Hoops Week in Review

Notre Dame Basketball defeats Villanova Wildcats 65-60
Jan 30, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Tom Knight (25) smiles after Notre Dame defeated the Villanova Wildcats 65-60 at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

In another crazy year of college basketball, where seemingly no team wants to emerge as the dominant one, the Irish are no different. After a rough 4 game stretch that saw Notre Dame lose three out of four to teams they are as good as, if not better, Mike Brey knew this week he would have to be a teacher, and not just a coach. Even though the Irish 2012-13 squad is full of veterans, somehow they had lost their way and in serious need of a beacon in the night. The Irish had early season success by consistently getting to the rim, out-rebounding teams, and playing smart defense, but the last two weeks have been just the exact opposite. During this stretch, Brey’s squad have allowed teams to out-hustle them, beat them on the glass, and play timid on offense. In a very crucial stretch that could determine if the Irish get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year, it is imperative that Brey reminds his team of what their strengths are, and how to consistently implement them on the court.

The first task at hand of refocusing his squad would not be an easy one, as they would hit the road to take on University of South Florida, in Tampa. While most would admit that this should be an easier win for Notre Dame, when your team is playing as inconsistent as the Irish have lately, nothing is a foregone conclusion. The Bulls, while not considered a strong threat this year, are the same team that defeated Georgetown, the same Georgetown team that just dominated the Irish on their own home-court in the previous game.

As the Irish took the floor against South Florida, it felt like this game would be no different, Notre Dame continued to give up easy baskets, and watch their opponent drop shot after shot from the floor. South Florida knocked down four 3-pointers in the first half and was consistently a step ahead of the Irish, as the Bulls took a 35-28 lead into halftime. Thankfully for Irish fans, the second-half would be a different story. Tom Knight, who was starting in favor of injured Scott Martin(knee), played a great game, and paced an Irish second half run that resembled one of early season success. Notre Dame ended up shooting 9-19 from beyond the arc(47%)and also out-rebounded the Bulls, grabbing 32 boards, compared to just 14 for South Florida. If you follow the Irish Men’s squad, then you know those numbers are very close to what the Irish averaged over their first 15 games, in which they went 14-1. Two late game free throws from Eric Atkins put the Irish up 71-60, and the Irish held off a late game surge by the Bulls , to notch their 15th win of the season, with a final of 73-65. Knight did a wonderful job in filling in for Martin, as he provided a season high 17 points, and Jerian Grant contributed 18 points, and 8 assist

Feeling good about playing a better 2nd half in Tampa, the Irish would now welcome to Purcell Pavilion, one the hottest teams in all of college basketball. Villanova had an incredible week, which included victories over #5 Louisville and #3 Syracuse. Although the Wildcats have been wildly inconsistent this season, and have been plagued by turnovers and erratic guard play, they had hopes of keeping the momentum going against the Irish. Notre Dame finally found a way to get out the gates early as they took an early lead, with a 3-point shot from Jerian Grant, a couple of nice baskets underneath from Jack
Cooley, and Tom Knight also added two baseline jumpers. Villanova would bounce back quickly though, with some nice play underneath by Wildcat forward Mouphtaou Yarou. With help also coming from getting to the line and knocking down their free throws, the Jay Wright led club, would eventually take a 31-29 lead into halftime.

One could describe the 2nd half as the Cameron Biedscheid show, as the Freshmen scored 15 of 18 points in the last 20 minutes, and was 4-5 from 3-point land. Although Biedscheid grabbed the headlines, Jack Cooley bounced back nicely with 17 point, and 16 rebound effort. Junior Jerian Grant, had one of his most complete weeks of his career, already having a strong game against South Florida and now scoring 12 points, dishing out 10 assist, and grabbing 4 steals vs. Villanova. Grant did struggle a bit from the field, but did find a way to knock down 4-7 from beyond the arc. Notre Dame would end up taking
this back and forth contest, 65-60, and there are signs that maybe the Irish are starting to figure what makes them successful on the court again, with smart guard play, consistent outside shooting, and strong effort. Notre Dame held Villanova’s leading scorer (Pinkston- 11 points) in check, and forced 9 Wildcat turnovers.

