Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Chris Powlus, Torin Franchise, and other ramblings of an Idiot... | by Sean

...and when I call myself an Idiot, I mean it in a Johnny Damon/Curt Schilling kind of way. So a few thoughts as a I rip off my bloody sock.....

In what was one of the more bizarre sporting events I've attended, I was fortunate enough to be in the Joyce Center for Notre Dame's big win over Connecticut on Sunday afternoon. Bizarre from this standpoint - I sat four rows behind the UConn bench amidst a bunch of UConn bigwigs, courtesy of a family member that works in the UConn athletic department. So while the rest of Irish Nation (at least the hoops fans of Irish Nation) were celebrating loudly and proudly before, during and after the game, I was in a position where I basically had to act like an impartial third party. It was kind of like holding in a sneeze. Now I know how the President feels watching Army-Navy, or Mayor Daley watching Cubs-White Sox, or Stu Hart watching Owen vs Bret in the steel cage. You get the point. They all probably have their favorites but aren't allowed to show it. (Truth be told, I do like the Huskies. A lot. I grew up in Connecticut, have family ties to the school, and was in San Antonio last April when they cut down the nets. Good school, great program. I really like the Huskies. That said, once Irish, always Irish.)

Anyway, a few observations from Row D of the Joyce Center:

● One UConn observation, before I get to ND. Coming into the season, expectations were still high for UConn despite losing Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, the second and third picks respectively in the NBA draft. But the guy Jim Calhoun's squad misses the most from last season, even more than his two lottery picks, is point guard Taliek Brown. While Brown was a scattershot shooter at best, he was a vicious defender and a great floor leader. Totally underappreciated in his four years there, all he did was engineer 125 wins and a national championship. Marcus Williams looked very capable at times on Sunday (to wit, his 16 assists), but when the game was on the line, the Huskies sorely lacked floor leadership, not only in terms of execution but also in terms of inspiration. Josh Boone and Charlie Villanueva were playing as if someone laced their Gatorade with rohypnol, and there was nobody out there getting in the face of the two sophomore big men telling them to pick up their game. You can't put a price on a good floor leader; the anti-Chris Thomas crowd amongst ND fans will learn this the hard way next season.

● Speaking of which, sitting just to the left of the student section on Sunday (and having attended several games during the Chris Thomas Era), I've noticed that the relationship that the Notre Dame student body has with Chris Thomas is eerily similar to the one they had with Ron Powlus back in the mid 1990's. Both came in with a ton of hype and with expectations that were probably, in retrospect, a little unrealistic, and yet both managed to rewrite significant portions of the ND record books in their respective sports. Still, if I had a dime for every Notre Dame student that shouted "DAMMIT [Powlus/Thomas]!" from the stands during their respective careers, they'd be calling the "Goog" the "Pendo". Both of them are/were team leaders who handle the good times and bad times with equal class and dignity. We as spectators know so little about what these guys go through, and yet they never lash out at the barbs thrown at them by an admittedly underinformed fan base. Thomas gets criticized often for his shot selection, and to an extent, I understand that. He's played much more under control this year, but still isn't afraid to take the big shot. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't. But he keeps shooting them. While this mentality isn't necessarily appreciated by the green painted 18-22 year olds in the stands, it will serve Thomas well when it counts in the game of life. (I think it's here where I should point out that Dick Vitale typed that last sentence.)

● While we're on football-basketball analogies, I was all prepared a couple weeks ago, to write a BGS entry comparing Maurice Stovall to Torin Francis. At the time that the analogy struck me, Francis was in the midst of a wretched slump where he appeared to be playing with cement shoes and his moves around the basket were, well....let's just say that even C3P0 thought he looked a little methodical and stiff. The analogy held water - both players are juniors, both seemingly peaked as freshmen, both came in as consensus high school All Americans, both have battled through various injuries, and most importantly, both were turning into major disappointments. And then a funny thing happened. In the Villanova game, Francis decided to wear his regular shoes instead of the granite ones. And against Connecticut, in a game where Josh Boone and Charlie Villanueva were supposed to be the headliners, Francis was a dominant force in the middle, showing "where have these been for three years?" moves around the hoop and (along with Dennis Latimore) beating the UConn big men to seemingly every big rebound. Needless to say, the Irish need the Francis and Latimore that showed up on Sunday if they are going to navigate the gauntlet that awaits them these next few weeks.

● Brings me to a pertinent topic. At 13-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big East, let's break down the balance of the Notre Dame season. There are nine games to go, eight in the Big East and one non conference game against UCLA. Let's break this down Somogyi style - must wins, bubble games, and upsets.

MUST WINS - 2/16 vs Georgetown, 2/19 @ Providence, 2/27 vs UCLA, 3/2 vs Rutgers

Notre Dame cannot afford to go any worse than 3-1 in these four games. I'm stopping just short of saying that 4-0 is a must, only because I think this Notre Dame team is talented enough, should they falter in one of these, to make up for it with an upset somewhere along the way. While Georgetown on paper right now is the best of these four teams, I'd circle the 2/19 date against Providence as a potential land mine, since it's not only on the road but also a potential "look ahead" to UConn two days later.

