Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rutgers 74, Notre Dame 73

No excuses for this one. Rutgers is AWFUL. Harangody showed some terrible leadership with his shot selection and the rest of the team was dominated on the boards and played really poor defense. Give Rutgers credit for winning this one, they deserved it. The only positive aspect of this outcome may be a change in the future of the program. Time will tell.

The most frustrating aspects of this game come down to hustle. While the Irish certainly display really poor fundamentals with regards to boxing out and switching on defense, much of Rutgers' success on the boards and getting to the foul line just came from the fact that they wanted this one more. Don't tell me that Fred Hill is some coaching genius or that Rutgers has a strong talent advantage. This team will be lucky to win more than one or two more Big East games this season. All that mattered last night was that they outworked the Irish for 40 minutes on both ends of the floor.

Tory Jackson played the entire contest before fouling out with 19 seconds remaining. He was one of the four starters to be on the floor for at least 37 minutes. That's an insane distribution of playing time. He performed fairly well, with 11 points and 6 rebounds, but you cannot possibly convince me that a tired Jackson in crunch time is worth avoiding playing a freshman for 5 or 6 minutes in the middle of the contest.

Ben Hansbrough had a very impressive night statistically. 18 points on 6-12 shooting, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals. Unfortunately, two of his three-pointers did nothing more than reduce the margin in the final ten seconds. The high number of steals was due to Rutgers' poor decision making and ball handling ability (that's been a real issue for them all year) and Hansbrough's surprising talent for on-the-ball D. His real Achilles heel, however, comes when we need a guy to chase a shooter around get a hand in his face. Hansbrough may force the most turnovers on the team, but he isn't the guy you can call on to lock down someone like Mike Rosario.

A double-double for Abromaitis. He played 39 minutes and earned 4 fouls while going for 17 and 10. Again, I really have to question the intelligence of keeping so many guys in foul trouble on the floor. While most of Jackson's fouls came at the end of the game, Abromaitis picked up two in the first eight minutes of the contest. Most coaches would sit a star player for much of the rest of the half after that, but Mike Brey needlessly risked our number two scorer in an asinine attempt to keep a six man rotation.

Ty Nash had 6 points, 1 rebound, and 4 fouls. He is the biggest reason why Notre Dame was so dominated on the glass. Of course, my biggest beef with this has less to do with Nash's playing time (he only was on the floor for 26 minutes), but who replaced him when he came out of the game. Instead of turning to the second-best rebounder on the team, Coach Brey put in a backup point guard whose rebounding average barely bests Jack Cooley's. Carleton Scott's per-minute rebounding average puts him just below Harangody. Though he is abysmal on offense, he could hardly have performed worse than Peoples last night. Awful coaching by Brey.

If Luke Harangody plays like that for the rest of the year, Notre Dame will be better next season without him. I truly believe that. I like the comparison to Chris Thomas after last night's performance. Brey will never take the big man out for poor shot selection, which just allows him to continue to waste possessions and keep the Irish from performing to their potential as a balanced attack. He had twice as many attempts as any other player for Notre Dame, yet managed just two more points than Abromaitis and one more than Hansbrough. There were plenty of other problems with the Irish last night, but our All-American was a huge reason for why we lost to the worst team in the conference.

Off the bench, Peoples somehow earned 16 minutes. He didn't do much of anything but foul when he got the chance. I didn't catch the postgame quotes, but if there was an honest reason for why Carleton Scott didn't play until the final minute, please let me know. If this was simply an attempt to show Scott we could win without him, Mike Brey should be fired on the spot.

A lot of times, I try to diffuse some criticism after bad losses. It is a long season, but sometimes the team performs so poorly that I cannot disagree with the conclusions of many. Last night was the final straw. Though I like him a lot as a person and believe that he has done a tremendous job in bringing the program out of the mess of the '90s and putting us back on the college basketball landscape, there is no further doubt in my mind about what needs to happen at the end of the year. With any hope of the NCAA tournament gone and one of the best players in program history turning into a shadow of his former self, let me finally say it.

Fire Mike Brey.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rutgers Questions

From On the Banks of the Raritan:

1. It's been a rough month for Rutgers. What has gone wrong during this nine game losing streak?

RU is averaging 56.6 ppg through nine Big East games and its opposition is putting up 73.6 ppg. Mike Rosario is the team's only proven scorer and he's pretty easy to shut down when opposing teams know he's the only player that can explode offensively. As a result, Rosario has been pressing. He's shooting 27.5% from the floor. The team is turning the ball over way too much, averaging around 14 a game in league games. By the time they start to take better care of the basketball, they're often down 20 or more points.

2. How will the rest of the year go? Please tell me this isn't the second coming of 2009 DePaul.
Expectations aren't high. At least we have two games with DePaul this year. It worries me that DePaul somehow figured out to beat Marquette. Marquette has some real athletes. I hope we can manage at least a split with the Blue Demons, but a winless season in the Big East is a real possibility. Fred Hill won't be let go before the season ends, but he's losing the kids a bit more with each loss. He may have completely lost them at this point and that is sad for all involved.

3. Mike Rosario seems to be carrying the team with Echenique out. What has made him successful?
Rosario is struggling and until we get another guy to step up and consistently put points on the board, Rosario will continue to have a tough season. Mike has been scoring of late, 15 against Georgetown and 16 against Marquette, but he's still only shooting 41% from the floor. Unfortunately, we need him to drain shots with more efficiency. Teams are content to let him go 6-18 from long range.

4. Who else can step up to the plate to provide some additional scoring?
Junior Jonathan Mitchell and freshman Dane Miller have had big games. Miller went for 26 points against both Providence and Villanova while Mitchell struck for 21 against Georgetown. The problem is we can't get Rosario, Miller, and Mitchell to have solid games at the same time. Consistency is the problem. I expect one of them to lead the team in scoring while at least one of them will be a non-factor.

5. With no Echenique, does Rutgers have what it takes to stop Harangody in the post?
Hamady Ndiaye will give it all he's got, but if Notre Dame continually pounds the ball inside to Harangody it may get ugly. Harangody will likely get Ndiaye in foul trouble forcing RU to go to freshman Brian Okam. Okam will be overmatched and Harangody could have a monster game. Hopefully, Harangody will fall in love with the long-distance jumper against RU. In all likelihood, Harangody will have a great inside/out game. I just wonder who will be on hand to witness it. The team was selling $5 tickets. Never a good sign.

Rutgers Preview

Pomeroy Ranking- 177th
Record- 9-11 (0-8)
Best Win- Drexel (124th)
Worst Loss- Vermont (173rd)
Pomeroy Prediction- ND 80-74

Key Players-
#3 Mike Rosario- 15.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 32.4% 3PA- Not the biggest shooting guard in the world, and not a very good shooter. Has 90 more attempts than any other guy on the team in spite of these facts. Pass it a bit, bud.
#24 Jonathan Mitchell- 10.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 34.6% 3PA- Florida transfer has added a decent perimeter shooter to the team. Only player besides Rosario to earn more than 25 minutes a game.
#5 Hamady Ndiaye-9.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 4.7 BPG- Bigtime senior shock blocker. Can disappear on offense at times but has blocked as many as ten shots in a game this year.

