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Men’s Basketball Commentary: Harangody needs help from K-Mac

Fran Tolan | Friday, February 8, 2008

I have heard many times that Notre Dame will go as far as Luke Harangody will take it this season. That statement pins the team’s fate on the wrong player.

Generally, the Irish go as Kyle McAlarney goes.

Harangody has been good for a 25-and-10 stat line virtually every game. But McAlarney’s numbers have fluctuated and are usually a good indication of whether the Irish win.

Look at Notre Dame’s biggest victories of the season. McAlarney hit the game-winning shot against Kansas State on Dec. 4 at Madison Square Garden. The junior poured in 32 as the Irish topped Connecticut early in the Big East season. He also garnered player of the week honors after scoring 30 when the Irish beat Villanova on Jan. 26.

McAlarney’s effectiveness in the four Irish losses provides us with just as much evidence of how his play affects the team’s fate. In Notre Dame’s two losses at the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam, McAlarney mustered respective point totals of only three and seven. To be sure, those early-season performances are excusable for McAlarney, who was possibly still rusty in some of his first games back from his suspension last season.

But McAlarney also struggled in blowout losses to Marquette and Georgetown.

Against Marquette, Harangody notched 29 points but had little help, partly because McAlarney was held to eight points by Golden Eagles guard Jerel McNeal.

In the loss to Georgetown, Harangody had a rare poor showing. But even if the big man had played well, the Irish would not have been able to compete – McAlarney managed only 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting.

You get the idea. The Irish can beat top-flight teams but only if their starting shooting guard brings his A-game.

The flow of Notre Dame’s win over Providence last Thursday illustrates the team’s need for production from the New York native.

McAlarney nailed two 3-pointers in the first six minutes of play as the Irish jumped out to a 21-9 lead. But he barely touched the ball for the remainder of the first half, and the Friars took the lead for much of the period.

It wasn’t until the Irish scored baskets on their final two possessions of the half that they regained the lead. Harangody drilled a jumper and Tory Jackson made a layup as the Irish took a 32-31 margin into the locker room. Guess who had his first two assists of the game on that pair of buckets. That’s right: McAlarney.

And while the Irish went on to beat Providence in overtime with a limited contribution from McAlarney, Providence is not Marquette or Georgetown. In order for Notre Dame to beat the best teams in the Big East, the junior needs to step up and play at his top, elite level.

Call it the Allen Iverson Corollary. Carmelo Anthony will give the Denver Nuggets 20 points almost every game. But if Iverson shoots 6-of-22 from the field, the Nuggets are hard-pressed to beat any of the best squads in the NBA.

The same is true of Notre Dame; they need both Harangody and McAlarney to shine. Harangody is likely to come up big much more often than not. But the real question for the Irish is whether McAlarney can consistently outplay top defenders. His next test will arrive Saturday when McNeal and his teammates come to town.

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

Contact Fran Tolan at ftolan@nd.edu.