Mastodons seek another Top 25 victory at Notre Dame
By Tom Davis Tdavis@news-sentinel.com
Monday, December 05, 2016 10:23 PM
All of this fame stuff is new to third-year Fort Wayne men’s basketball coach Jon Coffman in wake of his program gaining national stature. What a lot of coaches disregard or are too angst-ridden to bother with, Coffman is embracing.
“I’m a little kid,” Coffman said recently, “when they asked me recently to (vote) on the (USA Today Coaches Poll), I was like ‘Heck, yeah. That’s cool.’ I mean, I want to be part of college basketball. I’m a fan.”
Well, if you think he was excited to vote on the poll, you can only imagine how pumped up Coffman must be to actually be in the poll.
The Mastodons (7-2) received a vote this week (not Coffman’s) in the aforementioned poll, as well as the Associated Press poll. It was the first time in program history for the latter and the second consecutive week for the former.
Fort Wayne will travel to 23rd-ranled Notre Dame (8-0) today at 9 p.m. (ESPNU).
In wake of beating No. 3-ranked Indiana recently and garnering all sorts of national media attention, and despite his excitement, Coffman is trying valiantly to maintain the necessary focus needed to keep winning games.
“It’s another game,” Coffman said recently of the Notre Dame game. “I’m about the process and the results happen. Whatever results happen, the results happen.
“Our whole program is process driven. We have details that line up of everything being very organized and we execute the process. Every single day, you do your job, from myself to our assistants to our team, and then results follow that.”
Defending the Irish, who will defend you
Notre Dame is off to the best start in the long tenure of veteran coach Mike Brey (2000-01 season) and is one of 11 teams across the country that remains unbeaten. They have done so by being dominant at both ends of the floor.
The Irish are scoring nearly 90 points per game 9and lead the country in free throw shooting), but defensively, they are limiting opponents to less than 37 percent shooting and grabbing over 40 rebounds per game.
“We’ve got to get better at taking up space on rebounds,” Coffman said of his team following its most recent win, an 87-71 thumping of Miami (Ohio). “We’ve giving up a lot of space; a lot of long rebounds are bouncing over our heads. We’ve got to do a better job of cleaning it up with all five guys rebounding.”
Respecting the opponent
Coffman spoke of his team focusing on itself, but that doesn’t mean that he is not cognizant of what level of team his players will be facing.
“They are very disciplined,” Coffman said of Notre Dame. “Offensively, they share the ball, they move the ball, and they shoot the ball really well. Clearly, their program has been elite nationally over the last 10 years. It’s going to be quite a challenge.”
This level of “challenge” is nothing new to Fort Wayne. The program has played nationally-ranked opponents often in its NCAA Division I history and Coffman said he wants his team to embrace the uniqueness of playing this particular program.
“It’s a good game for us,” Coffman said. “I have a ton of respect for their program. I think it is a great opportunity for our guys, if you’ve never been to Notre Dame’s campus, I think it’s a cool experience.”
Building a personality
Every team and coach is learning about itself with each passing non-league game, as it tries to forge an identity, and what Coffman has seen from his team so far, he likes.
The Mastodons are outrebounding opponents by nearly six boards per game and outshooting them by almost nine percentage points.
“We played,” Coffman said following the Miami win, “with what I believe is becoming this team’s personality, which is great toughness.”
That “toughness” is showing up at the defensive end more so than any of Coffman’s previous three teams, according to the coach.
“This group has an ability to be maybe the best defensive group that I’ve coached here,” Coffman said. “I’m excited about that.”