Scouting Report-

Give up plenty of offensive rebounds.
Turn the ball over a lot.
Currently struggling through a nine game losing streak.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Villanova 90, Notre Dame 72

The Irish put up a good fight for 30 minutes, but the wheels came off near the end. A huge upset turned into a road drubbing very quickly.

A strong zone defense kept the Nova guards at bay throughout the first half but ultimately the small Wildcat lineup wore us down. Not only did Antonio Pena stay in the game and avoid foul trouble, but he outrebounded Luke Harangody and picked up his first double-double in 13 contests. Our All-American was unable to control the paint against the weakest interior team in the conference. This was a great opportunity for him to stamp himself as the player of year but just 5 points and 3 rebounds in the second half allowed Villanova to run away with things.

Tory Jackson had a so-so night, but he paled in comparison to the athleticism demonstrated by Nova's backcourt. All four of Villanova's starting guards outscored Tory, as did Maalik Wayns off the bench. He dished out 7 assists to just 3 turnovers, but couldn't take the ball to the basket and missed both of his free throw attempts.

Ben Hansbrough fouled out in just 19 minutes, as all of the Wildcat guards managed to get to the charity stripe. 7 points, 2 assists, and an uncharacteristic 3 turnovers. His foul trouble, a demonstration of his lack of comparative foot speed, just made him ineffective.

Tim Abromaitis had a really tough night shooting, but did the correct thing by getting to the foul line as often as possible. He shot 8-10 from there, managing 16 points on what otherwise would have been a very disappointing night. The ability to draw fouls and continue to contribute is a very veteran move. I was impressed by him on that account.

Ty Nash had 12 and 6. Not really a poor night statistically, but he was another culprit on defense with 4 fouls. Just 23 minutes on the floor for our power forward.

Luke Harangody kept the Irish close in the first half, but disappeared when the Wildcats took control. He displayed surprisingly poor foul shooting and turned the ball over four times. When you are outrebounded by such a perimeter-based program, much of the blame has to fall on our big guy for not having a bigger presence.

Off the bench, Peoples earned 25 minutes with all that foul trouble. He played pretty well, but the comparison between the kind of quickness demonstrated by Villanova and our backup point guard is quite comical. Carleton Scott played 11 minutes, but fouled 3 times and just pulled down a pair of boards. He made an effect on the ball with 3 blocks and a steal but was another reason why Villanova was able to win the rebounding battle. Joey Brooks earned 7 minutes. Though he is the most fundamentally sound defender I've seen on the team, he is at a bit of a disadvantage against such a small lineup. Jack Cooley got in for a few minutes, as well.

Tough loss, but not unexpected. We really have to bounce back and get at least four of the next five.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Villanova Q&A

Thanks again to Villanova Viewpoint for providing the answers below:

1. Jay Wright and Mike Brey have been continuously compared since their days in the America East. While Brey had instant success in the Big East (three straight NCAA Tournament bids, one Sweet Sixteen), the Irish have been up and down since 2003. Villanova, however, has found a lot of success (especially in the NCAA Tournament) after Jay Wright's first three years wound up in the NIT. What has made Wright so successful over the last six years?

That's a complicated answer. Probably the most significant factor was that as time went on, Wright recruited players that fit into his system and philosophy, and as more Wright-recruited players assumed leading roles, the team improved.

However, he did not inherit a bad team from Steve Lappas, his predecessor, who had been here for nine years.. Lappas had gone to the NIT in his last two years (2000 and 2001), and he left some decent players to Wright, such as Gary Buchanan and Ricky Wright (ones that were good enough to get him into the NIT during his first two years, which were still dominated by Lappas recruits). It wasn't that he inherited bad players - not at all. It was that those players were recruited to fit into Lappas's motion offense, which Wright doesn't use.

Also, Wright did very well at developing his own recruits, once they got here. His second year (2002-03), there were really high expectations, because he had his core of Lappas-holdovers, plus Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Curtis Sumpter, and Jason Fraser - his first recruiting class filled with blue-chippers. But the team never found its way, and it only reached the NIT.

Finally, there was the fact that unfortunately, Fraser's career was wrecked by injuries. He had been the top post prospect in the country, and had he become a star, we probably would have made the NCAA tournament in both 2003 (Wright's 2nd year) and 2004 (Wright's 3rd year) - given that we almost made it anyhow. Instead, Fraser's injuries forced him into a supporting role, and we never had that dominant inside presence that Wright had hoped for.

So how did we get better?

One major reason, often overlooked, was that from the day Wright arrived here in the spring of 2001, Wright courted the Villanova students, and did so in a very genuine and sincere way. He knew that having intense student support was vital to success. (To the best of my knowledge, Lappas, although a genuinely nice guy, did not make any similar overtures to students.)

Wright would serve as MC at pep rallies. He decreed that during Pavilion home games, that the players should dramatically take the floor by descending through the main corridor of the student section (you won't see this tomorrow because it's at the Wachovia Center, which is where we usually play you.) At the end of every contest, win or lose, the players walk over to the student section, and acknowledge the intense support that the students had provided with their enthusiasm.

As a result of all of these practices, Wright was - instantaneously - a hugely popular figure on campus. And during those first three years when the team was struggling, the students - who were grateful for the attention and acknowledgments, that they hadn't received under Lappas - were always 100% behind Jay. The rabid student support helped Jay's teams enormously, even when the team was mediocre. They provided an environment that helped in the recruiting process. And the enormous home-court advantage that the students' enthusiasm has generated, has been a major factor, in ensuring that we've won 35 games in a row at the Pavilion.

Ironically, the only time we've played ND at the Pavilion - January 17, 2007 - was the first game of that current 35-game winning streak.

Thanks to Wright, Ray, Foye, and Sumpter developed into stars, and with more Wright recruits who fit into his style added, the team got better. He not only recruits well, but the players show marked improvement from one year to the next. His first NCAA year was 2005, and as the team has continued success on the court, the easier it becomes to recruit.

Another aspect was (this is a Philadelphia-centric answer) that Wright launched a major charm offensive, with the very sophisticated, talent-rich, and influential Philadelphia basketball community. And not just coaches and players, but the media, and the large metro Philadelphia fan base. We have six Division I teams in the region (ourselves, St. Joseph's, Temple, La Salle, Penn, and Drexel), and Villanova had been viewed suspiciously for a while, for a host of reasons too complex to go into here.

As a result, Villanova is now once more viewed as one of the family, and the city and region is really behind the team now. Which in turn leads to more fan interest and support, which leads to more success, and it has snowballed ever since 2005.

(Note: We generally play you at the Wachovia Center, because you're Notre Dame! And ND sells tickets. Due to the recent success, filling the Wachovia Center generally hasn't been difficult. But under Lappas, and during Wright's early struggles, Notre Dame was generally played in Philadelphia, because you guys really help fill up the building! And so it was more money for the program.)

2. Scott Reynolds has been one of the better players in the conference since his freshman campaign. How has his game changed over the course of his career?

He's just remarkably talented. He's from suburban Maryland, and he was all set to head to Oklahoma, but Kelvin Sampson left, and we were able to snap him up. He's been a star player since the day he got here. Reynolds started 32 of the 33 games during his freshman year (2006-07), and he averaged 14.4 points/game as a freshman.

One factor is that he happened to arrive, the year after the 2006 season (the one where we ended up with a #1 seed and reached the Elite Eight), since we lost our two star guards, Ray and Foye, to graduation after that season. So he had a chance to play a lot, right from the get-go.

