Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pittsburgh 93, Notre Dame 80

We are what we are. Great first half supported by strong three point shooting (especially by Luke Zeller) showed off the potential of this season. Second half getting killed on the boards and cracking to defensive pressure demonstrated why it will be a struggle to make the Tournament. 3-6 now, have to go at least 6-3 the rest of the way. Only real good news is that the hardest part of our conference schedule is over.

Tory Jackson was very disappointing. No points, did pick up 6 assists, and 4 rebounds, but his decision making was not befitting of an upperclassman floor leader. 5 turnovers with a string of just bad decision making. Telegraphed passes, out-of-control drives, not a scoring threat whatsoever. You expect better from an experienced point guard.

K-Mac was no better or worse than he has been most of the conference season. Made a few threes when he got open, but forced some shots and finished 3-9 overall. Did add 6 assists and rebounds, a surprisingly well-rounded game for the senior shooting guard.

Jonathan Peoples is a starter in name only. Clearly Brey does not trust him, only giving out 12 minutes today. He was an understandable addition against the three-guard lineup of Marquette, but adds nothing against most other teams. Please replace him next Wednesday.

Luke Zeller was fantastic in the first half, showing off the sweet stroke that has been inconsistent throughout his career. 18 points on 6-9 shooting. Pitt made some good changes at the half to keep him from getting so many open looks. I like that the Irish didn't throw up 22 threes in the second half, but we needed to be more aggressive looking for shots than we were. It's one thing to emphasize shooting threes in the flow of the game, but another to give up on our biggest first half strength. Zeller might be a solid starting 3, especially since he should have done better than zero rebounds as a power forward.

Luke Harangody is, as always, the heart and soul of the team. Pitt sold out to stop him in the first half but defended the perimeter more in the final 20 minutes. Harangody bounced back and was our only source of offense. Give DeJuan Blair credit, he's a fantastic player. 27 points, 11 rebounds is a solid game even with a below-average shooting performance.

Off the bench. Hillesland and Ayers played better. Hillesland scored at the end of the first half, a really nice last second play. Overall he used his athleticism better than he has in a while, driving for layups along the baseline. He still forces the dribble too much and did not rebound, but 12 points is a good game. Ayers played well with 10 points in 23 minutes, but did not add much in the other stats. Nash was agressive and worked hard, but hasn't shown a whole lot in extended minutes the last two games. Maybe this is the performance that he has shown in practice and the reason for not getting PT earlier.

Props to Harangody for a good rebounding game, he can't grab them all. Expecially when the rest of the team quits blocking out on the defensive glass. Blair finished with 11 offensive boards and Pitt won this game with second chance points.

No rebounding, the team cracked to defensive pressure especially at the beginning of the second half (this always seems to happen, a sign of poor coaching at the break... we come out too timid while the other team fights for 40 minutes). We're a bubble team for sure.

There are still plenty of games to be played, but things do not feel too good after a five game losing streak.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Best Coaches in the Big East

  1. Jim Calhoun- Two national titles, six Big East championships, 21 NCAA appearances at two different schools
  2. Jim Boeheim- 2003 National Champion, five Big East titles
  3. Rick Pitino- 1996 National Champs, just joined Big East, but has perhaps the most well-rounded resume of anyone
  4. Bob Huggins- One Final Four appearance, five trips to the second weekend. Has been successful at three different schools. Still a scumbag.
  5. John Thompson III- A rising star, already has a Big East title in just four years in the league. Needs some more time but could be up with the top three by the end of his career.
  6. Jamie Dixon- Has been the right guy to take Pitt to the next level after Ben Howland. Five straight NCAA appearances, one Big East title.
  7. Mike Brey- This is a tough one between him and Jay Wright. Both won two conference titles in the America East and at least one Big East Coach of the Year award. Brey gets the nod for better performance in regular season and a longer track record.
  8. Jay Wright- Has more Sweet Sixteen appearances than Brey, but only two years with less than ten losses. Has a national Coach of the Year trophy for a great season in '06, but hasn't been able to back to elite status. Also dresses very well.
  9. Buzz Williams- Ranked low because he has not had enough experience to really judge him yet. Off to a great start at Marquette, however, and should rise quickly.
  10. Keno Davis- New Providence coach seems to be the right guy for the job. Put Drake on the map last season and has started well in the Big East.
  11. Mick Cronin- Huggins' replacement has improved over the past three years. Seems to have the program moving forward and was pretty good at Murray State.
  12. Stan Heath- Took Kent State on a magical Elite Eight run in 2002, but that highlight seems a long time ago. Was average at Arkansas and not any better at lowly South Florida.
  13. Jerry Wainwright- Has the best resume of the bottom four, but still not that great. One winning season in conference in three years. O-fer so far in his fourth season. Does have three NCAA trips at Wilmington and Richmond.
  14. Bobby Gonzalez- Only two tournament appearances at Manhattan, no postseason in his third year at Seton Hall.
  15. Norm Roberts- On his way out at St. John's. Made the Big East Tournament once since 2005.
  16. Fred Hill- Rutgers has been awful in his two years. Still bad.
I'd take any of the top nine guys. Our depth of coaching really speaks to the quality in this league.

Also, check out this interesting article on Big East bubble teams.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Positive Posting

Interesting post on NDNation about Mike Brey and other coaches around the country. I think it's a little overly simplistic but it does give some solid perspective. All things considered, I would be very hesitant to swap Coach Brey for anything other than a proven commodity. If there's a guy already with a Sweet 16 or two on his resume who can recruit, we'll talk. If we ended up searching the ranks of the mid-majors for another guy from Delaware, it would be a sad day indeed. He's a pretty good coach and an excellent fit here. You don't dump that unless you can be certain the next guy will move you up a level.

Terrence Mayrose is a frequent contributor to this blog with stories from the New York area (and interviews with K-Mac). He posted here and had this to say about the Irish:

*** Almost a year ago to the date, I made a premature judgement on a Big East team who had fallen to 3-5, and was entering a stretch of big games it needed to win. I quoted the colorful Michael Ray Richardson, and said "the ship be sinking." Then a week later after a blowout loss, I advised the coach to begin spelling "NIT".

The team was Villanova. My predictions were way off. Villanova not only made the tourney, they went to the Sweet Sixteen.

This year there is a team who's problems are almost identical to The Wildcats of last year. That team is Notre Dame. Now I'm not saying Notre Dame is identical to last year's Nova team, or that they will be a Sweet Sixteen team, but Irish fans should not be ready to call it baseball season just yet. As we've seen, it's all about getting hot at the right time. If this team can win the games it has to down the stretch, have a solid showing in the conference tourney, and get a good draw in the NCAA's, they very well may be the 08' Nova team. Anything's possible on the hardwood, so don't lose hope Irish fans. ***

Thanks to Terrence for that and be sure to check his blog every Wednesday. Some very good stuff there.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Differences From Last Season

When one compares the current squad to last year's team, the immediate reaction is to say that Rob Kurz's departure hurt more than we thought it would. That is absolutely true. However, I would draw different conclusions from the loss of Kurz than many.

First of all, there is (as always) a desire to place some kind of subjective label to this season. Are we "better" than last year? Certainly not, as neither the record nor the statistics bear that out. Of course the immediate assumption, therefore, is that we most be worse. I don't necessarily agree with that sentiment. Stay with me for a second as I try to explain.

Last year's team would not have finished third in the current Big East structure. The league is vastly improved from top to bottom. Last season, we only faced five ranked teams a total of six times in conference play and just one was in the top ten (a 19 point loss to Georgetown). This year, we have already played four top ten opponents (at the time of the game), with three on the way. It's fair to guess that a lineup with Kurz would have had similar trouble.

With a additional year of development, Luke Harangody has added 4.6 points and 2.7 rebounds a game. He has forced more shots this season, but the jumper seems much more polished. No longer is he getting shut down to 15 or fewer points (as he was five times last year). While he snuck up on some teams last year, Harangody has developed into such a fine player that he can find ways to succeed even with a target on his back (as the reigning Big East Player of the Year).

If we're not worse (due to Harangody playing above the level of last season) and we're not better (due to Kurz's departure), what are we? Far more inconsistent. Without Kurz's steady 7 rebound a game production, our second chances are almost all gone, putting an emphasis on steady outside shooting. As seen the past two games, a hot night by Ryan Ayers would have made the difference between beating a top 10 team at home and snapping your winning streak.

Kurz brought a steady dose of double digit scoring as our third option on offense and a rock in the middle with a guaranteed few rebounds per game. While our upside is higher this season, it has become apparent that we are destined to wildly vary from a top ten offense capable of beating anyone to the kind of squad that struggles against St. John's on a nightly basis.

To win in basketball, you can have an All-American to lead your team (Harangody), a deadeye shooter to help out with the offensive balance (McAlarney), and a flashy point guard to run the show (Jackson), but the role players end up determining the fate of the season. Kurz was our rock last year and went unappreciated. Zeller and Ayers have shown the inability to provide a similar kind of security with consistent scoring and rebounding. To get the season back on track, we need to find that guy who can hold us in check, whether it is Luke Zeller becoming a decent post player in the waning moments of his career or the emergence of a guy like Ty Nash. Someone has to step up and be a consistent force.

