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Men’s Basketball: Irish failed to show up for big game

Pat Leonard | Thursday, March 9, 2006

NEW YORK – Apparently getting to the Big East tournament was enough.

Notre Dame showed no urgency, made no adjustments and had no chance against Georgetown in the first round Wednesday. And for a team that was in the Sweet 16 four years ago, laying down in New York is just unacceptable.

Of course, reaching this point was a success. The Irish did what most thought they could not – fight through a string of heartbreaking losses to win late and accomplish their preseason goal of playing at the Garden.

But Notre Dame should be embarrassed. At no point past an 11-0 run to open the game did this team appear on par with its opponent. It was worse than the team’s flat performance in the 80-72 loss to Marquette Feb. 25.

The score doesn’t show it. It hasn’t all season. But maybe getting to this national stage backfired against Notre Dame somewhat. Now, critics can question if the Irish even belonged here.

Irish coach Mike Brey made no secret at the beginning of the season that his team was young and inexperienced and that it would struggle. He was realistic. But up to this point, Brey also was able to portray his team as being good enough through the season, just not getting the breaks. The Irish used their small margins of defeat against Big East teams to their advantage (i.e. “See who we can play with?”).

But on Wednesday, everyone in America had a chance to see how it’s possible to play bad basketball and only lose by four.

Notre Dame couldn’t guard anybody.

That’s been their problem all year. That’s why Georgetown guard Brandon Bowman scored a season-high 25 points. But the Irish always manage to stay close. Why?

Because they can shoot, and when they’re not making shots, they keep shooting until they do.

That’s a talent few teams have – the ability to come back from any size deficit at any point in the game and to do it quickly (i.e. Notre Dame’s 75-74 loss to Connecticut Feb. 21). But that only makes Notre Dame a dangerous team. That doesn’t make them a good one.

The Irish do deserve credit for their offensive proficiency and for fighting in every game, regardless of how much they are down.

But what in the name of the Dallas Mavericks does it matter that you can make shots when you can’t play defense? Do you see any rings on Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki’s fingers?

When Notre Dame played its 2-3 zone Wednesday and Georgetown passed the ball to the foul line, the center Irish defender – either Torin Francis, Rick Cornett or Luke Zeller – took his first step back.

The idea there must be to have the guards up top (Chris Quinn and Colin Falls) force the ball back out while the big man guards the baseline. Still, while that strategy limits Hoyas center Roy Hibbert to four points, it also allows Bowman to go off and steal the game at the end.

A few times, the Georgetown senior caught the ball at the foul line – his hot spot for the game – turned and hesitated with no defender in front of him. Hoyas fans were yelling “Shoot it! Shoot it!” but Bowman passed the ball out on those occasions, because Georgetown’s coaches teach players not to shoot early in the shot clock.

Bowman, the Hoyas’ best offensive player, probably never sees looks that open – or that early – so he understandably looked confused.

That stands in stark contrast to the faces of Notre Dame’s coaches and players following the game. They weren’t confused. They weren’t surprised or shocked.

Because when your defense gives up that many open shots and allows that many second-chance opportunities, your team can’t win. And the Irish – though they have smart coaches and players who know that – simply couldn’t do anything about it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Pat Leonard at pleonard@nd.edu