I have never seen a player better at driving into the lane (especially at his size), and who can just float up layups that nobody else can make, and they always seem to drop in.

Of course, he is already a legend in Villanova history, thanks to The Shot (the drive against Pittsburgh in the Elite Eight at the buzzer last season... he's on track to score his 2,000th point soon...

3. Besides Reynolds, who are the impact players on Villanova's offense?

We're fortunate, in that we have a lot of Wildcats who can score. Here's a capsule on each one:

The Two Coreys - Fisher and Stokes (both juniors)

Fisher is a combo guard, like Reynolds, that can play either the "one" or "two". He averages 13.1 pts, which is really good when we consider that he only averages 26.9 minutes last year. Last year, we had an eight-man rotation, with Fisher as the sixth man - a role he played so well he was named Big East Sixth Man of the Year. He can take someone off the dribble, and can also shoot from beyond the arc.

Stokes is a forward, known as the Bayonne Bomber, due to his New Jersey hometown. His role is to take three-point shots, which he does a lot of, and he's also a 90% foul shooter. He averages 8.9 pts/game, and was the seventh player in last year's rotation.

Antonio Pena, a redshirt junior, is the most improved player on the team. He was the eighth man in the rotation, who would come in to spell Dante Cunningham or if he were in foul trouble. While he's always been a good rebounder and defender, he's turned into a potent threat underneath, averaging 10.7 pts/game. He can finish with authority, and he's also become adept at passing the ball to the guards in transition for easy baskets.

Taylor King, our current sixth man, averages 9.7 pts/game. He spent his freshman year at Duke and transferred, sitting out last season. But the year of practicing with the team really has paid off, as he's the glue of the team. He's a great three-point shooter, and because he's a "four", a lot of opponents' fours aren't fast enough to cover him out on the perimeter. He also just has a nose for the ball, and dives on the floor for loose balls all the time.

Finally, Reggie Redding is a senior "two" guard, whose role, historically, was as a defender and rebounder. He was suspended for the first semester this year, but since he's come back, he's starting to score more than he used to. He's averaging 9.3 pts/game, the highest of his career.

4. How will 'Nova counter Luke Harangody in the post? Can Pena be called upon to stay in the game and, if not, will the Wildcats have to go to a zone or double-team on the Irish star?

Although we of course miss Dante Cunningham, now with Portland, we could really use him tonight against Harangody. Given that even with Dante, Harangody scored 18 points with 7 boards against us last year.

Pena averages 3.1 PFs a game, and if he gets into foul trouble early, we're going to have major problems with Harangody. Our only other post options are Mouphtaou Yarou (everyone calls him Mouph, rhymes with "roof"), a freshman and a true five, who has good size and is a decent defender. But he's not as good as Pena, and in particular, he is much less polished than Pena on offense.

Mouph also is recovering from hepatitis, which he contracted right before the Puerto Rico Shootout at Thanksgiving, and he missed 11 games due to it. Since he's come back, he's still not 100%, and he's a 15-minute player right now, not more than that.

We also have our 11th man, Maurice Sutton, a redshirt freshman who needs to get bigger. Sutton's role is to block shots and come in when Pena is in foul trouble, to absorb the five fouls that we can't afford Pena to get. But that's all we can ask out of him. If Sutton has to play a lot tonight, we're in serious trouble with Harangody.

Jay likes to play man-to-man defense, but he'll adjust if necessary, and order a zone. Also, I could totally see using King in particular to help double-team Harangody from the four spot, especially if your gunners aren't dropping in threes in the beginning. There's also the possibility of using both Pena and Mouph at the same time, given Harangody's skills.

5. What is the ceiling for this Villanova team? Are they a legitimate national title contender?

This is a tough question, because of course, I'd like to think that we are a legitimate national title contender. This team is arguably better than the one that went to the Final Four last year, despite the loss of three starters, including an NBA player in Cunningham. That having been said, nobody (certainly, myself included) expected that we'd start the year 18-1 (it's the best start since 1950-51) and 7-0 in Big East play (the best ever in school history.

The big factor, of course, was that we ended up getting Reynolds back for another year, since the NBA mock drafts indicated he wouldn't be drafted.

Also, the rest of the players (Pena especially) have really improved, and Wright added the newly eligible King as the sixth man. Finally, Wright brought in another class, about which recruiting analysts raved.

Last year, we used seven guys plus Pena (and Pena wasn't anywhere near as good as he is now). We now can go 10, 11 if we count Sutton. The freshmen Wright brought in (Mouph, point guard Maalik Wayns, wings Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood) have all made significant contributions to the team. Wayns is a true point who's really, really fast. Armwood's a superb defender, and Cheek just scored 17 points in a blowout win over Rutgers last week.

The big weakness is in the low post. You guys are going to give us trouble with Harangody. If we happen to draw teams in the NCAA tournament with dominant post players, that's a big matchup problem for us. But if we draw smaller, quicker teams, we have a real chance at another deep NCAA run.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Villanova Preview

Eagerly anticipating a Q&A with Villanova Viewpoint, so I'll post that tomorrow and put the normal preview here.

Pomeroy Ranking- 15th
Record- 18-1 (7-0)
Best Win- Maryland (11th)
Worst Loss- Temple (30th)
Pomeroy Prediction- Nova 97-80

Key Players-

#1 Scottie Reynolds- 18.7 PPG, 3.4 APG, 42.4% 3PA- The star of the team since his freshman year, Reynolds has greatly improved his shooting this year. Field goal percentage is up almost 9% from last year.
#10 Corey Fisher- 13.1 PPG, 4.2 APG, 35.0% 3PA- Fisher has turned into more of the point guard with Reynolds shooting the ball so effectively this season. Has a positive A/T ratio in only one of his past four games.
#0 Antonio Pena- 10.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG- Has become a non-factor in the Big East after a string of very good nonconference performances. Double digits scoring in just one of his last eight games. His last double double has on December 2nd.

Scouting Report-

Great offense (3rd), above average D (69th)
No real weakness with the ball. They shoot a high percentage, get the the foul line, and rebound really well.
Biggest issue is fouling. Pena has fouled out in three of his last four games and had four fouls in the other. That's 19 in 4 games.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Big East Weekend

With UCONN beating #1 Texas yesterday West Virginia knocking off #25 Ohio State yesterday, the conference picked up a pair of very nice nonconference wins to bolster the Big East's reputation. Since the Irish are currently projected to finish 9th by the end of the season, we will need for the selection committee to take as many Big East teams as possible. That also means that teams like UCONN, Louisville, and Marquette have to drop a few contests down the road. A Marquette win against Syracuse could have really set back Irish NCAA dreams.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Notre Dame 87, DePaul 77

Decent win over a really bad team. After starting the game off at a breakneck pace, the game slowed down considerably. 21 points in the last 90 seconds of the game made this seem like a much more high-scoring affair than it truly was.

Will Walker had no trouble scoring 35 points, most of which came against our best defender in Tory Jackson. That's really the only negative point you can make. The Irish rebounded well, turned the ball over only twice, and played pretty decent defense against the rest of the Blue Demons. However, there is really no excuse for letting the clear star of the team have so much success.

