Notre Dame Basketball Report: Irish Move Up Despite Loss

Bonzie Colson and Steve Vasturia had strong weeks for the Irish once again. Photo: © Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports
Bonzie Colson and Steve Vasturia had strong weeks for the Irish once again. Photo: © Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

Even after suffering their first defeat of the year, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team managed to gain further credibility with both the AP voters and those that make up the Coaches Poll. After reaching the Top 25 for the first time last week at No. 22 and No. 23, respectively, both polls put the Irish at No. 21 on Monday.

Notre Dame Basketball Week in Review

A tough 74-68 loss on December 10 to the top-ranked Villanova Wildcats did the trick. In their only other game on the week, Notre Dame stopped Fort Wayne on December 6, avoiding an upset that had earlier befallen the Indiana Hoosiers.

The loss on Saturday came despite Villanova not gaining their first lead until only nine minutes remained. Until that point, the Irish had held the upper hand and appeared to be poised for a huge upset, despite the Wildcat-friendly crowd.

Had Notre Dame provided an answer for Villanova’s Jason Hart, a victory would have been assured. Unfortunately, Hart ended up with 37 on the afternoon, the lone Wildcat to reach double figures. Hart only missed four of his 14 field goal attempts, grabbed 11 rebounds and was able to get to the foul line 14 times, connecting on every shot.

The Fort Wayne contest got much closer than Mike Brey would have preferred, with the Irish watching their second half advantage of 27 points dwindle to just nine with three minutes left. The victory did give Notre Dame their best start since the 1973-74 season, when they began the season with 11 consecutive wins

Notre Dame Basketball Standouts of the Week

Bonzie Colson

Even though he didn’t again pick up conference Player of the Week accolades, the Irish still needed his steady production. Against Fort Wayne, he provided his sixth straight double-double with 17 points and 14 boards, while against the more formidable Wildcats, he managed 11 points and eight rebounds.

Matt Farrell

Farrell collected 30 points and 12 assists in his two performances, including 18 points in the Villanova game. In that contest, he added six assists to match his Fort Wayne effort and managed to connect at 62 percent from the field. However, he failed to get to the foul line for the first time since the Irish pounding of Bryant to start the season, a place where he hasn’t missed in 24 tries this year.

Steve Vasturia

Offering up the most productive point performances of the week, Vasturia tossed in 39 points in the two clashes, including a game-high 21 against Fort Wayne. Scoring production like that is something that Brey is hoping for in the weeks and months ahead.

The Lowdown on Letdowns

In each of last week’s games, the Notre Dame killer instinct ebbed during the second half. The issue was manageable against Fort Wayne, due to a large lead, but the inability to stop Villanova when it counted proved to be fatal. In the latter case, a Wildcat surge may have been inevitable, yet navigating through the ACC and any postseason run requires fixing the issue quickly.

Notre Dame’s Week Ahead

Just one game is on the schedule this week and that comes on Saturday when the Irish take on the 15th-ranked Purdue Boilermakers as part of the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The 2 p.m. matchup figures to be another stiff test as Notre Dame winds toward ACC action. However, the Irish confidence should be high, considering the stiff challenge they provided to Villanova.

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  1. I honestly believe this year’s squad has the makeup to reach the final four and seriously vie for the NC. They have excelled early in the season in very key areas of play: Assist to TO ratio; TO percentage; foul shooting; overall offensive efficiency and a thing that I like to call ‘knowing your role’.

    They are significantly further along than last year’s team and even more together as a unit than the Grant-Connaughton led team of two years ago. Their efficiency, maturity and bball intelligence to go along with above average athletism make them a dangerous unit for any team in the nation. In addition the toughness and confidence of their new floor leader, Farrell, gives them an edge that teams of the past have lacked. The unexpected rise of Farrell hasn’t completely captured the attention of writers and coaches and is the main reason the Irish are just now breaking into the top 25. They strike me as a legitimate top 10 team but the voters haven’t seen them enough to recognize how accomplished they already are. It’s only 10 games into the season and if they are at this point now, imagine if they stay healthy and continue to improve which has been the M.O. of the Mike Brey era.

    They have some work to do on the defensive end in both team D ( help and recover) and rebounding. They have shooters, defenders, scorers and leaders and a mentality that emphasizes team first.

    I saw them play live in Newark and it was probably better that they lost. There were lulls that afternoon and there have been lapses (I.e. Northwestern & IPFW) that might get more attention to remedy now that they have one in the lost column. They strike me as a team that is on a quest of excellence, determined to hone their craft Knowing that their strength and ultimate success is not going to be determined by how more physically gifted they are but by how well they play this beautiful game… and they, only 10 games in, already are well on their way to a masterpiece season.

  2. We played a great game for 30mins.My question is how does nova go to the free throw line 22 times & the irish only go to the line 6 times. That is the game right there.

  3. I agree. I think ND just ran out of gas against Villanova. Villanova is number 1 for a reason and they were able to wait out the Irish and wear them down.

    But they will have to work on that. Purdue will be another good test. A good team that ND should match well against. But if they have any hope of making it far in the tournament, they will have to keep up the pressure for the whole game. They could have a special year if they can do that. Otherwise they have a fundamentally sound team. 5 starters that can score in double digits, they are phenomenal at the free throw line, and they move the ball around a lot, keeping opposing defenses on edge. They are also good with the 3 point shots, and they continue to improve at defense in general (though specific players give them fits).

    I also saw the women remained at number 2. Unfortunately it looks like UConn is headed for another NC. ND is the only team out there I see that is anywhere near their level, and they fall short. Women’s basketball doesn’t get much respect already, and when you already can anoint the NC before conference play even starts it doesn’t help. Someone is going to have to take UConn down, but I think it’s safe to say UConn will win another NC this year.

    Go Irish!

    1. Former football captain and MLB Joe Schmidt told the story of him carrying his ND duffle bag aboard a plane after last season when a fellow passenger noticed it and told him, “ND’s got a really good BBall team.” Schmidt agreed.

      ND and Mike Brey has back-to-back final eight finishes and losing only one game this year, barely, to the #1 team, on Villanova’s home court. Throw in Muffet’s ongoing success, and ND is fast becoming known as a basketball-dominant school.

      Their football team- not so much, but that stadium renovation is really something and the NBC contract continues to flow dollars in. After all, what’s more important than that? And ND has won ten games or more twice already this decade, so there’s that.

      1. Lately it seems that way. I always thought they could be good at both, there’s no reason they can’t. Now, I don’t think they’re NC caliber on BBall. Unfortunately, the one and done schools do get the best BB players, players who have no intention of completing college and only thinking about the NBA. ND aren’t interested in those players. But ND is finally starting to take advantage of their experience so now they are at a place where they can compete with anyone. And that does help recruiting in the sense you can get some of the best players who plan on completing school.

        And every few years they might get a shot at a final 4. It’s still heartbreaking to think they were 1 play away 2 seasons ago from knocking of Kentucky. That was one year where I thought if they could knock of UK, they had a real shot at a NC.

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