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Men’s Basketball Commentary: Team fights, but can’t finish

Michael Bryan | Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mike Brey and the Irish squad were undoubtedly disappointed with their performance Monday, but their 84-71 loss to No. 5 Syracuse summed up the current identity of this Notre Dame team.

The Irish played relatively well throughout the game. They fought hard against an elite team that had clear advantages in talent, size and athleticism. But Notre Dame currently is dealing with some serious issues, and in order to beat the Orange everything would have to go right.

And it did not.

Notre Dame has several talented players. Luke Harangody, for all the criticisms of his shot selection this season, is averaging a career-high in field-goal percentage and is a surefire All-American. Even in the loss against a deep and towering Syracuse frontcourt, Harangody tallied 31 points and 14 rebounds.

Tim Abromaitis has also come out of nowhere to become a scoring weapon for the Irish, averaging 15.4 points per game before dropping 26 on the Orange. Tory Jackson is a fantastic senior leader, and dished out 15 spectacular assists.

The Irish, however, are a little short on scorers. Outside of Harangody and Abromaitis, Notre Dame shot just 4-for-25 from the floor. Ben Hansbrough has provided balance to the offense at times, but the consistent weapons needed to beat elite teams simply aren’t on the roster.

The lack of depth on the Irish squad is also proving deadly down the stretch of games. Harangody, Hansbrough, Abromaitis and Jackson all played more than 30 minutes against Syracuse, and it showed down the stretch.

Notre Dame has heart, and enough competitiveness and toughness to hang with elite teams. They had more offensive rebounds than an extremely aggressive and long Syracuse team, and at one point kept out-hustling the Orange so much it looked like Jim Boeheim’s head might explode.

But down the stretch the Irish are at a physical disadvantage, and it has allowed teams like the Orange and UConn to pull away late.

Even in the team’s best win of the year, an upset of West Virginia, Notre Dame came within a last-second miss of blowing a 20-point halftime lead while fading down the stretch.

The seven-man rotation simply can’t survive the grueling Big East schedule. Maybe Brey is playing so few players out of a lack of better options, but it seems like its time to give some younger players a chance at real minutes, if anything to at least save his exhausted players.

They can’t do much worse than the bench did Monday, scoring just two points in 33 minutes with two turnovers.

While positives can be taken from the loss to Syracuse, at the end of the game it looked very similar to the losses to Connecticut and Cincinnati, and may have exposed a crucial problem that can only grow worse as the season goes on.

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

Contact Michael Bryan at mbryan@nd.edu