March 17, 2000
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – It is hard to accept it when you don’t get invited to the Dance.
Matt Doherty found that out at the beginning of this week.
The Irish found themselves on the bubble for making the NCAA tournament after bowing out of the Big East tournament in the quarterfinal round. On Sunday, he brought the team into the locker room to watch the NCAA selection show. It proved a nightmarish sight.
After his team’s win in the opening round of the NIT, Doherty let everyone know how tough the past couple days had been.
“When the pairings were coming out, I said to the team, ‘If we get in great but if we don’t then we will be disappointed for a short amount of time,'” Doherty said. “It turns out that I was really disappointed Sunday and Monday.”
Tuesday, he could no longer dwell on the fact. Doherty realized that he had to prepare his team for a young and talented Michigan team. Prior to the game, his focus rested on the Wolverines but after the game, the Coach sounded off.
“You can disagree but I think that we deserve to be in there,” Doherty said after his team’s opening game in the NIT.
After seeing a large crowd turnout for the Michigan contest, a reporter questioned if he might consider scheduling them in the regular season. The Irish currently have four non-conference games scheduled for next year, Cincinnati, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Indiana.
“I think that is enough especially with the way they chose teams for the NCAA tournament,” Doherty said about the four tough teams already scheduled. “Craig Thompson told every major school not to make a tough schedule. That is what he told everybody with his selection of, no offense to, Indiana State or St. Bonaventure.”
Doherty made quite clear in his postgame press conference that he is rethinking his approach to next year’s schedule.
“If we didn’t make a tough schedule this year then we would have won 20 games this year,” he said. “We would be 8-8 in the league and we would be in the NCAA tournament.”
While he is upset about missing the Big Dance, Doherty wants people to know that his focus now rests on bringing home a NIT title.
“I would be very proud to hang an NIT banner in the Joyce Center,” Doherty said. “There is no shame in that especially this year because I think this field is as strong as it has been in a long time because of the Virginias, the Villanovas, the Vanderbilts and the Notre Dames that were not invited to the NCAA tournament.”
Some may view Notre Dame as favored to win the NIT tournament but Doherty wants to dispel those rumors.
“Just because we were on the bubble doesn’t grant us the right to win this NIT,” Doherty said. “The NIT is pretty strong. It is probably stronger this year than it has ever been because of the teams like Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Villanova who didn’t get into the tournament. I think the field might be stronger than normal.”
Regardless of the outcome of the NIT, Irish could not have hoped for a better season under a first year head coach. This season proved a first for the Irish in many categories. If Doherty can win another, he will tie the record for most wins by a rookie coach. Legendary Moose Krause who led his team to 20 wins back in the 1946-47 season set the record.