Thursday, July 07, 2005

Hoop Scoop | by Pat

We would be remiss if we failed to mention some of the recent Irish basketball news. Here's a quick rundown on the latest.

New Big East officially forms

The new 16 team Big East officially expanded with Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, and South Florida replacing departing Boston College. Now the biggest basketball conference in the country, the addition of Cincinnati, Louisville, and Marquette will make it an extremely competitive basketball league. And to make things officially official, the league jazzed up the league logo.

• Torin Francis returns to Notre Dame

After his short dance with the NBA Draft, Torin Francis returned to Notre Dame for his senior year. He wasn't considered a first round selection going into the draft camps and his return to South Bend wasn't that much of a surprise. And while Irish fans had hoped to see Francis participate in a big man camp, he should benefit from not only the competition level at the draft camps, but also the frank and honest feedback from pro scouts.

NBA draft consultant Chris Ekstrand summed up Francis' performance at the draft camps with a report card that mirrors much of the conventional wisdom on Francis:

“He’s got some things to learn and work on to be an effective NBA player. The fact that he’s here and holding his own is positive. He needs more variety in his offensive game. He does very well defending his man. He needs to anticipate game situations a little better. He’s improved with that.”
Francis came into Notre Dame with only a few years of basketball experience under his belt and back injuries curtailed one of his seasons. Now, he will have one final year to prove that his game has progressed to the point of becoming the NBA prospect that everyone hopes he will become.

One interesting note from the draft camps. While always reported at either 6"10 or 6'11, Francis officially measured in at 6'8" 3/4.

Chris Thomas goes undrafted

Notre Dame's other high school McDonald's All-American, Chris Thomas, was not selected in the recent NBA Draft. In a draft where often times potential outweighs production, Thomas did not hear his name called out and now must work to make a team through summer camps and free agency. While he leaves Notre Dame the career leader in a multitude of categories, his career was uneven and it seems his draft stock dropped every year. After a knee injury, he never appeared to have the same speed and quickness as he did as a freshman. Still, Thomas is still working to make an NBA team in the future and will start by playing for the Indiana Pacers summer league team.

Torrian Jones eyes NBA Development League.

There is a nice storyabout Torrian Jones on and his work towards making the NBA. After a successful season in the USBL, Jones plans on playing in the NBDL, which is the minor league equivalent for the NBA. And in other Irish news, last year's NBDL MVP, Notre Dame's Matt Carroll, just received a qualifying offer from the NBA Charlotte Bobcats, a team he played in 25 games for last season.

Freshmen start at Notre Dame

Continuing a recent trend, the incoming freshmen basketball players are on campus already taking summer classes and working out with the team. They were added to the official roster, which has a few interesting points. Kyle McAlarney is listed as guard/forward, but at 6'1" I can't see him at anything other than guard. Ryan Ayers apparently is still growing. After being a reported 6'5" on all the various recruiting sites (which usually bump up things like height anyway) he is listed as 6'7" on the official roster. And in a good sign for getting early playing time in the rough and tumble Big East, Luke Zeller weighed in at 245lbs (up from a recruiting weight of 230lbs) and Zach Hillesland really packed on some weight and now is listed at 220lbs (up from 190lbs).

• Big East releases 2005-2006 Basketball Schedule

The upcoming basketball schedule was released today (.pdf file here) by the Big East. The quick version is:

HOME GAMES: DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse, and Villanova.
ROAD GAMES: UConn, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence, Seton Hall, and WVU.

Notre Dame will play DePaul, Marquette, and Providence twice and will not play Cincinnati and St. Johns at all during the regular season.

The initial reaction is that it shapes up to be a rather easy home game schedule and a very difficult road game schedule. UConn, Louisville, and West Virginia are some of the stronger teams in the league and will all be tough games to play on the road. Pitt lost some of its best players, but is still a tough road venue. The Joyce Center should see a number of wins although Syracuse and Villanova will be strong this year. The home and home teams (DePaul, Marquette, and Providence) are not as tough as the recent schedules which put the Irish in twin bills against league powers UConn, Syracuse, and Pitt. And while this scheduling quirk may help the Irish to a better conference record, the strength of schedule might take a hit. Perhaps a few "stronger" out of conference games might make their way onto the schedule.

With a team that has missed out on the NCAA Tournament two straight years, the schedule does actually shape up nicely if the team is able to gel under the leadership of Chris Quinn at the point. While the road games will be difficult, the potential for big road wins are there and that is something that the NCAA Committee takes into acount. And putting up a solid home record is another key part of the NCAA Selection puzzle. Now, we'd rather be going into Selection Sunday with a bid already in hand, but just in case things come down to the wire (again), the schedule should give the Irish the potential to build a solid case as a bubble team.