I loved seeing Joey Brooks get into the game early in the first half. He has fantastic defensive fundamentals, keeps his head up, and moves his feet well. In the final seconds of the first half, he made a great play in backing off his man and causing a jump ball on a DePaul drive. There's no reason why this guy shouldn't be eating into Jonathan Peoples' minutes. Yet he disappeared in the second half and totaled just two minutes for the game.

Tory Jackson dished out 7 assists. He had a few nice drives into the Blue Demon zone that turned into points. We haven't seen that kind of assertiveness from Jackson as much this season, possibly an effect of having a more athletic backcourt mate. Can't argue with the numbers, however. He is still putting up big assist totals.

Hansbrough flirted with a triple double once again. 15 points, 7 assists, 10 rebounds. He shot well and played a pretty mistake-free game on offense today.

Abro was fantastic, scoring 30 points while making over half of his attempts. Add in 6 rebounds, a pretty solid total from the small forward position. He was overshadowed, however, by the three men with double-doubles. We haven't seen that since 2002.

Ty Nash had a pretty solid game. 13 points, 10 rebounds. Obviously, the competition was pretty weak today, but this performance is what we really need from him. 34 mistake-free minutes, a decent line from the charity stripe, and really good effort on both the offensive and defensive glass.

Harangody struggled with his shot at times, but still finished with some great scoring and rebound totals. He is now second all-time in career rebounds at ND and tied for third place in the Big East. Hats off to him for that. Hopefully he will continue to steadily rise up the rankings.

Not much bench production. Coach Brey kept his starters out there for 33+ minutes a piece. Once again, I am frustrated to see how Peoples managed to earn 12 minutes while Scott and Brooks got 10 minutes between them. To be honest, Brooks looked like the best player out of the three today. Maybe it's a product of only playing two or three minutes, but he was the only guy who seemed locked in on defense and showed off some good instincts.

On to Wednesday, a road trip to Nova. After that, the Irish will be favored in four of their next five games.

EDIT: Hats off to UCONN for what looks to be a VERY impressive win against #1 Texas.

Friday, January 22, 2010

DePaul Preview

Pomeroy Ranking- 191st
Record- 8-10 (1-5)
Best Win- Marquette (ranked 22nd)
Worst Loss- Florida Gulf Coast (304th)
Pomeroy Prediction- ND 74-60

Key Players-

#30 Will Walker- 14.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 30.8 3P%- The lone star of the team with Mac Koshwal out. Shooting a low percentage from the field (35.2%) but still leading the team in scoring by far.
#25 Eric Wallace- 6.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG- Transfer from Ohio State is now the team's leading rebounder with the absence of Koshwal. I think that says more about the rest of the team than the ability of this 6'6" wing.
#11 Jeremiah Kelly- 5.9 PPG, 3.1 APG- The sophomore point guard has a good assist to turnover ratio, but has only dished out more than four in two games this season.

Scouting Report-

Second-to-worst free throw percentage in the country.
On offense, shoot the ball very poorly but don't turn it over a whole lot.
Rack up a decent amount of steals on defense as they switch between man and zone D.

EDIT: Scott Martin could return in February. You have to think that's a bit of a stretch, but the Irish could use all the help they can get in that final stretch run.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

5 Questions for DePaul

John from Chicago College Basketball has been kind enough to split a "Five Questions" segment with this blog in preparation for the DePaul-ND game on Saturday. Check out his site to see my answers to his questions in the coming days.

His answers to my questions about DePaul:

1. Obviously Jerry Wainwright's dismissal has been expected for some time, but what is the feeling around the program of his being fired midway through this season? Has Tracy Webster had any demonstrable effect on the team?

Everyone felt like a change was needed, most as far back as midway through last season. Wainwright was obviously not having an impact on the players anymore. There was a good start to the season, but ugly losses to Florida-Gulf Coast and American (at home), really got people up in arms. Webster has taken over the reigns of the program and done the best he can in a difficult situation. The Blue Demons still don't have the talent to consistently compete on the level of most Big East teams, but they're making up for it with effort. Webster has played different players and lineups than Wainwright, and he seems to be getting results. The defense has tightened back up and the victory over Marquette was a huge bonus for the program.

2. Who are a few candidates you would like to see DePaul go after to fill the permanent head coaching position?

The name that keeps popping up is Chris Lowery from Southern Illinois, but I'm a little hesitant considering his team's performance lately. One of the other names I like is Detroit's Ray McCallum. A longer discussion of the matter is here ( When Wainwright was fired Jean Lenti Ponsetto said that DePaul would pay for a top-level coach. If that's the case, then maybe the Blue Demons could draw every DePaul fan's dream, Brian Gregory, away from Dayton. Of course the Blue Demons have tried twice before to no avail, so it's probably going to be someone else.

3. After knocking off Marquette, the Blue Demons have one Big East win since 2008. What went right against the Golden Eagles after so much recent futility?

The Blue Demons aren't going to ever be a good offensive team. They scored 51 points on 53 possessions against Marquette, but the key was holding the Golden Eagles to 50 points, including just 18 in the second half. DePaul really clamped down on Lazar Hayward in the second half. He didn't score a point after totaling 14 in the first 20 minutes. Also, Will Walker played one of his best games of the season. He was aggressive, made shots and seemed to give the team great energy. The Blue Demons got out and guarded the perimeter as Marquette only attempted 12 threes and made just 4. Finally, Marquette choked a bit down the stretch. Still, it was a big win for DePaul.

4. Will Walker has carried the team this year, especially in the absence of Mac Koshwal. If any other DePaul player could surprise Saturday and make a big impact Saturday, who will it be?

Will Walker has been the guy, but I think Jeremiah Kelly might be the player that steps up in this one. Kelly is a good shooter when he can get open looks from the perimeter and in the few Notre Dame games I've seen thus far this season it appears like that happens quite a bit. Kelly is probably the best shooter on the team after Walker and I think he'll take advantage of the open space. Also, the hero from Wednesday, Mike Stovall, can get hot if given the opportunity. After his two clutch shots he'll certainly come in with a bunch of confidence.

5. Without Koshwal, how will the Blue Demons offset the inside scoring and rebounding ability of Luke Harangody.

What I said above about DePaul's ability to contain Lazar Hayward in the second half makes me optimistic that the Blue Demons can at least slow down Harangody. DePaul still has some big bodies in Krys Faber, Eric Wallace and Devin Hill. All three played a lot of minutes against Marquette as Tracy Webster went with a bigger lineup for most of the game. Each of them brings something different to the table. I'd expect to see Wallace trying to use his athleticism to both Harangody on the defensive end.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Michigan/Notre Dame Comparison

This post was e-mailed to me today comparing the Wolverines' plight this season with that of the Irish a year ago. Interesting analysis.

The rest of the college hoops world is watching Jim Calhoun's health closely. He's back on a leave of absence after three bouts of cancer (it is unclear whether the current issue is related or not).

After Texas dropped on Monday, the final unbeaten is Kentucky. The Wildcats are not in action until Saturday. Georgetown/Pitt is a good matchup tonight, but has unfortunately been relegated to ESPNU.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Syracuse 84, Notre Dame 71

The Irish fell behind by eight late in the second half and the deficit remained pretty much the same the rest of the way. Though ND closed the game to two with about ten minutes left, six straight Orange points kept it at arms length for good.

