It’s February, which means it’s make or break time for Notre Dame basketball.
Amazingly, there are only a few weeks left in the 2019-20 Notre Dame basketball season. For a team that currently sits 13-8, 4-6 in ACC play, the next few weeks are critical.
There’s still time to make an impression on the selection committee to break into the NCAA tournament field. In ACC play, as well as with the ACC tournament, anything is possibly.
There are still questions surrounding the team, and today, I sit down with our own Nathan Erbach in a new series looking at some of those questions.
SM: Overall, the Irish have looked better than their record shows, even with quite a few losses to ranked teams. A lot of those losses have been close. What’s missing for Notre Dame turn some of those close losses (including two against top 6 teams in the last couple weeks) into victories?
NE: The team has talent. There’s no doubt. The sophomore class specifically is starting to look like the class we all thought, and then you have Mooney playing like a First Team ACC level player, and Gibbs having a nice bounce back season.
Unfortunately, through some fault of the coaching staff’s own and some not, they have very little depth and in particularly experienced depth. Some of that is due to injury and transfer and some of that is due to shortcomings in recruiting.
SM: Obviously, recruiting can’t have an impact for the on-court product this season. But if Notre Dame can settle the depth issue, do they have any shot at all at the NCAA tournament?
NE: It’s going to be difficult because depth just doesn’t show up when you don’t have it. Continued growth from the sophomore class and Durham could certainly help, and they have a somewhat favorable schedule down the stretch – so hope isn’t all lost. I also think Brey can use Djogo strategically so guys get a few minutes of rest here and there.
SM: The schedule definitely is favorable, Duke and Florida State withstanding. Not including the ACC tournament just because seeding can play such a wildcard into the whole thing, what are we looking at as a best case/worst case for their record for the remainder of the season?
NE: I was actually doing this in my head the other day. Best case scenario is they find a way to 20 wins before the ACC tourney. 10 games left. 7 wins seems doable. Worst case is they do what they’ve done all year. Play most games tough but lose a good amount of them in the process and finish 5-5 or so the rest of the way. If you bring the possibility of injuries into the equation than we are looking at worse. However, I do think this team is competitive enough and the floor is good enough to keep them from collapsing outside of something crazy happening.
SM: This may be a loaded question. There seems to be a lot of backlash on Mike Brey over the last couple seasons. All the things you’ve mentioned, recruiting, and depth being two main points. It seems like past results have made down seasons unacceptable. Is there starting to be justification to the heat that Brey is under?
NE: I’ll be honest, I don’t understand the Brey bashing. He’s not a perfect coach and you can point to things he could have done differently throughout his tenure thus far, but name me a coach that doesn’t have regrets and I’d call you a liar.
He does need to do a better job on the recruiting side of things. Having classes with zero recruits can’t happen, and he probably needs to go out of his comfort zone a bit. He’s never going to land the one and done types – at least not consistently, but he can’t be afraid to try for some better players…but at the same time make sure he doesn’t forget about the more ND type of kids. I think that was his biggest mistake in 2019 when he took no high school recruits.
The one thing I will say about Brey, is that it is becoming a little more common knowledge that he might not want to be a coach for much longer – and it’s showing in coaching and on the trail at least a tad. We could be in the last few years of Brey.
SM: Let’s end on somewhat of a high note. The ACC is having a down season, and the rest of the NCAA has yet to have one team jump out as the team to beat. Suppose you dump the 2014-15 Irish team into 2019-20. Where would they end up both in the conference, and what would their tournament look like?
NE: Oh my. That Notre Dame team would dominate the ACC this year. I’ve said this time and time again, but when it came to the tournament that year, you couldn’t convince me there was a better team in the country. If they survived Kentucky, I’m very confident in saying they would have won the whole thing. That team was special and had the it factor on top of the talent.