As you will be told numerous times over the course of the next few weeks, it is the month of March.
Wait. I didn’t do that right. Let me try again.
Nope. No good there, either. Give me a minute…
Maybe something more like March It Is or To The March It May Be? To The Married Mermaids Marching McMarchesters!
A hapless happy helping of a hungry hippo.
Whatevs. My birthday is this month.
Important note laced with caveats: Remember that this isn’t about something being “good” or “bad.” It is about value. Value of a team — or person, for that matter — set off expectations currently placed on that entity.
Buying: Notre Dame In March
The Fighting Irish were expected to be good prior to the start of the season. That’s all well and good, but Bonzi Colson wound up getting hurt before 2018 became a thing. It changed everything.
The Fighting Irish went from ACC contender to NIT hopeful. Mike Brey went from the sport’s embodiment of college bookmaker turned good to a stand-in drummer for The Grateful Dead.
At 18-12 on the season, heading into an important game against the Virginia Cavaliers right before the ACC Tournament begins, the instant reaction is to claim the Irish dormant. An entity incapable of making the NCAA Tournament because those elusive pair of dancing slippers are better served for teams that earned it.
Whatever the hell earned it means.
The Selection Committee is attempting to discuss Quadrants and Quadrant Tiers and using data to help insert schools properly into this mystical March bracket. As those humans do that, they will continue employing an easy out to help hurl a few teams in the Big Dance even if the resumes are less impressive than Adam Sandler’s post-1999.
Sandler hot-take aside: Reign Over Me and Funny People were better than only OK. Not great. But not awful. Certainly better than his Netflix movies. In 2018, friends, we judge Adam Sandler on a curve.
As it has in the past for programs getting back their star players late from injury, the Selection Committee will likely — and heavily — view Notre Dame’s resume through the Bonzie Colson lens. How good were the Irish with him? How bad were they without him? Is the current incarnation of Notre Dame, with a somewhat still rusty Colson playing himself into shape, deserving of one of the at-large bids?
Yes. Yes. And yes.
Semantics out of the way first: Notre Dame has three RPI top-50 wins, four more in the top-100, and the majority of the Irish’s losses came with Colson in street clothes. As for those fancy Quadrant thingamabobs, Notre Dame has Q1 wins against Wichita State with Colson and at Syracuse without him. A Q2 win over LSU from way back at the Maui Invitational, alongside the Wichita State victory, are the only Quadrant wins the Irish have WITH Colson.
Obviously, Colson missed 15 games of the season. In turn, the Irish missed out on multiple chances to earn Quadrant victories with their best player not capable of being able to play basketball for free.
Random aside: I have this weird need to capitalize Quadrant, even though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t need to be done. It’s too new for the AP Stylebook. Alas, I will continue to do so, and this can be my gimmick moving forward: The guy who capitalizes a data terminology keyword that people don’t yet really comprehend.
If you want to say Notre Dame belongs in the NCAA Tournament based off the handful of quality wins, as well as the returned Colson, you can make a reasonable debate about it. Especially when you start looking around at the landscape of other bubble teams, then realize they aren’t afforded the luxury that might be the Selection Committee giving the Irish a free pass for two months of the season.
A point in space and time when only the good part of a non-Colson voyage is factored in the equation, as all the yucky stuff can be hurled to the wayside.
Is that fair to teams that have #actuallybetter resumes? Of course not. But we know the committee uses factors such as injuries and coach/player suspensions as deciding factors come that important Sunday in March.
Colson, who scored 12 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in his return game against gawd awful Pitt, is an incredible talent. He emerged last season by becoming a double-double monster who could score in a variety of ways. Entering this season, it appeared more of the same but better awaited him, putting up nine 18-point or more games until he got sidelined right before the New Year.
In fact, he’s one of the best players in the entire nation when physically capable.
That being said, Notre Dame can go a long way by looking swell with the 6-foot-6 wildebeest back in the rotation. Having a victory against a local YMCA men’s league team being coached by Kevin Stallings under its belt, a solid finish could lock the Irish a spot in the Big Dance.
Hell, it doesn’t need to beat Virginia on Saturday. The Irish just need to look good. After that, steal a victory or two in the ACC Tournament, and Mike Brey can go back to wearing the kind of suits that make you certain you owe him 50 dollars for some Pac-12 After Dark tomfoolery from back in the Fall.
Seriously. I will hear no other arguments. Brey seems like a great guy. He seems like a far better bookie and/or a background character for any upcoming Martin Scorsese flicks.