On offense, we saw mixed results against the 2-3 zone. Syracuse is so effective with that defense, holding the potent Notre Dame attack below 40% shooting for the game. Like against Northwestern, the Irish took awhile to get comfortable against a mostly zone team. Much of our success came on secondary breaks with the Orange unable to get settled. In the half-court, ball movement suffered a bit with the Irish finding a few opportunities in the low post with Tim Abromaitis or Luke Harangody running the baseline. Harangody is much more suited to this task as a true post player, while Abro seems better on the wing especially since it keeps Gody from getting touches near the top of the key which limit his effectiveness.

Defensively, Syracuse had their normal success in the paint. 261 pound Arinze Onuaku and 240 pound Rick Jackson took turns battering around our weak power forward combination (Ty Nash, Carleton Scott, and Abromaitis) and combined for 19 points and 11 boards. Onuaku has really taken a backseat this year with the arrival of Wesley Johnson, but he simply dominated Nash all night. Johnson is the real deal, the kind of player everyone hoped Scott would grow into. His 22 points and 8 boards looked so fluid and effortless. Andy Rautins is a true punk in the vein of Eric Devendorf, but was hot from the start. Ben Hansbrough could not defend him off the ball.

Tory Jackson struggled mightily shooting the ball and driving amongst the trees of the Orange, but made up for it a bit by finding open teammates in the holes of the zone. A career-high 15 assists on an otherwise forgettable night.

Hansbrough could not stick with Rautins off of screens enough to hold the fifth-year senior down. Though he is a much better on-ball defender than was Kyle McAlarney, he sometimes gets lost in man-to-man defense and makes poor decisions leaving his man to help out his teammates. Also struggled shooting the ball, 2-7 with all of his attempts from three-point land.

Abro was impressive, however. Though he certainly was nothing special on defense, it is certainly impressive that he was able to outscore one of the best players in the conference and be one of only two Irish players in double figures. He knocked down most open looks afforded to him against the zone and also had a bit of success finding open spaces in the low post.

Ty Nash had another awful performance. His last 32 minutes: 9 fouls, 2 rebounds, 1 point.

Harangody was very good, demonstrating a reborn effort on the glass with 14 rebounds and scoring all over the floor. He was most effective in the low post, like Abro, and is much more suited to it. Every possession in which he decides to catch the ball beyond the arc is a wasted opportunity. He turned the ball over just twice, but one was real backbreaker. With four minutes remaining and the Irish only down six, he went back into point guard mode and abruptly turned it over in transition. Though he certainly did more good than harm tonight, decisions like that are inexcusable for a senior All-American.

Off the bench, Carleton Scott really hit the glass well. 9 boards, 6 on offense, which repeatedly gave Notre Dame chances and kept this one competitive for as long as possible. On offense, however, the differences between Scott and Wesley Johnson are enormous. Johnson's quick first step and viable outside shot make him a scoring machine. Scott's jumper is unreliable at best and he lacks the mechanics and confidence to beat people to the rim. While there is still time for him to gain a bit of polish, I would hope we would see more flashes of scoring ability from him by now. Peoples had 13 forgettable minutes with 2 rebounds and 3 fouls. This was an interesting night, because our seven man rotation was equaled by Syracuse. The Orange clearly have more ability from top to bottom even with such a short bench.

Not a whole lot of people would have predicted a win tonight, but this makes the DePaul matchup critical. If the Irish can get an easy home win Saturday, they will face a tough Villanova team before hitting the easiest five-game stretch of the conference slate.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Syracuse Preview

Added a new blog to the roll, On the Banks of the Raritan is a brand new Rutgers site. Check it out.

Quick turnaround now after a week between games. Syracuse comes to the JACC tomorrow night. If the Irish can bounce back with their second big home upset in a row, we'll be back on track.

Pomeroy Ranking- 5th
Record- 17-1 (4-1)
Best Win- West Virginia (ranked 7th)
Worst Loss- Pittsburgh (ranked 24th)
Pomeroy Prediction- Syracuse 87-77

Key Players-

#4 Wesley Johnson-16.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 44.6% 3PA- The fantastic transfer from Iowa State is playing very well in his first year wearing orange. He's skinny at just over 200 lbs., but has enough athleticism to get to the basket. He will give us the same problems as Cincy's Darnell Wilks (8 rebounds in just 12 minutes)
#1 Andy Rautins- 10.4 PPG, 5.3 APG, 40.6% 3PA- The fifth year senior point guard exploded for 23 points against Rutgers, but is typically pass-first with a good three-point shot. Has also pulled down 15 rebounds in the last two games.
#25 Brandon Triche- 10.5 PPG, 3.1 APG, 44.9% 3PA- Tough to pick out the third-best player on the team because Boeheim spreads out the minutes very evenly, but this freshman has made a big impact with a great shooting ability on limited playing time. Scored 27 in 20 minutes against Oakland.

Scouting Report-

Very good on both ends of the floor (ranked 6th and 15th in offensive and defensive efficiency).
Own the paint, 2nd in the country in two-point shooting percentage and 5th in blocked shots.
Biggest weakness is turning the ball over. Only about 20 teams in the NCAA allow more steals.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cincinnati 60, Notre Dame 58

With very poor rebounding and atrocious free throw shooting, the Irish threw away a great opportunity to win one on the road. Cincinnati didn't deserve to take this one either, but they just managed to struggle a little less.

9-19 for Notre Dame from the charity stripe, a very surprising stat since ND typically puts together a pretty decent foul shooting team. Though we were able to overcome an offensive rebounding disparity against West Virginia, giving up 16 additional chances to the Bearcats ultimately led to our demise this afternoon. Fitting that the final points came on a Yancy Gates putback.

Harangody really hurt the cause, managing only 5-20 from the field with some really poor shot selection. His uncharacteristically poor foul shooting (2-6) was par for the course for ND. Good to see Joey Brooks get a little playing time, but overall this game was quite forgettable.

Tory Jackson bounced back after a few subpar nights on offense. 12 points on 6-8 shooting was good to see. He chipped in on defense with a couple steals, including one with 2:30 left in the game and the Irish holding onto a one point lead. That should have given us a chance to put the game away. Instead, the next possession led to two missed free throws, a huge wasted opportunity.

Ben Hansbrough was the culprit from the line with two minutes to go. He made a pair forty seconds earlier, but succumbed to the same issue as the rest of the team with a chance to go up three. He struggled shooting from outside, as well, but dished out five assists with no turnovers. Strange to see how he and Tory swapped roles a bit.

Tim Abromaitis also had some problems with his three-point shooting and was surprisingly rough from the line. Having missed only three attempts all year, he left three more points on the charity stripe. He did see some success hitting the glass, with 8 rebounds. Can't complain about his work in the paint, but he and Harangody didn't get nearly enough help boxing out.

Ty Nash fouled out in 13 minutes. No rebounds, one assist. A very poor showing when we needed a strong effort from our power forward.

Harangody was just awful on offense. 5-20, 14 points. His two point attempts were mostly related to midrange shots that would not fall. Normally very reliable from the foul line, he went 2-6.

Off the bench Peoples made a three pointer, but didn't do a whole lot other than that. Carleton Scott found a little success in 15 minutes, with 3 boards. Joey Brooks got on the floor for a couple minutes.

