It’s Time to Go Back to the Purcell Center

Not that you need my permission, but here it is: You can go back to the Purcell Center to watch basketball.

Men’s basketball, or women’s basketball. Maybe both.

You still can’t buy popcorn, due to some silly rule or another, but both teams are back to pre-Covid form.

— Back when the crowds were big and mostly loud, by Notre Dame standards.

— Back when you could count on an entertaining game, not embarrassingly poor play by athletes who looked mostly lost.

— Back when the women’s fans wore their goofy hats, sat in their “player” sections, and nearly every grandmother was with her granddaughter.

— Back when the men’s fans were too cool to cheer except when a Syracuse, a Duke, or a North Carolina was in town.

 — Back when the students would show up as if a public relations guy told them to make it look like the student body actually cared about basketball.

Yep, you can go back now.

Men’s coach Mike Brey is in the middle of pulling off yet another magic act, coaching up seven players of average ability to compete against everyone except the best teams with a huge guy in the middle (aka Duke). It is a typical Brey team — old guys with just enough moxie to almost make the tournament, playing against teams full of players who have been scouted and groomed since they were five years old to zip past college right into the NBA.

Women’s coach Niele Ivey put on her best Muffet McGraw impersonation Tuesday night, defeating No. 3-ranked North Carolina State by simply being the better team.  After a couple of “Oh, my God” years, Ivey clearly has the teams she wants. The team is as entertaining as any of McGraw’s teams ever were, and are quickly improving by playing solid defense, getting to the 50-50 balls first, and spreading the wealth around on the score card. Two of the most interesting players are freshmen, which means good things in the future for the team.

So, it is safe to go back. Don’t expect the men’s team to be anything more than what it is, a bunch of average players coached by a magician that will stay on the court against teams twice as talented. Yes, there will be a couple of throw-up games, but there also will be a couple of stand-up games.

The women’s team is different. They are a top 10 team in talent. In a couple of years, you can expect them to chase a national title. If you get a seat now, you can watch the seedlings grow. Ms. Ivey is the real deal. She was one of the people that I was thinking about when I named my book that I wrote about the 2001 national championship team, “Nice Girl Finish First.” Ivey is a class act. Her team is headed up.

So, you have my permission to go back. Enjoy the game. Have some fun. Take a friend.

And dream of the day they bring the popcorn back.