What Needs to Be Done

J31 at Pittsburgh 7pm ESPN
F04 at Cincinnati
F07 at UCLA 1pm CBS

F18 at West Virginia 7:30pm ESPN2
F21 at Providence

F28 at Connecticut 4pm CBS

The games in bold are ones I predicted we would win at the beginning of the year.

At this point, the sole goal for the Irish should be to make the NCAA Tournament. As previously mentioned, I believe this season will be judged on our ability to survive until the second weekend. Of course, you can't make the Sweet Sixteen while sitting on your couch.

10-8 in the league should do it. Winning the games I predicted at the beginning of the year would mean an 11-7 finish. Of course, games like @ West Virginia and home against Louisville seem far more difficult now.

Must Win-

The five remaining home games. It's so tough to win on the road in this league, you need to take care of business on your home court. That is why the losses to Connecticut and Marquette were so disappointing. While we have laid eggs on the road in the past (see St. John's this year, DePaul/South Florida in 2007), the Irish could always count on winning in the J.A.C.C. That mystique is gone now, but we need to get back to winning in South Bend for any chance of post season play.

@ Cincinnati/@ Providence- Pomeroy gives us a 48% and 44% chance of victory in these two games, respectively. We need both to get to 10-8.

Opportunities to Pick Up a Game-

If the Irish can somehow pry a win at Pitt, UCLA, West Virginia, or Connecticut, they will have a little more room for error at home. 9-9 in the league is probably good enough for the Irish to get in with a road win against the Bruins. The other three games (all less than 15% chance of success) will allow for another loss along the way, but are all pretty unlikely.

Big East Tournament-

No matter what, we're going to need to play well in New York. With the new system, we should be able to pick up a win or two before playing another NCAA Tournament team. Even with a 10-8 record, and especially with a 9-9 record, a bad first round loss could be lethal.

Very little room for error now. Coach Brey had the guys in for practice at 6 this morning. That's a start...

EDIT: I predicted 15-3 at the beginning of the year. That was dumb.

Monday, January 26, 2009


When I complain about the play of certain players on the team (right now it's Hillesland and Ayers, Zeller has gotten some flak in the past), I try to do so with the full realization that these are 18-22 year olds playing for school tuition. It's not personal, they're all good guys. I'll scream and yell a bit, but I do appreciate the work they do for the school. Thanks in advance for also keeping that in mind when commenting on their play, as well.

EDIT: Big record for hits tonight. Thanks for the love, everyone.

Marquette 71, Notre Dame 64

Train off tracks. Irish now face their nightmare scenario as they drop another winnable game against a top 10 opponent at home. The goal is just to make the Tournament now.

Peoples came in for Ayers and Zeller for Hillesland in the starting lineups, good moves underlined by the complete ineptitude of the former starters today. Peoples made a couple nice threes and was decent overall while Zeller really stepped up for the first two-thirds of the contest. Unfortunately, Luke completely lost his mind near the end and wasted a few extremely critical possessions down the stretch. It just seems like our 3 and 4 are not going to be able to put up 40 minutes of Big East quality play.

Of course, our normally solid backcourt is not free from blame. Both Jackson and McAlarney forced the pace into turnovers time and again. Is it so hard to slow the pace against a three guard lineup? We're not North Carolina out there, our best player is in the post. Slow it down and make possessions count. Our fast breaks only result in points for the other team.

Without Luke Harangody, we might struggle to beat South Florida with a game like this. 29 points, 17 rebounds, singularly carried the team and pumped up the crowd. He was also our only consistent shooter all game. I'm going to miss this guy when he's gone. I wish I could write more, but it's tough to celebrate the good with a 3-5 conference record.

As said before, Tory really hurt the team with some dumb drives in transition. However, he did score 10 points and grab 8 rebounds with 7 assists. Shot well on a few three point attempts, but couldn't convert inside the arc.

K-Mac had his second awful shooting performance in two big home games. So much for shooting better at home. 3-12 overall, 1-6 beyond the arc. 9 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists.

Peoples kept the team in the game with two big three pointers, but was a problem on the defensive end. Maybe starting him was a good idea to counteract the Golden Eagle three guard lineup, but he really plays like a mid-major guy on both ends. Not fast enough to guard the quick guys off the dribble or close off the open three.

Zeller finished with 8 points and 8 rebounds. When was the last time our starting power forward finished with eight or more boards? December 2nd against South Dakota. That's just pathetic. So props to Luke for stepping the plate and giving us a good second option on the glass. Unfortunately, he cracked in crunch time with a turnover (which basically consisted of bobbling a pass and handing it to a blue jersey between his legs) and a three point attempt that went down like the half court shot on GameDay.

Bench? What bench? We don't need no stinkin' bench. No points, 0-10 shooting, 5 rebounds in 38 minutes for Ayers, Hillesland, and Zeller. That was only topped by the 53 minutes of offensive trash played by Burke and the four Marquette bench players. If a single player finished with 38 scoreless minutes (save for Stephen Curry), he would never be wearing a Notre Dame jersey again.

Ayers is nothing on offense if he can't knock down those shots. Unbelievably, he is 1-17 in the last two games. Thanks for not showing up when we needed you most, Ryan. Hillesland has averaged less than three points per game in 2009. The last time he scored more than 6 was in December. Two points in the last three games. Here's to Zach getting better soon and becoming a solid player off the bench. Unfortunately neither he nor Ryan is anything more than that right now.

I liked what I saw in Ty Nash. Though he didn't score and only grabbed 2 rebounds in 8 minutes, he actually worked in the post. With Hillesland and Zeller, we have no second post prescence. He did struggle a bit with Marquette focused on him, but I like the potential there. He also tipped two passes and nearly forced turnovers on both occasions. The rest of the team in 40 minutes? 3 turnovers forced. Seems like the sophomore can bring a little needed pressure on D. He's not ready for the starting lineup, but I'd like to see him spell Zeller at the 4. Let Ayers and Hillesland swap time at small forward.

We're now 3-5 in the Big East. Unless the team gets better in a hurry, Saturday should be very tough to watch. 3-6 in the first half of the conference schedule is not the record of a good team. We need to finish extremely strong or this season of such promise will end in the NIT.

P.S. Thanks to Cracked Sidewalks for making my hits go through the roof tonight. I always have some trouble with how to feel about Marquette. It's a fantastic school with some very good fans who support their team well. Of course, they are also one of, if not our biggest, rivals. Fair play to them and here's to a rematch in New York.

Can't Shake Us

Harrah! Still ranked at 22nd in the Coaches Poll. Did fall to just out of the AP poll, behind Georgetown.

Small consolation if we lose tonight. Still, a win over 8th ranked Marquette and a good game in Pittsburgh on the weekend could keep us in the polls another week.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Starting Lineup Tweak

As expected, some changes are coming for the Irish.

Nothing specific known yet, but I would guess Luke Zeller will play in place of Hillesland. That doesn't exactly fix the problem, but it is good to know that Coach Brey isn't just going with the status quo. 15-20 minutes for Ty Nash Monday would be a nice change too.

EDIT: Why, hello Seton Hall. The Pirates give Georgetown their third straight loss and give me something to smile about tonight.

A Little More Objectivity

I wore my frustrations on my sleeve a little too much last night, so hopefully I can make some better points today.

1. We need to stop this losing streak on Monday.

The last time we lost three in a row was 2006. We had a losing streak as long as five that year. That is certainly possible with a loss to Marquette. Good teams don't let losses turn into losing streaks. Tournament teams keep losing streaks from derailing their entire seasons. We'll find out if this is a tournament team in less than 48 hours.

2. Time for Coach Brey to shakeup the rotation.

Ayers and Hillesland were decent last year as a rotation for the small forward slot. Unfortunately, Hillesland will never be a Big East power forward and Ayers is nothing but a (very) streaky shooter. They should spend as little time on the court together as possible.

Enter Ty Nash and Carleton Scott. While I half-heartedly called for more playing time for the two while we were winning, it has become apparent that one or both now need to be serious rotation guys. Not just to keep the starters from getting fatigued, but because our top seven players are not getting the job done. When your point guard is the second best rebounder on the team, a hard-nosed guy like Nash should be able to solve the current Hillesland/Zeller problem. Scott brings an added deminsion to the team, an athletic guy who doesn't just drive towards a turnover or wild shot in the paint (see Zach Hillesland). The perimeter offense we ran in the second half (a good idea to take Thabeet out of the game on defense) just does not work without players who can create their own shots.

3. Our defense was significantly better last night, a very good sign.

The Irish held Connecticut to an offensive rating 20 points below their season average. That's huge. It was hands down the best defense we have played against a topnotch team all year. 11 turnovers forced, 41% opponent shooting percentage, good pressure all around. If we played that kind of defense every game with our normal offense, we're a Final Four team. Obviously that's a pipe dream right now.