Once again, the team dropped this one for two reasons: lots of second chances for Cincy (especially Yancy Gates, including the game winner) and a really rough night on the foul line. Very frustrating to see a great chance slip through our fingers.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cincinnati Preview

A lot has changed since Cincy upset a top-ten UCONN team to start the Big East season. the Huskies have fallen to Georgetown and Pitt, dropping them to the middle of the conference. For itself, the Bearcat basketball program has also fallen on hard times, losing consecutive away games at Seton Hall and St. John's. This is still a tough opponent, but a much more winnable game than it seemed two weeks ago.

Pomeroy Ranking- 56th
Record- 11-6 (2-3)
Best Win- Vanderbilt (ranked 23rd)
Worst Loss- St. John's (ranked 82nd)
Pomeroy Prediction- Cincinnati 76-70

Key Players-
#33 Lance Stephenson- 12.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG- A small wing at just 6'5", he struggles shooting the three. Certainly a talented freshman, but can be neutralized by a zone defense or a soft man that forces him to stay on the perimter.
#5 Deonta Vaughn- 11.3 PPG, 3.6 APG, 34.7% 3PA- Not nearly the scoring threat he was as a sophomore, but the senior leader continues to contribute. Scored 20 against Seton Hall and had three straight 17 point games to begin the conference slate.
#34 Yancy Gates- 10.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG- The rebounding leader on the team, but just gets 24 minutes a game.

Scouting Report-

Never gets to the foul line.
Play pretty solid defense, top 25 in effective FG% allowed.
Rebound well on both ends of the floor.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Irish Football Just Keeps Getting Better

As if Pete Carroll leaving wasn't good enough, USC's knee-jerk reaction hire of Lane Kiffin is a glorious thing to behold. Not only is Kiffin fantastically unaccomplished as a head coach, he's one of the most despicable personalities in college sports. If Southern Cal wanted someone who could clean up the program's image or return the Trojans to perennial national championship contenders, they failed dramatically on both accounts.

In college hoops, Purdue dropped again and there's a good Big East matchup between UCONN and Pitt on tap tonight. After today though, the good games are on hold until the weekend.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Harangody "Midseason" All-American

Somewhat more impressive than the completely pointless honor of "Preseason All-American," Luke Harangody has been named an All-American by ESPN. The other first-teamers are John Wall, Jon Scheyer, Wesley Johnson, and Damion James. Jay Bilas' write-up is very complimentary:

"Some may believe that Harangody has not won at the same level of the other first-teamers, but it is not his doing. At times a volume shooter, Harangody has continued to be impossible to shut down and as productive a player as there is in the nation. Barring something strange befalling him, Harangody will lead the Big East in scoring and rebounding for the third straight season. As conference play begins, Harangody is averaging 25 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2 assists, while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 80 percent from the line. Harangody can step away, he can face you up and drive, and despite the best interior defenders and detailed scouting reports, nobody in the Big East can shut the big redhead down. Harangody will leave Notre Dame as the most productive big man ever in South Bend, and only Austin Carr will be in his category as an achiever on the stat sheet."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Crazy Weekend in College Sports

Lots of upsets to watch in hoops the last couple of days, highlighted by Notre Dame's win on Saturday. Wisconsin beat Purdue, Georgia Tech defeated Duke, Mizzou took down K-State, and there were a pair of great Big East games in Marquette/Nova and UCONN/Georgetown. Yesterday, Kansas became the latest unbeaten to fall, dropping one on the road to the shorthanded gun totin' Volunteers.

Of course, none of that excitement equaled the news of Pete Carroll's departure from USC. At least for Irish fans, this ends an eight year reign of terror (leaving out Carroll's first season) and makes the upcoming football season even more interesting. Now, we'll just wait and see what kind of sanctions are about to drop (the Trojans are eligible for everything up to and including the death penalty).

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Notre Dame 70, West Virginia 68

Well I'm stunned.

The second half went much along the lines I expected the whole game. West Virginia's athleticism was too much against our man-to-man, racking up easy buckets on drives. The 2-3 zone was a good idea, but it opened up rebounding lanes for lots of Mountaineer second chances. Catch-22. The physical and tenacious West Virginia defense forced Notre Dame turnovers in bunches, as well. At the end of the day, the Irish gave up a 20 point lead and needed lucky bounce at the buzzer to hang out. But hang on they did, against the #8 team in the country.

That last possession was surprisingly handled very well. With just a two point lead and West Virginia ball, it was easy to give up all hope. However, Tim Abromaitis made a very heady foul (we had one to give and it killed a little time while disrupting the Mountaineer attack) and Tory Jackson's last second defense was spot-on. Hats off to the team and coaches for not folding on the final defensive chance as I know most of you expected them to (as I did).

The first half was all Irish. Every thing the team put up went through the basket, while the Mountaineers forgot to take the celophane off of the top of their hoop. Surprisingly good Irish D, 75% shooting. 20 point lead at the break. Great to see Joey Brooks getting significant playing time and contributing. I honestly expected the rotation to shrink to just six deep tonight.

Pure Huggins ball in the second period, which I have to admit I admire. They are athletic and tenacious and physical (even a bit thuggish at times) but are never outhustled. Sometimes you really wish Notre Dame would play with that kind of effort. Plenty of energy being expended on both ends of the floor, with high-intensity D leading to transition buckets and everyone crashing the rim on the offensive glass. The Irish were simply outclassed and went over ten straight minutes without a field goal.

West Virginia attempted twenty-nine more shots tonight. Credit the Irish D for holding them to 37.5% shooting. The Mountaineers would have been blown out of this game if it wasn't for their 18 offensive rebounds, but we knew going in how much of a factor that would play. While it's easy to get upset about how Notre Dame failed to box out, essentially shooting itself in the foot all second half, give some credit to West Virginia. They're damn good on the glass.

Tory Jackson struggled in the second half with 3 second half turnovers and had a lot of trouble putting the ball in the basket (1-7). However, he did dish out 7 assists and was pretty clutch from the line (3-4). His defense on that last possession was excellent, but Butler still almost pulled off a miracle.

Ben Hansbrough flirted with a triple-double. Had he not missed his last three free throw attempts, he would have finished just a basket and a rebound away from becoming just the second Irish player to achieve the feat. 10 assists, zero turnovers. If you follow the comments on this blog's posts, you know that there was a little discussion on how Ben and Tory have played together this season earlier today. I definitely think Hansbrough has had a bit of a negative effect on Tory's offensive performance this year and they make for an awkward pairing, but if he continues to fill the stat sheet like this he deserves some credit.

Tim Abromaitis was fantastic. 17 points, 8 rebounds, the best free throw stroke on the team. Once again, I really liked his last foul to break up West Virginia's final possession. If Coach Brey instructed him to use that, hats off for a surprisingly good defensive coaching tip.

Ty Nash had 13 and 6. Not too bad. He racked up four fouls and still has the ugliest foul shot I've ever seen, but was a perfect 5-5 from the field. He and Harangody needed to have better nights on the glass.

Harangody went through his rough patches with bad shot selection during ND's ten minute dry spell, but finished with a great line from the field. I can live with him just attempting 15 shots a game. That means we're counting on other guys for points and he's not playing out of his element. 30+ points don't mean a thing when you're losing to top-ten teams (see UCONN). 24 points tonight suits me just fine when it comes with a win. Should have picked up more than 5 assists. When your team is getting pounded on the offensive glass, your All-American needs to focus on making a difference on that end as well.

