Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 27, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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8 NOV. 27, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME Yes, Last Year's Experience Will Help By Lou Somogyi The cancellation of 2020 March Madness was one of the initial tremors that the COVID-19 threat was real and would be the onset of a new normal. However, even if the global pandemic had not occurred, the Fighting Irish women's season was already finished with a 13-18 mark and its first sitting out of the Big Dance in 25 years (1995). Meanwhile, 20th-year men's head coach Mike Brey recently admitted that despite improving to 10-10 in the ACC last year, his troops more likely were headed to the NIT — a third straight year not in the NCAA Tournament after making it nine of the previous 11. With reasonable health and a hopeful taming of the coronavirus, both squads will receive invites this year. There is a reason why the women are ranked No. 22. Last year was a perfect storm of attrition and other setbacks, but there is a quality young nucleus that includes five former McDonald's All-Americans and a determina- tion to bounce back under first-year head coach Niele Ivey. For the men, the ACC preseason poll has them 12th out of 15 schools. Be- ing under the radar is when Brey teams thrive, especially as experienced as this one will be. Junior year is when the Brey system takes hold, and his best recruiting class (on paper) from three years ago will now feature six juniors. The schedule is the most treacherous I've seen since John MacLeod's first year in 1991-92, but it will forge toughness and confidence as the year pro- gresses. Brey never has had a four-year stretch without an NCAA Tournament bid, and it won't start now. No, Too Much Improvement Remains For Both By Todd D. Burlage The argument against the men returning to the NCAA Tournament in 2021 starts with three words: No John Mooney. The argument against the women returning to the NCAA Tournament in 2021 also starts with three words: No Muffet McGraw. Now, with that said, first-year Irish women's head coach Niele Ivey should be a seamless transition and the perfect choice as McGraw's successor, and she will eventually pull her pro- gram back to prominence. But in the deep and talented ACC, Ivey will likely need more than six months on the job to make it happen, especially with all the additional challenges she faced trying to mold her team under the coronavirus cloud. Rebounding from 13-18 to an NCAA Tournament team is possible, but it won't be easy. For men's head coach Mike Brey, the challenge of returning to the Big Dance is even greater, given that he'll have to replenish the 16.2 points and 12.7 rebounds per game from Mooney. With limited frontcourt options beyond senior forward Juwan Durham (7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per last year as a complementary player next to Mooney), foul trouble and any un- thinkable injuries could make this another bumpy ride for Brey and his team through the difficult ACC. Like Ivey, Brey also faces a lot of hurdles on his way to a NCAA Tournament bid. A thin frontcourt and an early schedule that includes games against Michigan State, Tennessee, Ohio State, Kentucky, Duke, Purdue, Syracuse and Virginia, it's hard to find a clear path for the Irish men back to the Big Dance. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WILL BOTH MEN'S AND WOMEN'S BASKETBALL MAKE THE NCAA TOURNAMENT THIS YEAR? The line of questioning is becoming somewhat redundant, but understanding everything the Notre Dame athletic head coaches are facing during these unprecedented times remains worth revisiting. And after 20 years as the head coach of Notre Dame men's and women's swimming, Mike Litz- inger is a good candidate to outline the unique set of challenges he and his athletes are facing now and worked through during the spring and summer. Circumstances and procedures remain so "unique" for his programs, the Irish men and women began their season Nov. 6-7 with a "vir- tual meet" against West Virginia. Blue & Gold Illustrated caught up with Litzinger to discuss his team's state of the union, and what he was up against during the spring and summer campus shutdown. BGI: What were the special challenges you faced keeping your team engaged and excited for a winter season that was jeopardized because of the coronavirus? Litzinger: "The biggest thing was kind of put- ting a wrap on last season because it ended so abruptly, and staying in touch with our athletes throughout the summer, and starting to ramp up what the fall would look like when they returned. "The staff did a really great job of communicat- ing, along with our administration and our medical team, so we had protocols in place, we were ready to go as soon as kids hit campus the second week of August." BGI: With that said, how has your routine changed this season com- pared to the previous 19? Litzinger: "I think like any other team, we are extra aware now of our surroundings, and how COVID can play into our dynamic. "So we are trying to be as careful as we can, but we are enjoying the fact that we are able to train and compete because we were literally cut off from training from the second week of March all the way to August." BGI: How did the virtual meet against West Virginia work? Litzinger: "Both coaches agreed on an order-of- event lineup, and a start time for each event. So what we did was we finished each session, and since we were the home team, they sent us their times and we were able to merge our results with theirs to establish a finishing order and compile a regular meet sheet. "It was actually a lot of fun." BGI: How are the kids holding up through all of the protocols and changes to their usual routine? Litzinger: "These college kids, they put themselves under a lot of pres- sure as it is, especially at a place like Notre Dame where as an athlete, you want to be an All-American, you want to be an NCAA finalist but you also want to get a 4.0 [GPA]. "You want to have an internship and you want to be able to be a meaningful member of the univer- sity community. That dynamic has changed a little bit, but I am pleased they are still keeping that focus. They've adapted." BGI: You recently hired a veteran and successful dive coach before this season. What can you tell us about Mark Bradshaw? Litzinger: "I received recommendations from some of the best coaches in the country and they all knew that Mark would be a great fit. It ended up being a match, and he was ready to move on from Arizona State. "I think he knows the potential of our program and he saw it. He saw what we had to offer and it was a good match." — Todd D. Burlage Five Questions With … MEN'S AND WOMEN'S SWIMMING COACH MIKE LITZINGER MIKE BREY NIELE IVEY LITZINGER

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