4. Why we lose.

In every loss except UNC, our offense has been terrible. Obviously, a higher emphasis on consistent defense would ameliorate some of problems with offense in big games. Still, you have to look at what went wrong last night as being consistent with out other losses. Poor shooting, little ability to create open looks, and pathetic rebounding from the 4 will make you lose more often than not.

5. We could have won against a very good team last night. The ability is there as it has been all year, the execution is not.

Connecticut is ranked 5th by Ken Pomeroy. Their statistics back up the high AP and Coaches rankings. 10th on offense, 16th on defense, strong rankings to demonstrate a good well-rounded team.

And we should have beaten them.

The Irish had plenty of open looks in the second half last night. Kyle McAlarney and Ryan Ayers, our dead-eye shooters, combined to go 4 for 25. Zeller was 2-6, Hillesland was 1-5. Only Harangody and Jackson shot above their season averages from beyond the arc. Though the Huskies took away a lot of shots under the basket, we had plenty of chances from the outside. Had we just made our open chances, this game was a win.

6. What lies ahead.

Should Win-

@ Cincy
South Florida
St. John's

Could Go Either Way-

@ Providence

Probable Losses-

@ Pitt
@ West Virginia

3-4 in the conference right now. Best case scenario is probably 11-7, but we could finish poorly enough to invert that record.

Solidly in the Tournament- 11-7 Big East record or 10-8 with at win at UCLA
On the bubble, leaning in- 10-8 (I think every Big East team with a winning conference record will make it)
On the bubble, leaning out- 9-9

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Connecticut 69, Notre Dame 61

Tough one to take. I'm not going to post a lot tonight, but a few quick thoughts.

Refs were absolutely brutal in the first half. The foul ratio was unbelievably tilted in U-Con's favor. Still, we played hard in a great atmosphere. Our shooting down the stretch was abysmal and killed us. Make a couple shots here and there and this is a win. Still, proud of our defense, proud of our players, and proud of our winning streak that sadly must come to an end.

That said, we need to bounce back in a big way Monday. If we lose to Marquette, that's four in a row and we're looking at the bubble. Need to make sure this loss doesn't become two or more.

One last thought, I'd take Luke Harangody over Thabeet or Adrien any day or night. At the risk of sounding crass and losing all journalistic integrity, I must say that Hasheem Thabeet sucks. ESPN cover boy looks terrible on offense and has very little agility. What makes this loss most frustrating is how both those players ran their mouths prior to the contest. Props to Adrien because he backed it up, but Thabeet wasn't even one of the best five players on the floor tonight*.

Ok, time to actually break down the game. We'll start with Harangody because he was the only one in double figures scoring tonight. 24 points, 15 rebounds. He wasn't as effective as he was in Storrs last year, but still a very solid game. Neutralized Thabeet with outside shooting and taking him away from the rest of the game. No complaints here.

Tory Jackson has a tendency to make frustrating decisions when you need him the most. Two turnovers at critical times, but you cannot be upset with the rest of his game. 7 rebounds, only 4 assists, but made a couple big threes.

McAlarney was awfully cold tonight, especially in the second half. He tried to take the ball inside the arc a bit more and the shots were not falling. 3-15 shooting overall is a terrible game. 3-8 beyond the arc. If he had made a few of those then this game would have turned out very differently. He did not, and we lost.

Ayers and Hillesland should not be starters together. Swapping the small forward and sixth man slots last year they were good, but this season it is clear that neither is good enough to start for a Sweet 16 caliber team. 4 points between them. 11 rebounds, but few of them were contested. Ayers is nothing when he has such a terrible night shooting and Hillesland makes plenty of errors driving to the basket. Bench one or both, please.

Off the bench, I liked Luke Zeller today (did I really just say that?). Not a lot of stats, but he played better D than Ayers and Hillesland and showed some tenacity on the boards. At least he looked like he cared out there. Peoples was nothing special and we didn't see enough minutes from Nash or Scott. Nash did score 8 points in 2 minutes (why doesn't he play more?).

Overall, as Coach Brey hinted post-game, I'd like to see more of Nash and Scott. At least give Nash the 10+ minutes he deserves on the floor. If Zeller can give us better minutes at the 4 (as I believe he can), he should be starting. Ayers and Hillesland are not big time starters and should split time at the 3 like last year.

Frustrating end to a very fun day. The school came through at GameDay and we played tough against a very good opponent, but a loss is a loss. Must bounce back against Marquette or this season may go down the drain. As it is, we should be unranked for the first time Monday.

College GameDay

Very proud of my school today. The students showed up about 4,000 strong with some small help from local fans. Great atmosphere with Digger playing emcee all morning. Just an excellent hour long infomercial for Notre Dame basketball.

Hopefully we can ride the energy from this morning to a win tonight.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quick Trivia

a. How many ranked teams did the Irish defeat last season?

b. How many ranked teams did they play in the regular season?

c. In the 2002-03 Sweet Sixteen year, how many ranked teams did the Irish beat and how many did they play?

d. How many ranked teams have the Irish beaten this season and how many remain on the schedule?

Answers: a. 2, b. 6, c. 4 out of 9, d. 2 with 7 remaining (out of 12 total)

UCONN Preview- Part 2

*Before reading this most, make sure you have read the "Things to Know" section from earlier today. If you are coming into town Saturday, be sure to stop by for College GameDay in the morning or before the game Saturday night.*

I was going to spread out my preview over the next two days, but will probably now complete most of it today with some filler tomorrow. There are two reasons for this: one, I want to keep the information about College GameDay close to the top of the page for the casual reader, in case anyone needs to know before Saturday and two, I'd like to get this preview out there and let it sit an extra night. There should be a good deal of information so it may be easier to digest in portions.

Let's take a look at the Huskies.

Starting Lineup-

PG- A.J. Price- #12- 6'2", 181 lbs.- 11.9 PPG, 4.6 APG, 45% 3PA- A talented point guard who runs the show and can light it up from beyond the arc. He's the only guy we should really respect from downtown. Austrie and Walker can hit them, but don't take enough to kill you. What's scary about Price is that he has the moves to use his range to draw you in before driving to the hoop. However, when a guy's overall field goal percentage (43%) is less than from beyond the arc, I'd take that chance.

SG- Jerome Dyson- #11- 6'4", 190 lbs.- 13.4 PPG, 3.4 APG, 31% 3PA- Shoot it, baby. He can't hurt you from outside (knock on wood) and has the lowest offensive rating of the starters. Price is just a touch better, since he shoots well from outside. Neither of the two guards can beat you by themselves. It's the inside that I'm worried about.

SF- Stanley Robinson- #21- 6'9", 210 lbs.- 5.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG- He missed the beginning of the year and hasn't shown as much as Craig Austrie, but allows Connecticut to run more of a conventional offense while on the floor. His length and athleticism could create some problems, but is probably the last option in the starting lineup.

PF- Jeff Adrien- #4- 6'7", 243 lbs.- 14.4 PPG, 9.6 RPG- Here's the problem. As mentioned, Price and Dyson are probably not enough to beat the Irish. I have plenty of confidence that Luke Harangody can neutralize Thabeet by stepping out and hitting a few jumpers. At the very least, Luke provides a better overall game that the Connecticut center. Power forward is the postition that could tip dramatically in favor of the Huskies. Who's going to guard Adrien? Hillesland is most likely not up to the task, so I'm praying Luke Zeller will step up. He has the height advantage and has shown some ability to shut down big men in the past (see Greg Monroe). Give me eight rebounds for Zeller and enough pressure to keep Adrien near his season average scoring and I'm ecstatic. Villanova would have beaten the Huskies if they could have kept Adrien off the boards. We need to make sure that happens.

C- Hasheem Thabeet- #34- 7'3", 263 lbs.- 13.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG- If you read the blog enough, you know I can't stand this guy. ESPN cover boy decided to trash talk Harangody and Hansbrough before the season started and enjoys beating small point guards in his free time. Here's the thing, Hasheem: you're not that good. Hey, I'll give you your props. You are a physical specimen. Seven foot three with the ability to jump over small cars. I get it. Too bad you have the hand-eye coordination of a new puppy. If I was that massive, I'd be a pretty good basketball player too. There's not a whole lot of skill involved. I know Coach Brey and Luke Harangody are over your little trash-talking to an extent, but I'm not. LH dropped 32 and 16 on you in Storrs last year. Remember that next time you say he's not tough. If Harangody can give us the same kind of performance this time around (and the Irish don't shoot 29% from three), we win and you can eat crow all the way back to Connecticut. Oh, and you really want to challenge Tyler Hansbrough? I'd love to see him kick your sorry butt all across the court sometime in March.


Craig Austrie- #24- 6'3", 176 lbs.- 8.2 PPG, 1.9 APG, 39.6% 3PG- The very small forward when Robinson is out, Austrie can make some shots beyond the arc, but doesn't do a whole lot more. Did shoot 89% from the stripe last year.

Kemba Walker- #15- 6'1", 172 lbs.- 10.0 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 39% 3PA- The talented freshman from the Bronx is their best penetrator. Let him take the outside looks, because he averages only one or two a game. Just don't let him drive on you. Expect some zone with him in the game. Expect zone all day if we can figure out a way to play good enough inside defense with it.