Off the bench, Brooks was great in his 9 minutes. He scored 5 points and impressed Coach Brey enough that the post-game interview sounded like we'll see him a bit more. Better late than never. Nothing from Peoples, except a very pretty steal which he promptly turned into an offensive foul. We'll see if Scott is back over the next several days. A week without games will need some news to fill it.

This is our best win in quite a long time. Enjoy it a bit. This just might make up for Loyola Marymount. Nice job, boys.

West Virginia at the Half


Notre Dame with the 45. Safe to say no one predicted this. The Irish have used tremendous ball movement (almost equaling their season average for assists in the first half) to put together 20 minutes of the best basketball we have seen from a Notre Dame team in a very long time.

Don't hold your breath just yet, there's still plenty of basketball to be played, but color me impressed.

Friday, January 08, 2010

West Virginia Preview

Another top ten opponent for the Irish, this time at home. They'll need to extend the effort put forth against Connecticut for a full forty minutes tomorrow.

West Virginia-
Pomeroy Ranking- 8th
Record- 12-1 (3-0)
Best Win- Marquette (ranked 25th)
Worst Loss- Purdue (ranked 6th)- Much to my chagrin, the Paint Crew is looking very, very good this year.
Pomeroy Prediction- West Virginia 80-72

Key Players-
#1 Da'Sean Butler- 16.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 35.8% 3PA- Has always been a very talented wing who can both score and rebound, but has become a bit less selfish in his senior season, averaging 3.5 assists per contest. Even though he is taking two fewer shots per game than last season, his scoring average has remained high due to a field goal percentage that is almost six points higher than a year ago.
#5 Kevin Jones- 15.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 45.7% 3PA- This sophomore big could teach Harangody a thing or two about shooting the three. He's made one more three pointer in fifteen fewer attempts this year. Also has been great at scoring close to the hoop, with a 65% clip inside the arc. Just under half of his rebounds this year have come on offense and you can bet that many of those buckets were second-chance points.
#3 Devin Ebanks- 13.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG- Like Butler, he has had some success finding open scorers (3.1 APG). Missed significant playing time earlier in the year for unexplained personal reasons. Though most of the Mountaineers struggle with free throws, Ebanks is not the guy you want to foul. He's at 82% for the season. Da'Sean Butler is second on the team, just slightly under 80% himself.

Scouting Report-

Just like last year, they attack the offensive glass with tenacity. They don't shoot an overly impressive percentage from the field but have built a top five offense out of second-chance points.
Play pretty good, physical defense. A few blocks and forced turnovers here and there combined with contested shots have them giving up less than 0.9 points per possession.
Can go nine or ten deep, which is important for a physical Huggins team.

EDIT: In othe news, good luck to Chris Quinn as he hopes to revive his career in New Jersey. He had found some success for a few years in Miami but had gotten buried on the Heat depth chart this year. He still remains one of the more surprising Notre Dame professional stories and one of my alltime favorite Irish players.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Fifteen Games Left

At 2-1 in the Big East, the Irish stand on the precipice of three distinctly different five game stretches.

The first, which includes games against three top ten teams, will have a significant effect on any NCAA Tournament hopes. 1-4 here could finish Notre Dame off before we even reach the halfway point of the conference season. Predicted scores are by Ken Pomeroy, followed by the predicted number of possessions and percentage chance of victory.

Sat Jan 9 (10) West Virginia L, 79-736628%Home
Sat Jan 16 (56) Cincinnati L, 77-706726%Away
Mon Jan 18 (5) Syracuse L, 89-797421%Home
Sat Jan 23 (183) DePaul W, 75-626290%Home
Wed Jan 27 (29) Villanova L, 92-807217%Away

The Irish reach a nice run of easier games, all of which are very winnable. Sweeping these contests, or even taking four of five is extremely important.

Sat Jan 30 (157) Rutgers W, 78-746965%Away
Thu Feb 4 (56) Cincinnati W, 74-736756%Home
Sun Feb 7 (77) South Florida W, 74-706565%Home
Thu Feb 11 (58) Seton Hall L, 90-837527%Away
Sun Feb 14 (87) St. John's W, 77-726770%Home

Finally, a death march to end the year. ND was unlucky to land five of its most difficult games right at the end of the year. Even one win here would be a very good accomplishment.

Wed Feb 17 (34) Louisville L, 87-777219%Away
Wed Feb 24 (27) Pittsburgh L, 72-706442%Home
Sat Feb 27 (14) Georgetown L, 82-696812%Away
Wed Mar 3 (37) Connecticut L, 79-787147%Home
Sat Mar 6 (23) Marquette L, 84-726715%Away

Though the loss to Loyola Marymount was a huge disappointment that seriously affected our Tournament hopes, I think that final stretch of games is still what will make or break this season. Regardless of Notre Dame's overall conference record (it probably should be 10-8 at least to make the right side of the bubble), those last five games could have the Irish reeling while under the committee's microscope. Of course, if this team cannot pull out an extra win or two in January or drops a game it should win, the final games won't matter.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Notre Dame 74, South Florida 73

A win on the road in the Big East is always great to see, but this one got way too close at the end. Ultimately, however, you have to be happy about closing out a close game. Especially with the ball in Luke Harangody's hands in the final seconds as opposed to our normal point guard isolation.

With 10:30 left, the Irish held a 13 point lead with some sizable momentum following a back-and-forth first half. Cue the six minute scoring drought. As the Irish went 0-7 from the field, South Florida was able to cut the deficit down to one and the game stayed close from there on in. Bad stretches like that happen, but you can withstand them with good defense. Once again, the Irish allowed a team to perform well over its season average efficiency (13 points higher, in fact) with almost 53% shooting from the floor. We can't just count on our scoring ability to bail this team out consistently.

In the final six and a half minutes, 8 of our last 14 points came from the foul line including really important contributions from Tory Jackson and Ty Nash. Those are two guys who have struggled in the past from the charity stripe so hopefully this clutch shooting will continue. We'll need them on the floor in the closing minutes of key games to come this year.

I did like how the team did not flinch when things started to crumble in the final minutes. Down 2 with 1:48 remaining, the Irish went back to its All-American for a tying bucket, counted on some clutch points from Ty Nash once again, and finally won the game by putting the ball in Harangody's hands with a chance to draw a foul and win it with a free throw. Any Notre Dame basketball fan has seen the same ineffective last second point guard play dozens of times. Coach Brey changed it up tonight and he really deserves some credit for this one-point win.

Jackson had some trouble shooting the ball, but was a perfect 4-4 with his free throws. He's 58% this year, but made them when they counted tonight.

Ben Hansbrough was completely off, especially down the stretch. He nearly killed us in the final minutes and finished 1-6 for 3 points.

Tim Abromaitis also struggled to finish with 10 points. Though four players scored in double figures tonight, clearly Luke Harangody carried the team. That scares me a lot and I do not think we can win any games of consequence with that formula, but it worked tonight.

Ty Nash had a very respectable 11 and 7, but once again those foul shots were what made the difference. 5-6 from the line for him, just about perfect in a couple very high pressure situations. He's also just 57% from there for the year.

Harangody took five three pointers again, but he made four of them. Go figure. His 23 shot attempts were nearly double that of any other Notre Dame player. Too often the team looks to him for option A, B, and C on offense, but clearly we needed it tonight. 36 points with just 6 rebounds. South Florida was able to convert a frustrating amount of second chances when the Irish needed defensive stops, but Harangody and Nash also chipped in with offensive rebounds for Notre Dame.

