First off, news of Carleton Scott breaking his fifth metatarsal broke during the day yesterday. He will be rehabbing for up to the next four months, but should be fine for the team's trip to Ireland in August. Tough break for the guy who could become a very important part of the lineup next year and in the future. He has been a little injury-prone in the past, so hopefully this is the only problem he will have to deal with at ND. His redshirt year has gone very well by all accounts, as the 6'7" wing has gained 25 pounds and now weighs a formidable 213. As long as he can keep that strength, Scott should be a very good player for this team contributing as early as next year.
Last night was probably the most nerveracking night I have ever experienced while watching the Irish play... way too much to lose with not a whole lot to gain. Even with the lead in double digits in the second half, my blood pressure was through the roof until the final buzzer. Today is much better. Very good win, easy if not dominant. Obviously, Washington State will be a tougher task. Just look at how they handled Winthrop in the second half last night.
But we're playing with the house's chips now. Win or lose, the season is still an overall success. Obviously, a Sweet 16 appearance would be the perfect way to keep the good feelings going.
Should be wearing the black jerseys tomorrow. That's a good thing for two reasons. One, the Irish will be reminded of the importance of the game. This isn't like playing a semi-home contest against an inferior CAA squad. Washington State deserves to wear their home whites and will be the favorite to win. Two, this should be the second leg of a business trip. We're on the road in somewhat hostile territory and need to keep the focus. What was most encouraging about yesterday's performance was that the Irish never looked like they wanted to get caught up in the festivities. It was just another game in what should be an everlengthening season. That mentality will be great for Saturday.
Plenty of positive notes from the game. Worst case scenario for a win would be an absolutely perfect performance against an easy team. The law of averages states that had everything gone perfectly, a below-average performance would be sure to follow. The Irish won while strengthening their weaknesses. They improved on defense and were able to walk the ball up the floor to win without getting into a shootout. Most teams don't have their second best defensive performance on March 20th.
As for the negatives, they were mostly our strengths not being in the spotlight. Kyle McAlarney overcame a poor shooting half to be solid overall for the game. He will need to be better than that Saturday, but experience says he can light up the scoreboard when needed. Luke Harangody was below the season average scoring, but still played very well. Needs to stay in the paint and not get so trigger happy from 10-15 feet out.
The role players really stepped up last night. Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers look like the best tandem small forward in the country. Hillesland with that athleticism and hustle grabs the rebounds and creates matchup problems on the wing. Ayers continues to gain confidence and can knock down any shot on the floor. Luke Zeller hit a three and grabbed a few boards. He continues to improve into a solid option off the bench. Rob Kurz, normally a solid double-double guy, was in foul trouble and played a below average game overall, but can usually be counted on when needed. Picked up his 1,000th point as well, so good for him.
Game is at 6:40 Eastern tomorrow. Looking forward to that one more than I was for last night. The Irish have the talent needed to win, but will be in for a tough fight. Win, and the program takes a huge step forward. Even a close loss would close out a year that has been a strong improvement from last season.
However, we all want a shot at the #1 team in the nation. Let's get that W and take on Carolina in Charlotte.