Gavin Edwards- #33- 6'9", 234 lbs.- 4.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG- The Ty Nash of their rotation. He's the eighth man in the rotation and probably won't merit double digit minutes unless Adrien or Thabeet get in foul trouble. So let's get them in foul trouble.

I don't know about you, but I am pumped for Saturday already. Just wish we had one or two more Big East wins before this game. A loss puts us out of the rankings for the first time all year. Not fun to think about. Oh, well. Can't change the past. Win Saturday and everyone feels better about the program.

Also, is there no limit to how far Jim Calhoun will go to find talent? Nigeria, Tanzania, and now the Sudan. The anti-Connecticut fan in me thinks there has to be something shady here, but it (like the Thabeet situation) probably just is what it is: a great human story about a guy getting a chance to overcome stuggles of those in his native land. Kudos to Calhoun for finding these guys. Coach Brey is too interested in liberating big men from the likes of Washington and Schererville, Indiana.

Things to Know

I was contacted to do some liveblogging on Saturday for The Score, a Canadian sports network. Obviously, I will at the game and can't work then, but hopefully will get some time as the season rolls along into March Madness. Hey, I'm half-Canadian, so the least I can do is plug their site on the blog, right?

Also, a schedule of events for Saturday. Be sure to know this if you're coming to town for the game:
  • College GameDay will be broadcast live from the Joyce Center at 11 am and 6 pm.
  • Students are allowed to camp out overnight Friday to ensure admittance Saturday morning.
  • Beginning at 9:15 am, all students are admitted to GameDay. There will be contests and other fun stuff before the show starts.
  • At 10 am, the Joyce Center is opened to the general public.
  • At noon, the JACC will be cleared out until doors open at 5 pm for students and 5:30 for the general public.
Saturday is also a black-out, so wear black (of course). You will also great a free t-shirt, but those usually run pretty large. This was pretty cool against Alabama a couple years back with the retro unis and everything. The site calls it an "annual" event. Not sure if that's the best idea, but I guess you can figure we'll always get a game or two at home that deserve special treatment.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

UCONN Preview- Part 1

The third-ranked Huskies beat Villanova tonight, meaning they will come to South Bend with a 17-1 record. Not too shabby.


Pomeroy Ranking- 7th
Offensive Rating- 118.3 (7th)
Defensive Rating- 88.3 (20th)
Team Three-Point Percentage- 38.2% (39th)
Strength of Schedule- 60th
OOC Strength of Schedule- 197th
Bench- 25.2% of minutes played (300th, 6 spots above the Irish)
Projected Record- 26-4 (14-4)

The Huskies are the second best team left on our schedule (Pitt is ranked 4th by Pomeroy) and we have to visit Storrs in late February. We have beaten Georgetown, the only team to knock off Connecticut, but this one will be tough.

Around the country, a couple huge upsets today. Northwestern dropped #7 Michigan State at home and Va. Tech beat #1 Wake Forest at home. Just like that, no more unbeatens. Ken Pomeroy gave Northwestern a 16% chance of winning and the Hokies with a 5% opportunity of success. Makes our 17% shot on Saturday look like nothing.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Around the Country

It's Inauguration Day, which reminds us that Oregon State basketball coach, Craig Robinson, is Barack Obama's brother-in-law. He was in South Bend last season coaching Brown. Don't believe me? Here's proof.

Talk about some good pickup games at the family reunion. Also, did I really write that much in a preview for the game against... Brown? Wow, I've gotten lazy.

Pitt put the smack down against Syracuse last night. Using the Transitive Property, that means a week from Saturday might go very poorly. Of course, we saw how the Transitive Property worked last Saturday. Speaking of which, it's a miracle!

Enough filler posts, I'll start previewing the big game tomorrow. Let's hope the game winds up being good enough to merit a three day preview. Fingers crossed.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Addition by Subtraction

The more we seem to struggle this season, the more my hopes rise for next year. At the moment, we seem to have earned a back-of-the-top-25 spot. We look very good at times and very poor at others.

Take a look at the problem areas. Two seniors, Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers, seem to be the weakest links on both offense and defense. Most people who observe the program express an interest in seeing more playing time for Ty Nash and Carleton Scott, most likely at the expense of Hillesland and Ayers.

Next season we lose the two biggest problem areas in the starting rotation and seemingly add athleticism (currently missing from the rotation) and a true power forward in Nash (though transfer Scott Martin is an interesting X-factor... he was the most highly recruited prep player currently on the ND roster). If Ben Hansbrough can replace a fraction of Kyle McAlarney's outside shot and Luke Harangody continues his development, our drop next year will not be as bad as originally feared.

Hey, it's something positive to think about as this season has hit a depressing stretch of mediocrity.


Irish fall to 19th in both polls. Not the end of the world, but we won't be ranked if we lose Saturday. On the flip side, beating two top ten teams at home over the next week would jettison us back up the charts. Such is life.

We have all week to preview the Connecticut game and I'm getting excited already. College Gameday will be in town and all signs point to a great atmosphere.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Rough weekend, as evidenced by my just finishing last night's post. Nothing more today, I'll see you all tomorrow.

EDIT: Louisville beating Pitt made me feel a little better last night. Yesterday's game was probably the most disappointing performance I've seen this year (obviously there is St. John's, but for different reasons). For as poorly as we played in overtime Monday, we played the Cards to a draw in regulation. We're a better team than we showed yesterday. The sky is still not falling and we will bounce back.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Syracuse 93, Notre Dame 74

Ugly loss, as Arinze Onuaku shut down Luke Harangody and the Irish repeatedly shut themselves in the foot. This will leave a sour taste in the mouth until next Saturday's big game.

Tory Jackson really lead the way when it came to bad decision making. I love the guy and I think he's come a long away over his three years at ND, but the last two games have reminded me a lot of his freshman year. He hit two threes (one did have his foot brushing the line and was taken away later) in the opening minute, then proceeded to shoot like Kyle McAlarney. Added three turnovers when he really just tried to rush instead of playing his normal game.

K-Mac was a bit of a saving grace, however. He did try a shot from Rochester with plenty of time left on the shot clock (perhaps the most ridiculous shot selection I have ever seen in the normal realm of a game), but scored 24 and made half his threes. It's been awhile since Mac had one of these games and it was nice to see him back, albeit in a losing effort.

Ryan Ayers played pretty well. 11 points on 4-8 shooting. We really became a perimeter team last night, so it's understandable that Ryan would take more shots. I still want to see him be more assertive. Give me a couple midrange jumpers to expand your game. Right now, he just helps when we sell out the post and go bombs away outside.

Hillesland hasn't shown much since Big East play started. 5 rebounds, 4 fouls, nothing else. He gave us that as the sixth man at the beginning of last year. A Big East power forward needs to be better.

Having read some of the comments already, I know some of your disagree with my earlier statement about Onuaku taking away Harangody. He did have 25 and 16, but look into it a little further. 28% shooting, three attempts from beyond the arc. Every attempt Luke made was a jump hook or a jumper falling away. Onuaku completely took out the post game (with some help by the refs letting him hack) and we became a perimeter team.

Off the bench, Peoples and Zeller played pretty well. It's nice to know we can go seven deep!

That's it for today. Thanks for the comments and keep them coming. One week to recover before a huge game next Saturday.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Too 100 College Basketball Players

These lists are always interesting, if not the most objective. You'll see Luke at #5, a pretty fair assessment (I'd agree with anything in the top 5). K-Mac comes in at 64th, a nice slot for him as well.

ESPN cover boy? 17th. I don't see nothing!

1 Blake Griffin
2 Stephen Curry
3 Tyler Hansbrough
4 James Harden
5 Luke Harangody
6 Darren Collison
7 Ty Lawson
8 Patrick Patterson
9 Jeff Teague
10 Sam Young
11 Jonny Flynn
12 Kyle Singler
13 Tyrese Rice
14 Jodie Meeks
15 Tyler Smith
16 Jordan Hill
17 Hasheem Thabeet
18 DeJuan Blair
19 Greg Monroe
20 Damion James
21 Patrick Mills
22 Nick Calathes
23 Earl Clark
24 Chase Budinger
25 Eric Maynor
26 Jerel McNeal
27 Jon Brockman
28 AJ Price
29 Terrence Williams
30 AJ Abrams
31 Raymar Morgan
32 Sherron Collins
33 Lester Hudson
34 Gerald Henderson
35 Dionte Christmas
36 James Johnson
37 Willie Warren
38 Samardo Samuels
39 Manny Harris
40 Evan Turner
41 Tyreke Evans
42 Curtis Jerrells
43 Cole Aldrich
44 Taj Gibson
45 Jeff Adrien
46 Kalin Lucas
47 DaJuan Summers
48 AJ Ogilvy
49 Robert Vaden
50 Jack McClinton
51 Robbie Hummel
52 Scottie Reynolds
53 Lee Cummard
54 Al-Farouq Aminu
55 Levance Fields
56 Devan Downey
57 BJ Mullens
58 Gani Lawal
59 Stefon Jackson
60 Jerome Randle
61 Wayne Ellington
62 Austin Daye
63 Jrue Holiday
64 Kyle McAlarney
65 Jeff Allen
66 Wes Matthews
67 Jeremy Pargo
68 Greivis Vasquez
69 Ahmad Nivins
70 K.C. Rivers
71 Demar DeRozan
72 Trevor Booker
73 Marcus Thornton
74 AD Vassallo
75 Luke Nevill
76 E'Twaun Moore
77 Wink Adams
78 Dante Cunningham
79 Jeff Pendergraph
80 Derrick Brown
81 Paul Harris
82 Sylven Landesberg
83 DeShawn Sims
84 John Bryant
85 LaceDarius Dunn
86 Josh Akognon
87 Jon Scheyer
88 Ben Woodside
89 Jerome Jordan
90 Patrick Christopher
91 Courtney Fortson
92 Danny Green
93 Jeremy Hazell
94 Deon Thompson
95 Da'Sean Butler
96 Chris Wright
97 Arinze Onuaku
98 James Anderson
99 Toney Douglas
100 Michael Washington

Thursday, January 15, 2009


We'll get back on topic now after the past few days of whining and self-pity. That was good for the soul, now it's time to move forward.