Off the bench, just 3 points. Notre Dame's lack of an effective bench was less noticeable than usual due to South Florida going basically just six deep. Kudos to Scott for snagging 5 rebounds in his 8 minutes and hitting a three, but you have to wonder why he wasn't on the floor more when his defense and athleticism could have made a difference.

Though the way ND almost gave the game away in the final minutes does not rest well, the ultimate result is a very positive one. Make no mistake, USF is a talented team. We were predicted to lose this by Ken Pomeroy and very well could have, but a Big East win on the road is what we're heading home with. Time to bunker down for a tough upcoming three game stretch (West Virginia, @ Cincy, and Syracuse).

Monday, January 04, 2010

South Florida Preview

South Florida-
Pomeroy Ranking- 70th
Record- 10-3 (0-1)
Best Win- Virginia (ranked 58th)
Worst Loss- Central Michigan (ranked 191st)
Pomeroy Prediction- South Florida 74-69

Key Players-
INJURED #24 Augustus Gilchrist- 18.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG- Had the Bulls off to a record start before injuring his ankle in early December. Should be out until late January.
#20 Dominique Jones- 17.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 38.3% 3PA- The star of the team is now a junior. He's having his most efficient season yet. Though the scoring average is down, he scored 23 points a game in the four nonconference contests without Gilchrist. Was a nonfactor against Louisville before fouling out.
#31 Jarrid Famous- 11.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG- The seven footer formed a great tandem with Gilchrist before the injury. Now he's been called to a bigger role, with three double-doubles in the past five games.
#3 Chris Howard- 9.8 PPG, 4.2 APG, 33.3% 3PA- A pretty reliable five-year senior point guard. Now boasts an A/T ratio over 2 with his highest scoring average ever.

Scouting Report-

Mediocre offense, but above average defensively (41st).
Get to the line a reasonable amount, but only shoot 66% from there.
Can go eight or nine deep, but only six guys have gotten double-figure minutes in their past two games.

This was a pretty good team without Gilchrist but still has a lot of talent. If they can keep everything together until he gets back, watch for the Bulls to make a run at the NCAA bubble with four of their last six games at home.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

USC Sanctioned

USC has imposed sanctions on itself following an investigation into the improprieties of the O.J. Mayo and Tim Floyd era:
  1. Ban on postseason competition for this season (including the Pac-10 tourney)
  2. Vacating all wins from the 2007-08 season (they went 21-12)
  3. One fewer scholarship for this season and next
  4. One fewer coach allowed to recruit off campus next season
  5. Twenty fewer recruiting days next year
Obviously the NCAA could impose more sanctions, but I'd guess they are unlikely to do so. The whole situation with Mayo was suspicious from the beginning and seems to exude the culture of corruption that is Southern Cal.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Connecticut 82, Notre Dame 70

A great effort on the road goes to waste as the Irish attack wore down in the final minutes. As frustrating as it is to let a three point game get out of hand in the final five minutes, the whole contest seemed to follow Connecticut's season theme of playing down to lesser opponents. Ultimately, it's hard to win a lot of games when you allow 50% shooting from the floor on defense.

Once again, our bench was comically short. It has to be pretty frustrating for the freshmen to only get a minute of mopup time once we're out of contention in a Big East game. I guess it's best to hope we don't see them at all (unless in the unlikely event we have a few blowouts go our way the rest of the year). The minutes distribution amongst our veterans was also a bit perplexing. With Ty Nash only playing 21 minutes, we played a small lineup for half of the game. No wonder the rebounding numbers favored the Huskies. Even though Nash was ineffective in the second half, we can't rely on Jonathan Peoples and Tim Abromaitis to win the rebound battle over bigger and more athletic Big East forwards. That's where a few good minutes from a guy like Broghammer would be golden.

The preview focused on how Connecticut stops strong offenses with its shot blocking ability. Tonight was pretty close to the norm. The Huskies blocked eleven Notre Dame field goal attempts, two more than their season average. Partially as a result of that the Irish managed only 40% from the field, even though they made a pretty decent average of three-point attempts.

Tory Jackson played 40 minutes with 8 assists and only 2 turnovers. Unfortunately, he struggled to create baskets himself. His six points came on two three pointers, with nothing close to the basket. He's just a couple inches too small to get to the rim a la Jerome Dyson or even Kemba Walker. Sure he's an 1000-point scorer, but his four-year starting career will most likely end with only one season averaging double-digits.

Ben Hansbrough fouled out after 38 decent minutes. Like Jackson, his points came from the perimeter. Three of his layup attempts were blocked, and he finished 1-6 on two-pointers for the game. We just don't have a real Big East driving threat in the backcourt.

Abro struggled against Stanley Robinson's good defense and looked a bit spooked in his first game against really tough man defense. It was a good learning experience, but one that should have taken place a year or two ago. This game was a good example of why young players should get a taste of real playing time before they are thrust into the regular rotation. 8 points on 3-9 shooting, he'll get it back together.

Ty Nash had 11 and 8, but only one basket in the second half. His minutes were slashed and he really was not a factor when it mattered. Maybe he isn't the answer full-time, but we need someone in the same mold to help out Luke Harangody in the paint (especially as he continues to play like a wing). Tim Abromaitis and Carleton Scott are much better suited at the 3, so why not give one of the freshman bigs a shot?

Harangody was solid, but continues to feel too comfortable on the arc. He made one of four three point attempts, right on his season average. He has now exceeded the number of three-point attempts from last year. That's very bad. 31 points and 9 rebounds is a great bottom line, but our offense suffers when Luke takes twice as many shots as anyone else. On defense, his post D has really taken a hit this year. He struggles in the post against big guys.

No bench points. Peoples played 12 turnover-filled minutes. Scott passed out two assists and blocked one shot.

On to South Florida. A loss here and we're behind the eight-ball already.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Connecticut Preview

We'll find out a lot about this Irish team tomorrow. The Huskies will be ready to go after dropping a road contest to Cincinnati on Wednesday.

Pomeroy Ranking- 41st
Record- 9-3 (0-1)
Best Win- Harvard (ranked 74th)
Worst Loss- Cincinnari (ranked 61st)
Pomeroy Prediction- UCONN 83-74

Key Players-
#11 Jerome Dyson- 20.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.8 APG, 32.1% 3PA- The Huskies' MVP so far. He's stepped into a much bigger role this season and contributes all over the floor. To stop him, it's best to give him a little room to shoot on the wing. Don't let this guy beat you off the dribble. Also averages 3.3 turnovers a contest, one of the weaknesses for this team.
#21 Stanley Robinson- 17.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 57.1% 3PA- Another guy who has really improved this year. Doesn't shoot a lot from the perimeter, but he has been hitting them when open. 7-11 in his past three games.
#15 Kemba Walker- 12.9 PPG, 6.1 APG, 41.4% 3PA- The sophomore floor general has doubled his assist output with the graduation of A.J. Price. His scoring output has lessened a bit in the last couple of weeks, after a couple 20 point games in the beginning of the year.

Scouting Report-

Block the most shots in the country, even without the overrated 7'3" behemoth.
Along with that, they play great defense inside the arc, but allow a reasonable three-point percentage (93rd in the country).
Allow the fifth-fewest free throw attempts per shot, another result of their shot-blocking prowess.