Time to Start Doubting Thomas?

Is Chris Thomas the best point guard in the Big East, or a star-in-the-making plagued by inconsistency? A statistical analysis of Notre Dame's national television appearances indicates that Thomas' peformance has not matched his reputation. The point guard, and the No. 16 Irish, are still a work in progress. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli reports from Providence and will be courtside Tuesday at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

January 20, 2003

Doubting Thomas?
Troubling Stats Add Up

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

PROVIDENCE, RI (IE) – Is it crossroads time for Chris Thomas?  For the first time in his still young Notre Dame career, the point guard is enduring some well-placed criticism.

Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith built his defensive game plan Saturday around harassing Thomas, in part because the Indianapolis sophomore has shown a penchant for becoming rattled in big-game settings.  The Irish, and Thomas, laid an egg in Lexington, falling 88-73, with Thomas making just four-of-17 shots while turning the ball over nine times.

Predictably Monday, the Irish dropped from No. 10 to No. 16 in the Associated Press poll, and Mike Brey's squad may be only another loss or two from dropping out of the rankings altogether.   With a pair of nettlesome road games this week in frigid New England, it may be time for Thomas to prove he is indeed one of the Big East's premier players, not merely a brilliant but inconsistent talent.

Estimable South Bend Tribune beat writer Tom Noie has seen every one of Thomas' games the past two seasons, and has noted an alarming trend.  When the Irish square off against a quality non-conference team, or meet a Big East rival on national television, the point guard's play slips dramatically, and so do the Irish fortunes.

Noie submits a 14-game body of work over the past two seasons as evidence.  Five games are from this season – at Kentucky, at Pittsburgh, Texas, Maryland and Marquette.  Nine are from the 2001-02 campaign – NCAA Tournament games versus Duke and Charlotte, Big East Tourney clashes versus Connecticut and St. John's, and TV match-ups with Providence, Syracuse, Rutgers, Georgetown and Kentucky. 

In those 14 games, Notre Dame is 6-8.  Thomas has attempted 200 field goals, making just 60 (30%).  His three-point accuracy is a tad worse (28-for-96, 29-percent) and he is averaging 7.3 assists and 4.5 turnovers.  The sophomore's scoring average is 13.1 points per game.  He only shot 50% or better in two of the games, and 12 times made fewer than one in three attempts from the floor.

Thomas is significantly better when national TV is not on the scene.  He is shooting a full 13 percentage points higher (195-for-448, 43-percent) when there is no TV or just a regional broadcast.  His assists are slightly up (7.5 to 7.3) and his turnovers are down (4.1 versus 4.5).

Is this merely a statistical anomaly or a legitimate sign of concern?  After all, some of Thomas' real masterpieces – the four-overtime, 22 point, 12 assist effort at Georgetown last Feb. 9, for instance – are not included in this study.

But what cannot be disputed is Notre Dame's losing record in these key games.   If the Irish are to maintain a high national ranking – and parlay that into favorable post-season seedings – they are going to have to be at their best when the nation is watching.  And Brey knows it all starts with Thomas.

"I've spoken to him," said Brey. "I told him, ‘You need to be better, you need to be tougher, you need to lead our team'."

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