Saturday is a very big game indeed. Syracuse is coming off of a big loss on the road, but should be ready to play at home. Andy Rautins is a question mark after reinjuring his knee, but signs seem to point to him playing. If we beat the Orange, we have a week to enjoy the win and get pumped up for a huge home game against Connecticut. Let's get to 4-2 and ride the happy train again.

I think it's pretty clear that Louisville was a more difficult matchup than Syracuse, a good sign. The Cardinals run out the toughest defense in the nation while Jim Boeheim's bunch is just out of the top 50. We are three points better than Georgetown (minus three for home court advantage), Georgetown is 11 points better than Syracuse (again, subtracting three), which means we will win by 11, as well (giving the Orange three points for playing in the Carrier Dome). That's it, case closed. No need to play the game.

Of course, I will do some statistical analysis the next two days for those of you who don't believe that logic. Check back in later for a recap of last night's box score.

EDIT: Last night Georgetown cruised to an easy victory over Syracuse in D.C. This game helped us learn several things about the Orange, namely:
  1. Andy Rautins is a pansy. 12 minutes into the game, Rautins was run over by a Georgetown player and tweaked the knee that forced him to sit out last season. Scared, Rautins rode the pine for the rest of the night. The diagnosis? A bruise. Way to play through the pain, Andy!
  2. Syracuse's defense against Georgetown was much worse than ours. Obviously one game does not a season make, but the Hoyas had to be excited about improving from 108 points per 100 possessions to 131. That's a very big jump, one that cannot be easily explained away by home court advantage or a hot shooting night. If the Irish are as efficient as Georgetown was last night, it'll be a big advantage for ND.
  3. Georgetown held both Notre Dame and Syracuse to their respective season averages for offensive efficiency. Luckily for the Irish, we average seven more points per hundred possessions than Syracuse. The offensive advantage also goes to Notre Dame.
  4. One worrysome note from last night? Syracuse destroyed Georgetown on the offensive boards, with 18. Now, Georgetown is a terrible rebounding bunch, just slightly better than the Irish, but a team that attacks the basket can succeed on second and third chances. One thing to watch out for.
  5. Georgetown shot well above their season average from beyond the arc, at 57%. Without such a strong night shooting, this game could have been close. Of course, Syracuse's zone can provide opportunities for shooters to get open looks. If that is the case, we need Ryan Ayers to be agressive in looking to score. Mac should take care of himself.
Last night was a slightly faster game than the G'town/ND affair, with five more possessions for each team. That is good, because more efficient offenses typically have the advantage with an uptempo contest (not fast break, but taking shots with more time left on the shot clock).

With Andy Rautins out, Eric Devendorf showed he can be more abusive er... assertive. 20 points on 4-7 from three point land for the Killer from Oak Hill(er). For the season, he's only about as efficent on offense as Tory Jackson, one reason why he's come off the bench a bit this year.

The five who started against Georgetown are the ones to watch. All are scarily consistent with their efficiencies, ranging from 112 to 117 (compare that to ND's range of 105 to 129). Jonny Flynn is a very good point guard, though can get wild shooting from deep. Rautins is their best three point threat. Onuaku and Harris grab eight rebounds per game a piece.

For the Irish, our deep threats are significantly better than Syracuse. You know about Mac and Ayers, but did you realize Tory Jackson is shooting a 42% clip from beyond the arc? Obviously, he's taking fewer shots than the other two. Still, that's a nice little stat.

Onuaku will be matching up Harangody. While Georgetown's Greg Monroe scored only 10 points last night, Luke Harangody has three double doubles in three games against the Orange. His 14 points last season were actually down from 20 and 21 the year before. The reason? Last year, Kyle McAlarney scored 30 points while setting the ND record (since broken) for three pointers in a game. If the Orange want to shut Mac down, Harangody might end up having a field day. Onuaku is big at 275 pounds, but he can't move as well as 'Gody. There should be room for Luke to go around or step back for a jumper.

I'm starting to get excited for this one. Tomorrow I will hopefully have a preview from the Syracuse side of things courtesy of Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, one of the better-named blogs out there.

The Problem of Being a Football School

After every "bad" loss (had we lost to Louisville by 2 in regulation, I doubt anyone would have called it such), you get moronic posts like this by people who come out of the woodwork to trash the program after ignoring every successful game. They don't know basketball, don't have any understanding of the ups and downs of the college game, and have little to no respect for the differences between the program in its current state compared to where it was in the 90s.

It happens on every message board just like those for other schools. One of the nice things about running a basketball-only blog is that I get a lot of constructive comments with very little emoting. Props to those of you who have contributed to this.

In fairness, there are some good places out there for ND basketball discussion. For the most part NDNation's board does a good job, though there is some overreacting after games (both wins and losses). I don't post there, but do read the board from time to time. If you can sift through the trash, there is some very good information. A good post by one of the most respected members headlines the board as an indication for what NDNation tries to accomplish.

It's not always great, and it's frequently very frustrating, but it's part of being the second most respected sport at a school.

K-Mac Interview

Thanks to for forwarding a link to this interview that will be played Saturday on a Syracuse radio station.

The interview's pretty interesting and it is always nice to hear the players speak for themselves. Once again, a plug for They always pass along good stuff to me and should have a thorough recap of the Cuse/G'town game sometime today.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

NBA Draft

Jodie Meeks gave one of the best performances I have ever seen last night, helping Kentucky get the upset at Tennessee. 54 points, 1o-15 from three point land, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. He was 14-14 from the foul line. All of this resulted in an offensive rating of 209. 209 points per hundred possessions... that's mind-numbing. In other words, Meeks could have stood under the basket making layups all night and been less efficient. Crazy stuff.

Also, take a peek at DraftExpress every once in a while. They do a pretty good job with player profiles and mock drafts on that site, which is important information when it comes to whether Luke Harangody will stay for his senior year.

All indications are good for another season of 'Gody. Luke is the 20th ranked junior on the site and an early second round pick in 2010. He is projected to be a 2nd round pick or undrafted this season on ESPN. The lack of respect this year and his family's support of his education makes it seem all but certain that Harangody will be a four year guy.

Individual Recruiting and Development Grades

One final post about recruiting and development and I’ll shelve those topics for a little bit. A comment on one of the earlier posts mentioned a lack of defensive development overall. Defensive development is a little tougher to gauge, so the grades in general reflect offensive development.

Jackson- Recruiting- B, Development- B- A four star guy recruited all over in high school, Jackson was brought on to run the offense. Has always dished out a lot of assists, he cut down the turnovers a bit this year. Seemingly improved free throw shooter and starting the develop into a decent scorer with a midrange jumper and the development of his driving ability.

McAlarney- Recruiting- B+, Development- A- Undervalued as a prep, he only received offers from St. John’s, Rutgers, and a couple other middle-of-the pack schools. Came on as a point guard, but has become one of the deadliest shooters in college basketball.

Ayers- Recruiting- B-, Development- C- Maryland and Villanova wanted him even as only a three star recruit. A deadly three point shooter, but hasn’t established much more than that. Can also be inconsistent with his aggressiveness.

Hillesland- Recruiting- C, Development- C- A three star guy who never became dominant in any facet of the game. Adds a lot in a bunch of categories and is a good glue guy, but wouldn’t make the rotation for some other top 15 teams.

Harangody- Recruiting- A, Development- A+- Exhibit A for anyone wishing to make a case that Mike Brey is an excellent recruiter and developer of talent. Indiana, Ohio State, and Purdue wanted him, but he didn’t catch the eye of any other national programs. Big East Player of the Year in his sophomore season. Has outperformed even the wildest expectations.

Zeller- Recruiting- C+, Development- D- A good steal keeping this McDonald’s All-American in his home state, but it should have been known he was never going to be a collegiate post player. We were hoping he would be a 6’11” Luke Harangody but it never worked out. He has improved some in his senior year to contribute in the paint, but much more was expected.

