After yesterday's loss, it's time to take peek back at how the past 5 months have gone.
After two easy wins over exhibition opponents Rockhurst and Bellarmine to start the season, Notre Dame rolled to an easy victory over IPFW. The five starters were Carter, McAlarney, Falls, Zeller, and Kurz. How things would change over the course of the season. Zach Hillesland produced off the bench for a double-double and freshman Luke Harangody had 12 points and 8 rebounds.
Next for the Irish came a tough loss to Butler in the opening round of the NIT Tip-Off. While the Bulldogs would continue to surprise and win the whole thing, at the time the loss was rather discouraging. However, Harangody continued his great play with his first career double double.
Following the Citadel game, Black and Green came into being. Notre Dame cruised to an easy win after leading 40-12 at halftime.
at No. 19 Maryland
On the road at the BB&T Classic, Notre Dame jumped into the national spotlight. Using a 25-7 run, the Irish scored 52 in the 2nd half to defeat the Terrapins. Colin Falls had a poor shooting night only making 1 of 7 from beyond the arc. Now seen as the team's best win, at the time it was just a warmup for:
No. 5 Alabama
The high point of the nonconference schedule. Russell Carter scores 27. Falls and McAlarney each add 20. Colins poor shooting continues (2-7 from deep) but he contributes from the charity stripe. Students rush the floor and the NCAA Tournament becomes a distinct possibility. Unfortunately, Alabama would never recover its early promise and finish in the NIT.
Falls misses his 2nd straight game with an injury. He will not consistently shoot well from beyond the arc until mid-January.
Great end to a fantastic nonconference schedule. However, this game will be known for something other than the team's play. Tory Jackson starts his first game at point guard for suspended Kyle McAlarney. K-Mac will not return this season, but Jackson becomes an integral part of the team.
Moved up to account for the Sugar Bowl, the first Big East win gave Notre Dame fans a reason to cheer. Harangody continues to produce off the bench with 15 points and calls for Luke Zeller's benching grow louder.
Falling behind early, Notre Dame loses a poorly played game to the Hoyas. This win is followed by two losses for G'Town to start the Big East schedule, but a 13-1 finish lead to a Big East championship. Notre Dame will fare much better in the rematch, a two point loss.
No. 21 West Virginia
Luke Harangody makes his first start, a position he will hold for the rest of the year.
After a couple of home wins, Notre Dame loses another poor game on the road, this time at the Pavillion. While giving up 102 points, Notre Dame plays much better offensively. Colin Falls finds the shooting touch that will carry him the rest of the year to become the Big East's leader in three-point baskets.
at St. John's
More road woes. While undefeated at the Joyce Center, Notre Dame loses its third straight road game to a much worse opponent. Carter goes for 32, but only one other player scores in double figures.
Notre Dame avenges the earlier loss to 'Nova after breaking the tie with 1:30 left in the game. The close victory is the first such win for Notre Dame following last season's many heartbreakers.
Mike Brey is proud to "establish a road identity." After falling repeatedly to poor teams at their courts, the Irish beat a very good Syracuse squad and set a Carrier Dome record for most points by an opponent.
at South Florida
Bad start leads to another embarrassing loss on the road. Russell Carter has a poor night shooting (5-15) and Notre Dame loses some of the momentum gained from the Syracuse win.
Heartbreak. A Colin falls turnover and a terrible non-call as Rob Kurz is hacked during a layup lead to a late loss. Notre Dame fails to score in the final two minutes and Wilson Chandler scores a wide open dunk with 18 seconds left to steal the game.
Road win over the worst team in the league. Ryan Ayers finally shows off his offensive talent, making all four three point shots he attempts.
Revenge is sweet as the Irish pound DePaul in the midst of a six game winning streak. All starters finish in double figures as Notre Dame controls both halves.
No. 16 Marquette
With their best effort of the season, the team locks up an undefeated season at home. The win also solidifies a NCAA bid and puts the Irish in position for a first-round BET bye. Ranked 23rd at the time, the win pushes ND past Marquette for NCAA seeding.
Not pretty, but Notre Dame avoids a letdown in the final regular season game at the RAC. Tory Jackson has nine assists while under lots of Scarlet Knight pressure.
Ending the Orange's shot at a three-peat, Notre Dame scores 57 in the 2nd half to advance to the Semi-Finals, not knowing at the time that the loss would eliminate Syracuse from the NCAA Tournament.
at No. 9 Georgetown
16th ranked Irish lose a tough one to eventual champs Georgetown. Player of the Year Jeff Green takes the lead with a late layup, before Russell Carter misses an opportunity to win at the buzzer.
No. 21 Winthrop
Notre Dame gets a tough draw in the NCAA tournament, a 6 seed facing Cinderella hopeful Winthrop. The glass slipper fits for the Eagles, who see a 20 point lead disintegrate before pulling out the first tournament victory in school history.
In all, Notre Dame finished with a 24-8 record (11-5 in the Big East) and 17th final ranking from the AP. In six games against ranked opponents, the Irish were 4-2. The losses were the last two games of the season, Georgetown and Winthrop. For the first time in three years, the Irish made the premier postseason tournament easily and advanced the the semi-finals of the Big East. All this after losing a starting point guard in December and having two freshmen in the starting lineup for most of the year.
The loss to Winthrop serves as an example for how far Notre Dame still has to go to become a national powerhouse. However, Duke's loss is a reminder that even the best can be upset. From the ashes of a 6-10 Big East season last year and disappointing NIT result, Irish basketball is back on the map for the first time since Colin Falls and Russell Carter were high school seniors. A nucleus of talented young players such as Jackson and Harangody will have to make up for the lost production of those graduating. However, with only one senior next season, the upcoming years should have a chance to flourish with the core that has been established.
