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Men’s Basketball Commentary: Big men step up on defense

Chris Hine | Friday, February 16, 2007

Something had to change in the second half of Notre Dame’s game against Providence if the Irish wanted to avoid slipping down the Big East standings. Something had to change if the Irish wanted to increase their chance of receiving their first NCAA Tournament bid in five years.

That something was post defense.

Throughout Big East play this year, Notre Dame has had trouble keeping opponents’ big men from scoring inside and grabbing rebounds. In their losses against Villanova, St. John’s, DePaul and South Florida, the Irish lost the battle on the boards and gave up high percentage shots to opposing post players.

The story was the same for the first half Thursday night.

Providence big men Herbert Hill and Jonathan Kale combined for 25 points and the Friars entered the locker room with a four-point lead.

Then something changed. The Irish tightened their inside defense in the second half.

Hill and Kale netted only 10 points in the second stanza and Notre Dame was able to win the rebound battle. What was the difference? A couple of feet.

“I think we did a better job of pushing Hill and Kale off the post so the post move was coming about four feet deeper,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “The jump hook was outside the paint instead of inside like the first half. That was the key.”

A couple of feet means the difference between a lay-up and a tricky seven-foot jump shot. By keeping Hill and Kale away from the basket, the Irish were able to affect their rhythm and force some missed shots.

Thanks to Notre Dame’s post defense, nobody from Providence was in the paint to collect the rebounds off these missed shots. The Irish were able to cut down on Providence’s second chance opportunities – something they had trouble doing earlier this season – and get their transition game going off the defensive glass.

“Once we tightened the defense, we were able to get out and run a little bit more, pass and cut, and make plays,” Irish forward Zach Hillesland said.

This allowed Notre Dame to build a lead and earn the victory.

The Irish play DePaul again Tuesday night and if they hope to advance deep into March, post defense is going to be the difference. Odds are they will run into one of these teams again at the Big East tournament, not to mention a possible Big Dance matchup against Ohio State, Texas or North Carolina.

It’s no coincidence that the Irish scored under 70 points in their last three losses. Notre Dame’s offense works best when it can push the ball up the floor and score before the opponent is set (see: Syracuse, Alabama). If opposing offenses can work the ball inside and earn layups or trips to the free throw line, they can slow the pace of the game down and force the Irish to face set defenses.

Notre Dame’s season does not rest on Colin Falls’ and Russell Carter’s shooting touch. Falls scored 26 in the loss at South Florida while Carter scored 32 against St. John’s. Falls and Carter are the type of players that will get their points, so long as they are healthy. The season does not rest on Tory Jackson’s shoulders. The freshman point guard has done an outstanding job defensively all year, while his offensive game matures with each outing.

The post defense of Luke Harangody, Zach Hillesland and Rob Kurz can make or break the Irish in the coming weeks.

All it takes is a couple of feet.

Contact Chris Hine at chine@nd.edu

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