Peoples- Recruiting- C, Development- D- Was brought on to be a backup point guard. Has never developed beyond that original expectation. Not a bad recruit, given what has been asked of him, but he should be able to give 10-15 consistent minutes. It’s hasn’t been happening lately.

Add your thoughts if you’d like. Tomorrow, I’ll move on to different topics.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One Extra Thought

It seems that those concerned with out lack of depth (including yours truly) point to Nash and Scott as the answers. Neither of those two can really play in the backcourt to give Jackson or McAlarney a breather. While Nash is a good rebounder, you definitely do not want him taking the place of Harangody on the offensive end.

The result is that we have three guys playing the whole game (Jackson, McAlarney, and Harangody) and three more experienced players (Ayers, Hillesland, and Zeller) splitting 80 minutes of game time.

The players who seemed to be tired yesterday (Jackson with his turnovers, McAlarney and Harangody with cheap fouls) don't play Scott and Nash's positions.

The Depth Difference

As mentioned before, Coach Brey's unwillingness to play more than 7 or 8 guys is related to the amount of talent on his bench. Take a look at the minutes and ( recruiting ratings from players in Monday's game.

Notre Dame-

Jackson- 43- 4 star
McAlarney- 44- 4 star
Ayers- 39- 3 star
Hillesland- 27- 3 star
Harangody- 45- 4 star

Zeller- 24- 4 star

4- 4 star players
2- 3 star players


Sosa- 22- 4 star
Smith- 17- 4 star
Clark- 43- 5 star
Samuels- 26- 5 star
Williams- 43- 4 star

McGee- 26- 3 star
Knowles- 23- 2 star
Jennings- 19- 4 star

2- 5 star players
4- 4 star players
1- 3 star player
1- 2 star player

Simply put, there's a talent gap. It's easier to comfortably go eight deep when you can keep at least four highly recruited guys on the court at all times. Rick Pitino is more comfortable playing a McGee or a Knowles knowing that the rest of the players will pull them up.

When you sub Peoples in for McAlarney or Jackson, you play a lineup with only two real offensive threats. From a pure talent-out-of-high-school view, it's a midmajor squad at that point.

Take it for what you will. Personally, I'd like to see more of Nash and Scott but doubt it will happen. I'm just trying to outline why I believe Coach Brey has his substitution philosophy.

Additionally, a couple of comments have been made about Brey's recruiting and development. I wouldn't take one case (Jonathan Peoples) and attempt to apply it across the board. Some players on the team haven't developed to the extent hoped (Zeller is also an example of this), but there are also plenty of other cases. Luke Harangody is the best example of this. Harangody wasn't a huge recruit (13th best center in his class) but developed into the best player in the best conference by his sophomore year. That indicates good recruiting tactics (finding a diamond in the rough) and pretty solid development (at least in this one case). McAlarney's another guy who a lot of teams passed on originally.

It is very hard to recruit at Notre Dame with the academic standards and playing second fiddle to football, but Coach Brey has done a very adequate job in that respect. Not great, as shown but our lack of landing big-time recuits, but decent considering the circumstances.

With transfers Hansbrough (two-star recruit) and Martin (four-star) entering the fray next year along with expanded minutes for Scott and Nash, I think we might be a little deeper even with the loss of four seniors. Hopefully one of the four recruits can also contribute.

That's enough for tonight. Mull over all that information if you wish and post a comment accordingly. Hey, I hate the short bench as much as everyone else but there is a reason for it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Louisville 87, Notre Dame 73

I hate overtime game like that. So much buildup in regulation and then one team just rolls over in the extra five minutes. Props to the team for playing such a great first 40, though. They really deserved to win. A better last play in regulation or fresh legs and this is a happier post.

The last play in overtime is our base final possession play. Jackson holds until ten seconds and drives to the basket. It's not a terrible idea, just poorly executed. It has worked in the past, so no complaints about the plan. I would just like to see Coach Brey tell Tory to use the drive to setup a pass to Harangody. You need Luke to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line.

I know a lot of people want Brey to use his bench more. I don't buy that fatigue is a factor in tournament play between games (save the BET with 4 games in 4 days or something), but we clearly were dead at the end of this contest. It's a problem that you want to see fixed, but it most likely is not going to change. Still, you don't know if the team even gets to OT with Ty Nash or Carleton Scott on the floor for 5-10 minutes, so it goes both ways.

Kudos to the guys for a hard fought performance. It would have been our first win at Freedom Hall in 50 years. Now we go to the Carrier Dome where we have had some more recent success. All in all, you wish we could have pulled it out, but I am generally more confident about our future chances now than I was a few hours ago We should be solid favorites our second chance against the Cards.

Louisville shut us down with some great defense. This really played out like a second weekend tournament game and we were a basket away from winning. I am encouraged by our ability to hang with a defensive minded team on the road. Last season this game was ugly before Harangody made a couple threes to make the final score look a little more flattering. The biggest fear is that we will run into a Washington State-type squad in March. Seeing our first 40 minutes here and the game against Georgetown, I'm not so scared.

That was the #2 defense in the country today, so putting 71 on the board in regulation is an accomplishment.

Tory Jackson was wild all game. Maybe that last play was more Hillesland's fault than his, but he turned the ball over seven times in the game. A couple possessions he was out of control on the break and foolishly ruined some chances. He did rebound well and pass out six assists, but those mistakes possibly cost us the game.

Kyle McAlarney played very well. 19 points with the chances he got plus 5 assists and 5 rebounds. 7-12 from three point land.

Ryan Ayers gave us 9 points and 6 rebounds. A pretty solid game for him. Hillesland finished with 6 and 5 in 27 minutes. It's a little frustrating to see him with single figures in so many columns, but that's his game.

Luke Harangody did his best. 28 and 13 as he continues to build his case for National Player of the Year. Picking up his fourth on a touch foul hurt a bit. If he could have been more physical in the final couple minutes of regulation, who knows.

Zeller was good off the bench. 7 rebounds to help overcome a very poor shooting night. 1-8 overall. It would have been nice to see him make a couple of those threes, but it is a relief to see the guy finally produce as a rebounder and post defender. He has certainly improved over the course of the year. Peeps didn't show anything in two minutes. Two turnovers and he was yanked for the game.

Tough loss. As I said before, there are no bad wins or good defeats in Big East play. You just need to produce. If a couple things bounce our way, we could have had a very nice looking win. As it is, we're 12-4 going into Syracuse. Knock off the Orange and I'm very confident for our next home contest.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What Lies Ahead

Oh, boy. This is what makes playing in the Big East interesting.

1/12- @ #21 Louisville
1/17- @ #9 Syracuse
1/24- #5 Connecticut
1/26- #15 Marquette
1/31- @ #1 Pittsburgh
2/4- Cincinnati
2/7- @ #7 UCLA
2/12- #21 Louisville

Seven ranked opponents in eight games over a stretch of a month. Just brutal.

Ken Pomeroy says we will go 1-7 over those games. I'm a lot more optimistic. The 5-3 predicted at the start of the year is possible, but it is also quite likely we will drop one of those home games. We will know a lot more about this squad 32 days from now.

Keep your heads down, we'll take a few shots but should also get our punches in. The defense is not good enough to allow us to blow anyone out, but our offense will keep every game competitive. Should be fun.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Notre Dame 88, Seton Hall 79

Like Georgetown, we followed up Monday's game with a hard fought home win over an inferior team. Still, every Big East win is a good one.

Our defense is going to determine how far this team goes in March. It doesn't have to be great. It doesn't even have to be good. It just has to be good enough. Today was good enough to win against Seton Hall, but will not work against better teams.

I really don't like watching a team like Seton Hall play basketball. The Pirates put five physical and athletic guys on the floor and watch all hell break loose. No passing, poor shooting, just driving to the basket like a less talented NBA team. In fairness, few teams in the league will create as big a matchup problem for ND as Seton Hall. We are the anti-Pirates: high basketball IQ, good team play, and solid outside shooting. Almost all of their scoring came by breaking down the defense with athletic drives. Still, the defense must be much better against good teams if we want to win. It was good enough last Monday and must be again at Louisville.

While the defense was disappointing (maybe the wrong word... 138th in the country isn't a disappointment, it's just really bad), we saw huge improvements in rebounding and free throw shooting. The Irish should be very proud outrebounding anyone by 13. We picked up 20 offensive boards and would have lost without so many second chances. The shooting from the charity stripe was fantastic. 88%, including 6-6 from Tory Jackson. Tory has really worked hard to improve that part of his game, so he deserves special recognition.

Luke Harangody was really bullied in the first half. The refs were pretty consistent with letting both teams play physically (though Mike Kitts blew a couple anticipation whistles for offensive fouls), which let Mike Davis maul Gody under the basket. Once Luke decided to push back and take over the game, he was a completely different player. He took the team on his shoulders and fought for rebounds on both sides of the floor. The shooting percentage was low for the game (34%), but it was nice to see us win without him giving his regular efficiency. If he shoots his season average (52%), we win by 15 or 20.

