.”

Are these tweaks even possible? You have to assume that Brey has tried, but the materials and the chemistry just aren’t there. I fear the best the Irish have to hope for this year is a return to the Wrong Final Four.