Noie: What goes into a Notre Dame women's basketball scouting report? A lot of work, and a slice of worry
No matter how complete the report runs, or a certainty that everything has been adequately addressed, Notre Dame associate women’s basketball coach Niele Ivey always has that same sinking feeling, if only for a moment.
It arrives minutes before tip-off. It will arrive again Monday when No. 1 seed Notre Dame (31-3) hosts No. 9 Michigan State (21-11) in a second-round NCAA tournament game at Purcell Pavilion (7 p.m., ESPN). The winner advances to the Chicago Regional semifinals and a Saturday afternoon date against No. 4 Texas A&M (26-7).
For two full days, ever since Michigan State edged Central Michigan on the heels of Notre Dame’s first-round win over Bethune-Cookman, Ivey has lived nothing but green and white. Ivey’s in charge of the scouting report for Monday’s game. She’s seen it all; she believes she’s covered it all.
But when it’s go time and there’s nothing left she can do, she’ll still ask herself, “What if?”
If Hall of Fame head coach Muffet McGraw, her college coach, her mentor, her boss, doesn’t wheel around during the opening possessions Monday with a “What the ….” expression aimed her way, Ivey will feel even more confident with all the time and effort she put in to prepare the Irish.
She’ll be certain everything has been covered. Then again….
“I’m always thinking, ‘I hope I went over everything,’” Ivey said Sunday afternoon while her stir-fry lunch sat cooling in a take-home box in a Purcell Pavilion hallway that doubled as a team dining area. “You never know.”
Ivey’s work on Michigan State actually started early last week, hours after the South Bend section of the tournament’s first two rounds were revealed. Associate head coach Carol Owens took the scout for Bethune-Cookman. Ivey grabbed Michigan State. Fellow associate coach Beth Cunningham corralled Central Michigan.
Ivey worked a little every day on Michigan State. She watched every game this season. She produced pages of notes on offensive tendencies. On defensive principles. On trends. On preferences. On personnel. By Saturday, all she could do was sit and wait.
And watch. While many Irish fans headed for home following Saturday’s first-round win, Ivey slid into a seat on press row for Michigan State and Central Michigan. She could have just had the team’s video coordinator download the game to her laptop. But it’s not the same. Too sterile.
“It was nice to watch it live,” Ivey said. “You get a good vibe of the flow and what they like to do.”
If Michigan State won, Ivey would go into overdrive; if Central Michigan won, it would be Cunningham who’d need some coffee.
“It’s either a lot of work, or no work,” Ivey said.
For Ivey, it was Door No. 1. She spent Saturday afternoon and evening reviewing that game’s cut-ups. More offensive sets. More defensive looks. More personnel. More notes. Midnight came and went. She traded text messages with McGraw for hours. What do you think? What do you see? Like? Dislike? Concerns? Back and forth Ivey went, from her laptop screen to her notepad to her phone. More film. More words. More texts. More work.
“I was up all night,” she said.
Ivey finished her initial scout around 1:30 a.m. She was awake again at 6 to lock it all down. There have been times when she’s worked straight through nights to make sure it’s all right. But sometimes, that’s just wrong.
“You get sleepy and you’re like, ‘I don’t even know what I watched for the past hour,’” Ivey said. “The hardest scout is when you have only 48 hours.”
Ivey was handed a five-hour bonus for this one. From the time Michigan State won Saturday to the time the ball is tipped Monday, it will be 53 hours between games. Nearly all of that is spent on the opponent. Ivey culls together video of all the team’s offensive sets. Then all the defensive sets. Then highlights three or four of their pet plays. What the Irish might be able to run against man. Against zone.
Ivey had the Michigan State report ready for McGraw by Sunday’s 11:15 a.m. staff meeting. Ivey met with the players at noon for an early strategy session. Following that afternoon’s practice, she’d show them five minutes of film on MSU’s personnel — you’ve got this player; you’ve got that one — before a brief dinner break.
Later Sunday, Ivey would have a detailed analysis ready for the Irish. It figured to run six pages. There were times during Ivey’s earlier days as an assistant when it was twice that long. The players often protested. She listened.
“I work smarter now,” Ivey said. “I know what Coach needs. You try to keep it short; I try not to be too wordy, but sometimes it gets out of control.”
Wordy writers nod in agreement, but we digress.
Fortunately for Ivey, Monday’s opponent is familiar. The teams played each of the two previous seasons. In October, Notre Dame traveled to East Lansing for one of those top-secret-not-for-public-knowledge scrimmages against coach Suzy Merchant’s squad. Ivey has gone through her notes from those previous games and that scrimmage. She already kind of knew what to expect from MSU, and vice versa.
“We’ve seen them up close and personal,” Merchant said of Notre Dame. “Every time you play them, they’re extremely talented. They’re kind of a nightmare matchup, for sure.”
Ivey didn’t plan to have any nightmares Sunday. She budgeted a few more hours of rest than the previous night. Who was she kidding? This time of year, everyone tosses and turns. Head coaches. Assistants. Associates. When it’s win or go home, sleep patterns suffer.
“We’re always thinking,” Ivey said. “Your mind is always working; you’re still processing — did I do a good job of preparing everybody? That’s what you carry.”
Ivey also carries the same rock-solid confidence she had as an Irish point guard. Back during her playing days, she was cement strong in her game, her mind ready for anything. She often was; same holds true as a coach.
“You’ve got to be confident when you walk on the floor, instill that confidence in the team that they can do it,” Ivey said. “If Plan A doesn’t work, you might have to go to Plan B.
“Hopefully, we never have to go to Plan C, but you never know.”
Deep down, Ivey does. So do the Irish.
“This senior class, they’ve seen everything,” she said. “We’ll be ready for this one.”