Tory Jackson was incredible. In addition to his perfect free throw shooting line, Jackson was aggressive in getting to the basket. 18 points on a good mix of midrange jumpers and layups. 7 rebounds, 8 assists. He will earn the school's second triple double before he graduates. Bank on it.

Kyle McAlarney has grown a bit over the course of the year. Shadowed all game, he only managed to get off eight shots. When he did shoot, he was very effective with 18 points. If the guy is going to score in the upper teens, you would much rather see him shoot 5-8 than 5-15. Nice job picking his spots to make a difference.

Ryan Ayers was cold inside the arc, but did make 2 of his 5 attempted three pointers. 4 rebounds and an assist before fouling out.

Zach Hillesland scored 5 points and 6 rebounds, a nice contribution. He also drilled his last three foul shots after missing his first attempt of the game. Hopefully this is a preview of things to come.

Harangody finished with 30 and 16. Seven of those rebounds were on the offense end. Lots of ugly twirling and tipping, but he gets it done.

Off the bench, Jonathan Peoples didn't do a whole lot in six first half minutes.

Luke Zeller gets his own paragraph. Great game for the big man. Not a huge contribution under the basket (2 rebounds) and decent scoring (9 points), but he was a game changer. Used his length to contest shots and made those three pointers at huge moments. We needed him today and he was clutch.

All things considered, a pretty good way to start a brutal stretch. We needed to be 3-1 going into Monday and got there. Louisville didn't look all that impressive beating Villanova, so hopefully we can get the ball rolling against Rick Pitino's squad. Defense better improve in a hurry, though.

12-3 halfway through the season. If we can get to the three-quarter pole after February 12th with no more than three additional losses, I'll be pretty happy. 18-5 or better after this stretch and I'm ecstatic. We'll find out soon enough if that defense is up to the task.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Seton Hall Preview

Former Irish great Pat Garrity will be in attendance tomorrow. Garrity retired in September after a solid ten year NBA career. He averaged 7.3 points a game in the pros with a three point average near 40%. At Notre Dame, Garrity scored 23.2 points a contest in his senior season and was the 1997 Big East Player of the Year. Congratulations to Pat for a great career and I certainly look forward to his being honored at halftime.

Luke Harangody made the Big East Honor Roll last week with his 27 point and 15 rebound average last week.

Seton Hall is 9-6 and 0-3 in the Big East. They have only one win in their last six contests. Should be easy, right? Not quite. Villanova found out that the Pirates still have some game, pulling out a close one in overtime. The Irish play well at home and following last week's loss to St. John's, I would expect us to be well prepared.

Stat Sheet Preview

Ken Pomeroy gives us an 89% chance at winning. This is our last good chance at a blowout until mid-February, so let's put this one away.

BCS Championship

I get it. Tim Tebow is a pretty good player and a GREAT person. But I'm going to go crazy if I have to listen to that whiny press conference one more time. Good luck with your future Eric Crouch-sized NFL career.

Congrats Gators. Now it's time for Urban Meyer to take his dream job.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Around the Country

BCS (don't call it "National") Championship Game tonight, so we'll keep the basketball coverage a little shorter than usual.

First, Luke Winn calls out Notre Dame's defense and he's absolutely right. We need to defend better. Monday was a little better, holding Georgetown slightly below their average efficiency on offense. We don't need to be top 25 or even top 50 in defense, just need to consistently hold our opponent's below their average. Good job against Georgetown and Ohio State (the offense was the weak link in that loss), not so good against DePaul and St. John's. Let's see how it goes Saturday.

Duke beat Davidson last night. Curry is a fantastic player, but the team is really down from last year. I've never been a big fan of change in my sport-watching routine, so I avoided watching the publicity stunt ESPN pulled with switching the NBA team and Dick Vitale. Leave the pro analysts to their ballhogging and crab dribbling. I'd rather listen to people who actually get excited about sports (even if Dickie V does get pretty annoying).

BC showed off the essence of their sports programs yesterday. First, they fired a very good football coach for looking into a different job opportunity. It's never a good sign when you think your program is better than the people who run it. The opposite is also true (see Charlie Weis' ridiculous buyout). Of course, the basketball team also laid an egg at home against Harvard. Tommy Amaker's a pretty good coach, but you just can't fold like that after such a great upset.

Boston College in a nutshell: exaggerated sense of self-importance and an annoying tendency to play well in big games while caving in gimmies. Hopefully we'll beat them the next two years in football and never play that school again (I'm just a little bitter about our current losing streak).

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New Pitt Blog

Being #1 has Panther fans getting cocky. New Pitt blog here. Added the link to the right.

The Road Ahead

After Saturday, there are no easy ones. Of course, seeing how we played St. John's and how Seton Hall nearly beat Villanova, we better come to play this weekend. However, the point is that 7 ranked opponents in 8 games await. That includes 5 away contests, a visit by ESPN's College Gameday and Big Monday, and a cross country trip to Los Angeles. Brutal.

The Seton Hall game is important in that we have a chance to start that stretch 3-1 in the league. We could be lucky to go above .500 in the next seven conference games, so it is essential to start it off right.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Make No Mistake

This is a big win. Ken Pomeroy gave us a 22% chance at winning tonight. Georgetown was ranked third by his formula before the game.

Still, have to keep a level head. Just as Saturday was not the end of the world, this is just one win, albeit a very good one.

Notre Dame 73, Georgetown 67

If Saturday was an example of how poor Notre Dame can play, tonight was the extreme opposite. Great home win over a top 10 opponent to can back on track after the loss to St. John's. All things considered, I'd rather take the way things played out over the last three days than the opposite. Heck, of course I wanted both wins but we'll take this.

Really a six man effort as Ty Nash and Jonathan Peoples only played sparingly in the first half. Big time rebounding by the backcourt and Hillesland as all three players grabbed eleven boards. Luke Harangody played with four fouls for almost all of the second half and was very effective all night. Even Luke Zeller stepped to the plate with great defense against 6'11" Greg Monroe. Zeller used all five fouls to keep the big man in check after Harangody and Hillesland struggled to contain him.

Free throw shooting, a huge problems since the beginning of the year, improved dramatically today. In the final minute, Notre Dame actually extended their lead, a nice change. Instead of failing to close out a big game, the Irish made 6-7 free throws down the stretch.

Rebounding was effective enough. Georgetown is not a very good rebounding team, as shown against UCONN and Pitt, so having five fewer boards at the end of the day is not great. Still, we were much better than against St. John's. Four offensive rebounds by Zach Hillesland resulted in much-needed second chances.

Tory Jackson really played well today. After not distributing terribly well against St. John's and taking bad shots against DePaul, Tory was back in solid form. Ten points, including a clutch 4-4 from the charity stripe. He has dramatically improved his foul shooting, a very good sign for a point guard. He added seven assists (to one turnover) and five rebounds. Great overall game.

Kyle McAlarney was shadowed all day, as it seems he will be for the remainder of the year. He still managed to be effective, shooting 5-11 from three. Five rebounds, three assists. Though he scored 17, it seems that the days of scoring 30+ are over. If he can give us that consistent 17, we'll be alright.

Ryan Ayers hit a few big three pointers. Finished with 8 points on 3-5 shooting. Zach Hillesland didn't give a whole lot other than those four offensive boards, but only played 28 minutes.

Luke Harangody finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds. 9-9 from the line. Was effective without being too timid in the final fifteen minutes with 4 fouls. We would not have won without him on the floor, so it was incredibly important to have him play well without getting disqualified. Well done.

Off the bench, Zeller provided the aforementioned post defense. Used all five fouls to take away easy buckets (a good strategy as the Hoyas shot below 60% from the stripe). Not much statistically, including an uninspiring 1-5 from beyond the arc. Still, I like the heart. He didn't show a whole lot in that category Saturday, so way to get back into the game. Peoples played eight first half minutes, with one rebound. Nash played less than a minute.

This game was huge if the Irish want to get back into Big East contention. A loss to a team like St. John's can derail your season. Instead of panicking, the team came home to beat a top ten team.

Nation's best home winning streak in intact. Picked up our second win over a top ten team this season. Have a chance to go 3-1 with a victory Saturday. That is very important since next Monday starts a stretch of seven ranked teams in eight games. It'll be tough, but tonight's result makes you more confident.

Need to rebound well enough to beat teams like Connecticut and Pitt, but if we are as close to them as we were against Georgetown tonight, I think we've got a good shot.

Once again, congrats to the team. Well earned and very important win tonight.

Go Figure

BC just beat Carolina.

Come on Irish, get us a win tonight.