There have been two consistent numbers for the Irish in their wins and their losses. If their rebounds are close to 30 or above, and they shoot over 40% from 3-point land, then chances are very good that they will win the game. In both wins against South Florida and Villanova, the Irish did just that, and walked away with victories in both matches. As mentioned earlier, Notre Dame is no different than most schools, and will have times in which they struggle on the court. As long as Coach Brey can keep them focused, and he and his staff continually preach effort, smart play, and teamwork, Notre Dame will find themselves dancing come March. My fear is that this club will hit another stretch like this, and it will come at the end of the season, and Irish fans will once again need to find a different team to root for after the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

This is another incredibly important week, as Notre Dame(17-4 5-3) looks to “enhance” their tourney resume. The Irish will hit the road to face DePaul on Saturday, and will head to Syracuse, for arguably their most important game of the season. The game vs. DePaul on Saturday can be seen on ESPN 2 and 3, with tip-off at 2pm. And the game against Syracuse will start at 7pm, and will be the featured “Big Monday” game on ESPN.

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  1. ND actually gets pretty good talent, considering their admission standards and the fact that ND actually expects its basketball players to graduate. I think D-Train nailed the problem on the head. It’s rare he goes to the bench. He is also slow to make adjustments when things are not working. Remember a few years back when things were looking bad, he actually switched to a burn offense. That was a huge deal because Brey never makes big changes. And it worked—-for a couple games (well enough to get them in the tournament). The problem here is he did not make adjustments when it stopped working. What happened when they got to West Virginia in the Big East tournament, who was doing the same thing. They lost because they did not make the necessary adjustments.

    I actually think if Brey’s job security was a bit more questionable, he would be a better coach. Right now he knows there’s no chance he will be fired, so why leave his comfort zone. But that all changes if he felt his job could be on the line.

  2. AS a bball coach of 45 yrs I can tell you one of Brey’s problems is his failure to go more then 7 deep each year. Such limited numbers means there are few “options” to explore in changing up a teams “look” when it is just not happening in a particular game. eg This year if team is not hitting 40+% from 3pt line they have no inside presence when all they had was Cooley (clasic White Men Can’t Jump type) to score. How many times will he have ball shoved down his throat under bskt before he accepts he lacks the athleticism to go straight up and dunk hence the stuffs from opposing players. Martin was a liability as a small fwd and when guards could not dribble penetrate all of a sudden it was a case of use 25 secs and then jack up a 3 and no Seth Curry’s here to get job done consistently. Now he has been force to use Knight (for Martin) and Auguste and Presto he has a new look offense. Auguste with 25 minutes a game will get even more confident and start to show the ATHLETICISM inside the Irish have been crying out for and with Knight showing an ability to knock down a 15ft jumper that Cooley has not all of a sudden you have a “leaper and a shooter” in the 4-5 spots they did not have 2 wks ago. I would be also interested to se if Brooks as a driving guard with size could then be a kick out passer to shooters like Biedschied and Connaughton for open 3’s and I would be telling Connaughton that when he drives to the bskt to pull up for the 10footers in the key rather then going to the hoop and getting ball pushed back in his face all the time. Brey has been forced to make changes personnel wise due to Martin injury and losses and it has allowed him to DISCOVER an alternative look for the team he never would have found if Martin had kept playing. Sherman another liability due to his lack of athleticsm so I would start Auguste and Cooley with Knight spelling both of them so all would get close to 30 minutes a game I would have Brooks spelling both guards for size and Connaughton and Biedschied as his shooters not guards who are 30% from 3 at best type of guys. May not go more then 2 rounds in NCAA but at least would not continue to have games where they cannot get a FG in 8-9 minute stretches.

  3. I just don’t have much faith that Brey can take them far in the tournament. They will be good enough to get into the tournament (I’d say it’s even possible they might do well enough to draw a decent seed). But as usual they’ll lose in the 1st or 2nd round to an inferior team and the fans will have to root for next year, yet again. It’s just so frustrating. They have the talent to at least make it to the sweet 16 most years (even an ocassional elite 8 appearance now and again). They can beat teams like Syracuse, and on a good day, they could even play a good game against a Duke or Michigan. They’ll probably beat Syracuse and the fans will get excited, then they’ll go and lose by double digits to St Johns.

    Brey’s problem is he rarely makes adjustments. It’s ashame because he probably could be a great coach if he would just analyze and adjust based on personnel and their game play.

    1. Damian “They’ll probably beat Syracuse and the fans will get excited, then they’ll go and lose by double digits to St Johns” Couldn’t have said it better. Brey coached teams love to over-achieve and under-achieve all in the same year.

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