On Saturday, Notre Dame will close out its men's basketball home regular season with a game against Pitt at Purcell Pavilion. The media contingent for that game will pale in comparison to the gathering a day earlier on the South Bend campus for Brian Kelly's press conference to discuss the opening of spring football practice sessions.
Welcome to Notre Dame, where football dominates and basketball respectably fills the gap between the school's bowl game and the opening of spring football workouts.
To say that this season is no different than any other for the Fighting Irish hoopsters would not be accurate. The difference this year being that Notre Dame will more than likely shorten its basketball season by a single game, as the Irish will probably miss the postseason for the first time in coach Mike Brey's 14 seasons.
At 15-14, with games against Pitt and North Carolina nearing, as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, the likelihood of a winning season is remote.
But given this program's history, Notre Dame fans will only miss out on 40 minutes of postseason action – 80 tops.
There are legitimate reasons that Brey's program may be idle come mid-March. Academic problems resulted in the permanent loss of senior guard Jerian Grant in December after playing a dozen games, while they also cost freshman guard Demetrius Jackson a couple of games this month.
Sophomore forward Austin Burgett also missed four games due to having undergone a heart procedure in January, while Brey had to work in freshmen Jackson, V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia into his lineup this season, which was the program's first in the more challenging ACC. But at the end of the day, is missing the postseason really that big of a deal to anyone not employed by the Notre Dame program?
Not really. That's because few care whether the Irish basketball program is busy next month or not.
Making the posteason obviously extends the Irish seasons, but it has almost always been for just a few days. Brey's teams have advanced to the NCAA Tournament six times in the past seven years and never made it out of the first weekend. In fact, four different years the Irish haven't made it past their first game. In eight tournament games during that seven-year span, Notre Dame has lost six times.
As long as Brey continues to recruit solid student-athletes, who represent the university well; graduate those players; play competitive basketball during the regular season; and follow the NCAA rulebook; he's not going to hear “boo” about anything – from anyone.
Not participating in the postseason might actually be seen as a positive by the Irish Nation (which is more like a large region). One, it doesn't have to endure the frustration of another early postseason exit; and two, it allows those followers to focus their complete attention to the progress of returning Irish quarterback Everett Golson.
The cynics will argue that Notre Dame is no different than other “football schools” when it comes to an apathetic view of its men's basketball program. But that wouldn't be true. There are a number of universities that succeed at high levels in both sports. The difference with Notre Dame is that men's basketball postseason success is not valued by the university leadership to the extent of its peers.
Following the 2007 season, one in which he led the University of Michigan to 22 victories, then-Wolverine basketball coach Tommy Amaker was fired.
Following the 2012 season, one in which he led Notre Dame to 22 victories, Brey was given a 10-year contract extension.
That summarizes the philosophy of the university in regards to basketball and only begs the question by most in South Bend: “How's Golson look?”
What lies ahead…
To make the NCAA Tourney: Notre Dame needs to win the ACC Tournament and the automatic bid that comes with that. That is not going to happen by a team that lost on the road by 39 points at conference leader Virginia recently.
To make the NIT: Notre Dame would have to beat Pitt (in South Bend) and win at North Carolina. The Irish administration would then have an even tougher task of convincing the NIT leaders that it could sell a respectable amount of tickets for any postseason home games.
To make the CBI or CollegeInsider.com Tourney: The name “Notre Dame,” despite having a sub-.500 record, could possibly be enough to participate in the CBI (the CIT does not allow losing records to participate).