EDIT: Ranked 13th in both polls. Not the end of the world. A win tonight will get us back in top 10 contention.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Wish List for 2009

Before last night, I felt very confident about the eventual outcome of this season. Is it time to rethink our expectations? Not quite. If we can lock up these goals by the end of the year, few will remember the disappointing loss to begin '09.
  1. Defend the JACC- In the frustration of yesterday, our elevation to the longest current home winning streak was overlooked. This was well-earned and worth celebrating. Of course, a loss Monday would end the streak and add to our recent frustrations, but I hope the team and fans understand what has been accomplished over the last three years. It is highly unlikely that we will see this much sustained success at home ever again.
  2. Finish Top Four in the League- With the conference tournament, it is very important to earn a spot near the top of the standings at the end of the year. The exact place, however, is less important. Let's bounce back and get the tourney bye that has been ours the last two seasons.
  3. Seriously Compete in the BET- The Irish have never performed well in Madison Square Garden (see Saturday), but this is our best chance to really make a run for the title. One-and-done would give the players a poor taste in their mouths going into the NCAA Tournament. Let's see if we can win the Big East, however unlikely the possibility, because you don't know when we'll get another good chance.
  4. Sweet Sixteen or Bust- Regardless of what you feel about the ceiling of this team, I think it's fair to expect a second round win in the Tournament. It's something that has happened only twice since the 64 team format started (1987 and 2003), with no Irish team advancing past the third round. If this team is one of the best ND squads in the past 20 years, it needs to make that second weekend. Anything else is cake.
Those are the four factors on how this season will be judged. Some are more likely than others (winning the BET is a bit of a pipe dream). Some are more important than others (a strong NCAA showing cures all ills). Regardless of how poorly the team played yesterday and what happens in the future, I believe these are attainable. Let's get it done.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

St. John's 71, Notre Dame 65

That was embarrassing. No excuses, you don't lose to a team like St. John's if you plan on succeeding this year. In Big East play, there's no moping after wins or sugarcoating losses. All that matters is the result.

Tim Higgins is a terrible referee, but he made bad calls on both sides. Maybe the men in stripes let St. John's play too physically, but we were nine point favorites. You play to win.

Outside shooting really killed us today. After seeing DePaul play over their heads from beyond the arc, there is no excuse to letting a 28% team go 5-11. In response, Ayers and McAlarney were awful, a combined 1-9.

On the boards, St. John's finished with eleven more rebounds. If they did not turnover the ball 18 times, this game is a rout. We were simply outplayed by a beaten up and less talented basketball team.

This game makes Monday very, very important. After Georgetown lost handily to Pitt today, they will be fired up to take us down. While I don't envy their schedule (three top 10 teams in a week, counting us), I doubt there will be any letdown for the Hoyas. They will bring their A-game to break the streak. Anything less than an A+ performance for us is a loss.

Forget the streak for a moment. All of a sudden Monday is as close to must-win as a game gets this early in conference play. Two straight losses could derail our season a bit and significantly limit chances for a top-4 finish. After Georgetown and Seton Hall, we play five straight ranked teams. Enter that stretch 2-2 and there is a very good chance we drop 2-3 more games to enter February with a conference record below .500. Getting back on track is extremely important.

Now, about today. Tory Jackson was one of four Irish players to finish with four or more fouls. His playmaking ability was held in check, with only 3 assists. He did score 14 points and shoot well, one of the few guys who did.

Kyle McAlarney hasn't had a great game since before Ohio State. While he has shot well at times, his record pace at the beginning of the year has significantly slacked off. 4-12 for 10 points today, not a good effort at all. 1-5 from beyond the arc.

Just when I compliment Ryan Ayers, he lays an egg. Two points, 0-4 beyond the arc. 4 fouls. Not much else to say.

Hillesland came back down to earth with a thud. 4 points, 4 rebounds. Poor shooting, didn't help Harangody a whole lot under the basket.

At least Luke is lining up for a second straight Big East Player of the Year award. 28 points, 14 rebounds. You can never complain about this guy's effort. Hats off to Luke for trying to carry the team. He missed a few shots under the basket that could have made a difference, but can you really complain?

Coach Brey let Nash get some solid minutes, a good sign. Only one rebound, but 2 assists and steals. Hopefully this means Ty will get decent playing time in tough conference games. We certainly need the rebounding help (second best rebounders only grabbed four for the Irish). Peoples had an encouraging performance. 3-3 shooting for 7 points. With the trash that some of the starters were throwing up, we needed a good game from Peeps. Luke Zeller: 8 minutes, 0 points, 0 rebounds. No comment.

What else is there to say? Kennedy, Horne, and Burrell all had good games. Five Johnnies outrebounded everyone except Luke Harangody. We deserved to lose, must play much better on Monday or that will get ugly.

We'll find out against Georgetown if this was just a bad slip-up or a sign of a disappointing few months to come.

Home Court Winning Streak

BYU has its streak on the line against #6 Wake Forest tonight. A Demon Deacon win would give the Irish the longest current run of home wins. It's a small prize if we can't defend the streak on Monday, but worth attaining nonetheless. Go Deacs.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Start of the New Year

All but four teams have played their first Big East games, with Syracuse playing its second tonight against South Florida. Two ranked schools (#2 UCONN and #13 Villanova) have lost to ranked opponents, but no huge upsets so far. The nice thing about playing in such a tough league is that you know the other schools will beat each other up week in and week out. A four loss team could be the top seed come March.

Along with our game at St. John's tomorrow is a great matchup of Pitt at Georgetown. Should the Hoyas pull off their second win over a top three team this week, we're looking at a huge game Monday.

St. John's Preview-

It'll be a quick one tonight, with just a few numbers to aid your game watching tomorrow.
  • Red Storm PG Malik Boothe is out with a thumb injury- 8.4 PPG, 5.0 APG- no other guys average more than 2.5 assists a contest
  • No quality wins for St. John's
  • Two home losses, games against Virginia Tech (81-67) and Miami (70-56)
  • Lost at Providence 75-54 to open conference slate
  • On three game losing streak
Key Players-
  • Boothe and best player Anthony Mason Jr. are injured
  • D.J. Kennedy- 6'6", 210 lbs.- 12.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG
  • Paris Horne- 6'3", 185 lbs.- 12.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG
  • Sean Evans- 6'8", 250 lbs.- 10.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Notre Dame 92, DePaul 82

Decent, if not dominating win to start the Big East schedule. Road wins are always tough in this league (just see Pitt at Rutgers), so any W is a good one. Now we're 1-0 and should come home unbeaten with the top homecourt winning streak in the nation (after BYU's game against Wake Forest).

I'll keep it somewhat short tonight with New Year's festivities, but should give a better follow-up while watching football tomorrow.

DePaul was hot and took advantage of our zone. Not bad defense, they just knocked down open looks. When a team is shooting 41% on the season (27% from three), you let them take those jumpers. Tucker made his looks tonight and went 4-6 from three. He's a 32% guy, so it was unlucky to see him go off like that.

On offense, we were well rounded and balanced. It's good to see Hillesland get into the action so well. 17 points for him. All starters in double figures. Let's keep that balance when we play tougher teams.

Rebounding was a huge improvement tonight. Outrebounding any team by double digits in this conference is very impressive. DePaul came into the game with very similar season averages on the boards and we clearly outplayed them in that aspect of the game.

A respectable 70% from the line also demonstrates an improvement in an earlier weakness. Everyone except Zach Hillesland looked confident on the stripe, which makes one wonder what is wrong with Zach. However, his poor performance shooting free throws only put a slight damper on what was otherwise a career night.

Tory Jackson looked a little wild in the second half, which may have kept Notre Dame from extending its lead into the upper teens. However, his numbers were more than impressive. 12 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists. He forced some shots (4-12 shooting), but I liked the intensity. Let's see if he can find a happy medium between distributor and ballhog.

McAlarney was a little cold, but it was nice to see how the team performed without him leading the scoring. 4-11 shooting for 13 points. He also took over the ballhandling duties a bit and dished out 6 assists.

Ryan Ayers seems to be growing with every game, He was a confident shooter on the wing and took advantage of open looks. 14 points on 4-7 three point shooting. With Mac cold, we needed another guy to stretch the defense. We got that.

Hillesland was very impressive. A career high 17 points. He consistently drove the lane and forced the issue. He is the only true slasher in our eight-man rotation. Tory is too small and Carleton Scott does not receive enough minutes yet. If he can fix that free throw problem he can be dangerous, but sooner or later some team is going to start a hack-a-Zach campaign.

Luke Harangody is Luke Harangody. It's nice to have our best player be so darn consistent. 26 points, 16 rebounds. He added 7 offensive boards to our total, something that was lacking earlier in the year. Did turn the ball over 4 times, but passing out of the double team is his only weakness on offense right now.

The bench play was a little disappointing. A seven man rotation with Peoples and zeller only getting 9 minutes each. That's not too bad considering the long layoff since our last game. The starters were ready to play 40 minutes. Peoples and Zeller did finish with 5 points and 3 rebounds each, good work in little time.

Defense did seem a bit lacksidasical at times. Throw out Tucker's numbers, we were playing off of him and he got hot. The same strategy will see him shoot 30% more often than 57%. Koshwal's big numbers do concern me a bit. The zone should make inside scoring more difficult, but we are a bit slow on the defensive end. It seemed like we were simply concerned with outscoring DePaul. It worked, but might not against better competition. Still, as the favorite it is to our benefit to increase the number of possessions. We won't lose to DePaul when scoring 90 points.

Good first league win. The easy ones are over, so let's get used to appreciating any victory. Another solid performance against St. John's would make me feel pretty good going into the G'Town game.