If you’re an avid fan of the Notre Dame basketball program, last season was tough to stomach. It was the first time in recent memory where Mike Brey seemed at a loss for solutions in regard to the team’s inability to consistently put up points. Couple that with back-to-back seasons of missing the NCAA tournament, and the program is in danger of losing all the momentum it gained from 2015-2017, which included back to back Elite Eight appearances and an ACC title. You would think the program could build off of that and create sustained success, but that has not been the case. Instead, the program looks to be at its lowest point in the past decade. Notre Dame has not received a verbal commitment since November of 2017, and three players have transferred since then. A program that was once revered for its culture has somehow lost its way. I believe this is partly because the coaching staff completely revamped its recruiting strategy around 2014 when the program joined the ACC, and it has failed miserably.
From 2010 to 2013, the staff offered a total of six top-50 recruits in four seasons. During that time frame and for many years prior, the staff routinely focused on fringe top-100 prospects who not only fit in academically at Notre Dame but also fit the culture and playing style Mike Brey instills. However, in 2014 something changed, as there was a noticeable uptick in offers given to top-50 recruits since then (Source: 247sports). The list below shows the number of top-50 prospects offered each year from 2014-2019.
2014: 5, 2015: 8, 2016: 7, 2017: 6, 2018: 5, 2019: 8
Out of the 39 above offers, three signed with Notre Dame. That’s a success rate of 7.7%. To make matters even worse, two of those three signees (Cam Biedscheid and DJ Harvey) transferred. The only top-50 recruit since 2010 that signed and stayed at ND was local talent, Demetrius Jackson. That is an astonishingly embarrassing track record in recruiting top-50 prospects.
Trying to determine why the staff changed its strategy to recruit with the college basketball elites is puzzling, as the old recruiting strategy formulated the teams that had so much success in 2015-2017. Below is a list of the 2010-2013 prospects (and their class ranking) that turned into the core for the 2015 team that won the ACC and was one bucket away from the Final Four:
Not only did that old recruiting strategy formulate the above core, it also recruited Bonzie Colson (139) and Matt Farrell (422) in the 2014 class that contributed to the successful 2016 and 2017 teams.
While the staff still ended up signing mostly top 100-150 guys from 2014-2018, there’s a reason why the same type of success has not followed the past two seasons. While some would point to injuries, which certainly have contributed a little, the biggest reason is the lack of fit between player and program. This makes sense, as the prospects that signed from 2014-2017 were the staff’s fallbacks after the prioritized top-50 prospects. Because of this, the signees received much less evaluation as a prospect. This lack of evaluation leads to more uncertainty in regard to the prospect fitting in with the culture and playing style of the program. And when a player thinks he doesn’t fit in, he transfers, which has happened three times in the last two years.
Additionally, this lack of evaluation hindered the staff’s ability to forecast each recruit’s playing capability at the collegiate level. Last year, after the departure of Matt Farrell, the roster did not have one true playmaking point guard on the roster. The roster featured a bunch of spot-up shooters that did not have the ability to create their own shots, which is the reason the team’s half-court offense was so horrific. How does the coaching staff allow for that much of a gaping hole in the roster? While TJ Gibbs proved he can be successful as an off guard alongside Farrell in 2017-18, he is not even close to possessing the skillset and ability to be a lead guard in the ACC. Last year he proved that. A more detailed evaluation of his ability when he was a recruit would have shown this. However, the staff was too focused on prioritizing blue-chip prospects the program had no chance of signing.
Brey should have realized that Notre Dame is not a program that will now, or ever, be able to sign players that want to go to the NBA in one or two years. This is not only because of the school’s tough academics; it’s mainly due to the university’s constant fixation of obsessing over the football program. The basketball program even struggles to fill the stadium against low-level ACC opponents in January and February. On top of that, the program didn’t even have a practice facility until this past season. If you’re trying to compete with the basketball elites for blue-chip recruits, that’s a deal breaker. Given all of the previous reasons, why would a five-star high school prospect ever come to Notre Dame? In my life, I’ve yet to hear a conceivable answer to that question, and it’s something the staff should have considered when it shifted its focus in recruiting strategies.
While some people would say it was worth a shot to try to sign better recruits after joining the ACC and experiencing unprecedented success, I advocate for the opposite. Mike Brey and co. essentially destroyed every ounce of momentum it had from back-to-back Elite Eight appearances. For a program that was trying to turn the corner and be nationally relevant every single year, sticking with what achieved success for the program in the first place was the better course of action. Now, instead of sustained success, the program has missed the dance for two straight years, in addition to finishing last in the ACC last year. To be clear, Mike Brey is a great coach and by no means deserves to be on the hot seat for last season’s catastrophe. However, he deserves to shoulder some of the blame for a program that is currently an afterthought in the ACC. The 2018 recruiting class was a step in the right direction, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to regain the momentum the program once had. The upcoming 2019-20 season is crucial, and getting back to the tournament absolutely needs to happen if the program doesn’t want to spiral into college basketball mediocrity.
Featured Photo: Rick Kimball/ISD