BUBBLE GAMES - 2/8 vs Boston College, 3/5 vs Pittsburgh

Since these games are both at home, the Irish need at least a split. A split would not only get them one win closer to the 19 wins (my own personal magic number) they need to get into the tournament, but also the win would likely be considered an all important "quality win" by the tourney selection committee. And yes, I know BC is undefeated, and you're probably wondering why I would call this a bubble game instead of an upset. First, the game is at home, so at worst ND will be an underdog by a few points. Second, while BC deserves credit for being undefeated, I'm not convinced this is one of the top ten teams in the country. On paper, they are right now, but they haven't played Pittsburgh, Syracuse, or Notre Dame. Put it this way, if I had to play either Connecticut or Boston College and the loser has to roll around on hot coals for an hour after the game, I'd probably choose to play the Eagles. They'll be favored against ND, but it would not be a major upset if the Irish won. Hence, the "bubble" grade on that game.

UPSETS - 2/5 @ Syracuse, 2/12 @ Pittsburgh, 2/21 @ Connecticut

Going at least 1-2 in these games would be acceptable and 2-1 probably means the Irish are looking at a decent seed in the Big East tournament and a likely "home jersey" seed (8th or higher) in the NCAA tournament. After six days to settle down after the win over UConn, the most likely Irish get in this category is this Saturday against Syracuse. The Pitt game comes on the heels of the BC game, and UConn will be looking for revenge at home on 2/21.

SUMMARY - Let's assume 3-1 in the "MUST WINS", 1-1 in the "BUBBLE GAMES", and 1-2 in the "UPSETS". Seems reasonable. That would put Notre Dame at 18-9 going into the Big East tournament, with a 9-7 conference record (assuming the 1 loss in the "MUST category is not to UCLA). The consensus seems to be that, like last year, the Big East will get six teams into the Big Dance. Boston College and Syracuse appear to be locks, and Pitt is probably going to get in as well. That means depending upon what other teams - namely UConn, Villanova, and Georgetown - do the rest of the way, Notre Dame may need a win in the Big East tournament to sew up an NCAA tournament slot.

● Is Omari Isreal still on the team? He is? Ok, just checking.

● One final thought that has nothing to do with basketball. This is actually about my marriage. I want to announce to the world that I am fully committed to my wife. I've met a lot of women and I think she has the most to offer me, so I'm proclaiming my commitment to her. That said, I do plan to go out on some dates with other women this month and maybe even sleep with a few of them. I mean, I owe it to myself to see what's out there for a guy with my sizable game. If I didn't at least check out a few of the other ladies in my neighborhood, I would be doing myself a huge disservice. So I plan to look around very seriously at other women. Oh, but I'm still committed to my wife 100%.

Ok, I'm making a point here. (I really don't plan on cheating on my wife.) Maybe this is the naive, middle aged, suburban white guy in me coming out in all of his U2-listening, Seinfeld-watching, Bud Light-drinking glory, but when I read these kids saying they're "committed" to such and such a school, but "I'm still planning on taking visits to Tennessee, Iowa, NC State, and Florida", it sounds as ludicrous to me as the previous paragraph about my marriage sounds (or should sound, depending on how "open" your marriage is, I guess). You're either committed or you're not; you're either going to a school and are done looking around or you're still looking, and thus uncommitted.

Throughout the whole David Nelson ordeal, I wasn't sure who I was more pissed off at - Nelson for being such a prima donna, or the various websites who continued to inexplicably list Nelson as being "committed" to Notre Dame, despite the fact that he was busy planning visits to four other schools. Memo to recruiting website editors - just because a kid uses the word "committed" when describing where he stands with a school, this doesn't mean he is "committed". Clearly, many of these kids have no clue what this word means.

I could cite literally dozens of examples of players who are "committed" but still taking visits (i.e. married but still dating), but my favorite one is Louisiana quarterback Ryan Perrilloux. He "committed" to Texas back in the fall, citing among the reasons (1) the fact that Vince Young would be going pro after the 2005 season and the starting job would then be his, and (2) Mack Brown's incredible success in developing NFL quarterbacks, even though last I checked, the only Brown-coached QB in the NFL is Chris Simms, who Mack Brown managed to mold into the worst big game quarterback not named Rix.

So of course, it was just a matter of time before someone at [fill in name of SEC or Florida school here] managed to get in Perrilloux's ear and tell him he should keep looking at his options. And look he has. Oh, don't get me wrong, Perrilloux has remained "committed" to Texas this whole time. I know this because he reaffirmed his "commitment" at the US Army All Lemming Football Fun Fest. Yes, he reaffirmed his "commitment" right before listing his upcoming visits to other schools. (I believe Perrilloux's interview came right after Ryan Bain's impersonation of Rocky Balboa in "Rocky V" and just before Rey Maualuga's father committed to USC, but I digress.)

Now with signing day a scant 24 hours away, Perrilloux appears to have settled on a school over the weekend, but he's going to wait until Wednesday to announce. His high school coach, Larry Dauterive, tried to convince him to at least let the schools involved know his decision (ah, the "silent verbal" - another recruiting season staple) so that the "loser" in the Perrilloux Sweepstakes could extend a scholarship offer to someone else. Seems like a reasonable and classy move. Of course, when asked if that's what he would do, Perrilloux said "No, I am just going to wait it out."

Class acts, these kids. Very "committed".