The Irish pulled off the trifecta this week by knocking off IPFW, Kennesaw State, and finished the busy stretch off by taking down the Purple Eagles of Niagara. Notre Dame now sits at 12-1 on the season with their only loss of the year coming to a solid St Joe squad in overtime. Senior forward Jack Cooley paced the Irish over the 3 game stretch, averaging 17 points and 12 rebounds. Cooley continues his physical style of play as he has no issue banging underneath and consistently out hustling opponents for rebounds. The Irish continue to get strong play from guard Eric Atkinson who dished out a season high 13 assists against Niagara, Patrick Connaughton who averaged 12 points this week, and some productive play off the bench in the form of Cameron Biedscheid, Garrick Sherman and freshmen Zach Auguste, who had career highs of 12 points and 7 rebounds against Kennesaw State.
Anyone who follows Irish men’s basketball understands that coach Brey is not a huge fan of going deep on his bench, so it is imperative that the few he will turn to, be able to provide solid and consistent numbers. Notre Dame isn’t quite there yet, but if they plan on making a deep run in the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, having a bench that can provide productive and physical play is imperative. One would have hoped that with the somewhat soft schedule early on, Brey would have gone deeper on his bench, but once again he failed to do so. If the past is truly an indicator, we have a feeling this will come back to haunt the Irish again in the NCAA tourney as the Irish starters will be forced to play excessive minutes all season long. While most coach’s do not utilize the whole bench, the former Duke assistant and 12th year Irish head coach makes an art-form out of it. The biggest problem this presents for Irish is when they face a very athletic and high tempo team, and it requires Notre Dame to be active for 40 minutes. While doing this for a one game doesn’t present an issue, doing this over the stretch of 2 or 3 games can, and it can progressively wear the Irish down over a tough Big East schedule and typically hinders any chances of making a deep run in the tourney at the end of the year.
The Irish will enjoy the holiday break and then welcome Seton Hall into Purcell Pavilion on the 5 th, and then head down south to face a very talented Bearcat squad in Cincinnati. This game will provide what I believe to be the biggest challenge of the season so far, as playing in Cincinnati is a very tough environment, and the #10 ranked team in the country can be very physical at times and very intimidating. The one thing that may play into the Irish’s hands is the fact that the 12-0 Bearcats get jump-shot happy and tend to forget about getting the ball down low occasionally. They also struggle sharing the ball a little too much, and if they continue this trend it could help the Irish pull off its biggest win of the season. This game will be a huge barometer, and Irish basketball fans should know where their team stands once this game is complete. The game against Seton Hall on the 5th can be seen on ESPN Full-court and ESPN 3, and the game against the Bearcats can be seen on ESPN 2 and ESPN 3.