Notre Dame Makes The NCAA Tournament Take Caveat: This all obviously pends on those supposed “bid thieves” not doing crazy stuff that results in one/two-conference leagues getting an extra team in because of conference tournament shenanigans. Yeah, that’s right. We’re looking at you, Conference USA.
Twitter Q&A: Pitt’s new coach?
@JosephNardone What should be Pitt's short list (top 3) of coaches?
— Matt Zemek (@MattZemek) March 2, 2018
This is a great question because it presumes Kevin Stallings will be the rare coach who is fired after only two years of ruining a college basketball program. And yet, as rare as that is, it should probably happen.
Operating under this assumption, now that everything except the crying is all said and done, the Panthers will head to the league tournament with a conference record of 0-18. To Stallings’ credit, Pitt’s overall record is a walloping 8-23 — highlighted by great wins over High Point, the mighty McNeese Cowboys, and somehow overcoming the Delaware State Hornets (who won three games this season).
Bluntly put: Stallings led Pitt to as many wins in the ACC as your pet goldfish. Your pet goldfish is not a college basketball program. That’s #notgood.
The cupboard will be naked as all hell whenever this new head coach comes in. With that theory put out there, at least in my opinion, the athletic department needs to target outside-the-box type of candidates. The sort who are known as creative recruiters and/or excellent developers of talent. Think Mike Hopkins-ish, who has exceeded all expectations at Washington this season.
Basically, Pitt needs to avoid falling in the trap that is hiring the hot mid-major flavor of the season or the guy with a known name. Instead, the university needs to realize, barring some random big name coach wanting the job, it will probably take a full recruiting cycle for the Panthers to return to competitiveness. If Pitt does that, and the fan base settles, this new coach can come in and retool the entire thing without Jamie Dixon’s shadow looming over him as if it were a horror movie monster.
Ah, man. That’s a lot of foreplay talk before bringing up three guys. Anyway…
Mark Fox (currently with Georgia): He needs to be fired first. Georgia shouldn’t do that, in my opinion. However, if that happens, I like Fox as a guy who can — at the very least — help stabilize Pitt.
His resume isn’t the sexiest, and outside his Nevada run he’s been mostly only passable, but you know your program won’t be hit with any NCAA sanctions under his watch. Furthermore, with plenty of programs currently in turmoil due to the FBI stuff, Fox might end showing how good he really is in a post-FBI world.
I think he’s a good coach who has suffered for not playing “the game.” I could be wrong. But he’s definitely better than Stallings.
Marvin Menzies (currently with UNLV): I’m a Menzies-homer. Let’s note that.
Anywho, while the media spent the last five years screaming about Grand Canyon this and Anttelopes that, Menzies dominated the WAC during his time with New Mexico State. Since then, he’s gone to UNLV and nearly overnight turned the Rebels into a force to be reckoned with.
There’s downside to this idea. Menzies is a West Coast guy (though, he recruits incredibly well internationally) and it will be a hard sell to fans who probably don’t yet know who he is.
Also, uh, I don’t think he’d leave UNLV for Pitt. Still, the Panthers should at least try backing up that money truck to his doorstep. I think Menzies’ ability to recruit internationally can serve the Pitt program well.
Random, unsolicited hot-take: Menzies is one of the 40 best coaches in the country and he’s only getting better. Has top-10 potential as a coach.
Scott Padgett (currently with Samford): Wait… hear me out! He’s not just the former Kentucky player.
I know Samford is #notgood this season, but last year Padgett led the Bulldogs to their most wins since the 2005-06 campaign.
What makes Padgett interesting is that he’s been landing the same-ish level recruit at Samford as Stallings has been at Pitt (Stallings has landed more in quantity). There has to be a reason that Padgett is able to get three-star prospects to a program in the Southern Conference. Maybe he’s a lowkey great recruiter.
I admit, this is a HUGE risk. A monumental one even. But do remember that Pitt’s best eras came when it took a chance on Ben Howland (who came from Northern Arizona to take the job) and then promoted Jamie Dixon (who had an assistant coaching resume less than stellar before becoming the Jamie Dixon you know now). Those two risks of hiring relative unknowns paid off handsomely.
Stallings, who from a “brand at the time of hiring” standpoint, has been the school’s biggest basketball hire ever… and we have seen how that has turned out.
Hey, you made it this far. Go a little deeper and follow me on Twitter @JosephNardone.