Russell Carter- Finishing with 17.1 PPG in his senior year, Carter is one of the most improved the most of any Irish player in his final two campaigns. A terrific talent who sometimes struggled with shot selection and attitude problems, Carter was the spark of many Irish wins this season. His scoring and athleticism will be greatly missed. Hopefully, Russ will have some success in the pros.
Colin Falls- A true captian, Falls was the emotional leader of the team. Blessed with a hot hand and high basketball IQ, Coach Brey counted on Colin more than anyone to deliver on both ends. He lacked the athleticism to become a true scoring threat, but there have been very few graduates of Notre Dame with as perfect a shot as Colin Falls. His professional future is cloudy, but if his playing days are over Colin could make a very good coach.
Kieran Piller- Walk-on played well late in games when given the chance. Was helpful in practice and finished his second year with the team. Whatever his future holds is unknown, but still has eligibility if he wants to return.
Rob Kurz- Made great strides as the premier power forward in nonconference play. Was overshadowed by freshman Harangody by the end of the year, but averaged 12.6 PRG and 8. RPG. Will be needed greatly as a senior captian next season.
Kyle McAlarney- His production is Big east play is unknown, but he would certainly have aided the team this year. Will hopefully return with a new vigor, put the past behind him, and form a strong backcourt combination with Jackson next season.
Zach Hillesland- Team's 6th man. Did everything that was asked of him and more. Is very athletic and plays hard in spurts off the bench. Will be relied upon next season in an expanded role. Has a very bright future.
Luke Zeller- Big mystery. Made some strides this season, but looked bad in comparison with Harangody. Needs to delevop an inside game.
Ryan Ayers- Looked uncomfortable most of the season, but came alive in Big East play. Played very well on defense with his tremendous wingspan. Also showed a dead-eye jumpshot when open. Has a shot to start next year if he can continue to make threes in games.
Luke Harangody- Was expected to make an impact, and certainly contributed. Still very raw and needs to develop better inside moves. If he stays healthy and continues to play with a great passion, the possibilities are endless. Let's hope he stays on the right track and does not become another Torin Francis.
Tory Jackson- Very talented passer who developed over the course of the year. With more experience, his teammates were able to make plays with his no-look dishes and in traffic throws. Great when driving to the basket. Single-handedly kept ND in the second Georgetown game. Showed some talent shooting against Winthrop. It will be interesting to see what his role is with McAlarney back, but has earned a starting spot.
Jonathan Peoples- Limited playing time will be lessened more with K-Mac returning. Played well when spelling Jackson, but Tory's solid play led to fewer minutes for Peoples.
Joe Harden- In January, I discussed Notre Dame basketball with a guy who had seen a few practices this season. We talked a little about the freshman class and he remarked, "I'm telling you right now, the diamond in the rough for this class is Joe Harden." Harden was unable to get a lot of playing time this season, but should have a chance to contribute next year. Has a very good jumper and can use his height to us advantage on the wing.
Tim Andree- Walk-on. Played a little early, but got hurt and never re-entered the picture.
That's it for this season. It always hurts to say goodbye. Tomorrow, I will write up a preview of the 2007-08 campaign, including incoming freshmen from the latest recruiting class. Happy St. Patrick's Day.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
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In my mind, the regular season was a success, exceeding most all expectations. Even in the face of adversity: an early-season loss to Butler ("uh-oh, there goes the season!") and then the McAlarney Affair. Unfortunately, the season ended on a sour note with ND falling short of the new expectations set by the regular season performance. And in the end, that is the impression that will stick with us for some time.
In reflection, I couldn't help but think about Mike Coffey's piece on the anti-ND bias pervasive through the NCAA ranks, including the front offices. Seemed like a plausible argument.
Looking back, I threw together some numbers that appear to bear this out. Below are the 2007 NCAA Tournament pairings for the #6 seeds. To find a ranking system which numerically assessed all teams involved, the Sagarin Rankings for college hoops are in parentheses:
ND (21) L to Winthrop (22)
Duke (16) L to VCU (53)
Vanderbilt (37) W vs Geo. Washington (78)
Louisville (28) W vs Stanford (60)
1. The two highest-rated #6 seeds (ND, Duke) both lost.
2. The two highest-rated seeds also had the toughest relative vs #11 matchups (vs #22 and vs #53, respectively.)
3. The average rating for all #11 opponents was 53. Compare this to ND's opponent, Withrop, who had a rating nearly half that (22).
4. ND ws the only #6 seed facing a ranked opponent. In fact this was the only opening-round matchup between ranked teams.
Is there an anti-ND sentiment within college sports ranks? You be the judge.
In regards to observation #3, Winthrop is not only half the average 11 seed ranking, but far below it.
On a strict S-Curve with the Sagarin rankings, Duke should have been a 4 seed, ND deserved a 6 seed, but Winthrop was also deserving of a six-seed. In comparison, VCU should be far lower than an 11. GW and Stanford were lucky to make the tournament.
I'd hate to believe that there is a vast conspiracy regarding ND sports, but a very compelling argument can be made supporting that theory.
Considering the general way the Big East was treated in seeding, outside of Pitt and Georgetown, I think it's more likely a Big East thing than an ND thing. And that's understandable (not acceptable, but understandable) considering that we didn't have a representative on the committee.
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