Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Future | by Dylan

About a year ago, in some forum or another, I made an outrageous claim about the Notre Dame basketball team. At least it seemed outrageous at the time to those who heard me say it (and, no, it had nothing to do with inventing the question mark). I said, toward the end of the 2003-04 season, that Colin Falls was the best NBA prospect on the squad. After yesterday's NCAA-killing loss to Pittsburgh (maybe not "killing," but it's definitely no longer an even-money bet) I feel that, not only is the point no longer controversial, it's self-evident.

Falls' first-half barrage was a glimpse into Notre Dame's hoops future. We all knew that Falls was a deadly shooter, but what happened yesterday was more than a shooting clinic. It was the emergence of the next great Irish star.

Falls showed a level of confidence and desire that I hadn't seen from him before yesterday. In his 39 (!) minutes, he seemed to grow into the role that is destined for him; that of a first-option scorer. He moved through the lane with determination, scrubbing defenders even on the less-than-emphatic screens of Francis and Latimore. He may not have needed them at all. Falls' release is blinding. Someone should take a stopwatch to the catch-and-shoot threes he made in the first half. I've never seen anything like it. He also seems, at the end of the season, to understand the game better. He's not content to float and chuck. He moves with purpose. His ball-fakes are smooth and effective (the three from the left wing was a thing of beauty). If he learns to get his legs under him more consistently and channel the energy from his legs up and through the ball, raising his release point another six inches or so, he will be a first-team All American. Then again, he may get there without changing a thing. A two-inch vertical never hurt Chris Mullin.

As I did last year at this time, I'm going to allow myself some heady optimism. While the losses of Chris Thomas and Jordan Cornette are going to hurt (you don't just move on after losing the third ever 2,000-800-800 man), next year could be a breakthrough season for the Irish. Chris Quinn will be solid at the point, and Falls will only get better. What gets me really excited is the potential starting frontcourt of Francis, Latimore, and Zeller. Granted, it's a bit like betting on an inside straight, but if those three guys can settle into a reliable 4, 3, 5 (respectively) combination, we could be looking at a wonderfully balanced offense, with the ball working from the inside out, and presenting defenses with a nightmare scenario. Of course, this requires that Francis come back in perfect health, willing to accept his Dale Davis destiny, that Latimore refines his face-up skills to the point where he's a legitimate weapon on the wing, and that Zeller is able to play center in the Big East as a freshman. All three are 50-50 propositions, I think.

Imagine the stress that lineup could put on opposing defenses, even if Latimore and Francis don't improve, but consistently play as well as we already know they can. With shooters like Quinn and Falls keeping the defenses from collapsing, and Francis working against forwards instead of centers, we could achieve something resembling an offense rather than a 3-point fire drill. Colin Falls, in that kind of offense, will have the chance to play himself into a ten-year NBA career.