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Prister: One great game does not a season make (Jan. 23)

Eric Prister | Sunday, January 22, 2012

It was never in any doubt, but it was always in doubt.

When Notre Dame started the game on an 11-2 run over Syracuse, the game was in doubt.

When the Irish took a 35-23 lead into halftime and had dominated Syracuse in every aspect of the game, there was doubt.

Even as Notre Dame clung to a nine-point lead with 65 seconds remaining in the game, doubt held on as well.

Saturday’s 67-58 win over No. 1 Syracuse, Notre Dame’s first win over a top-ranked opponent since 1987, was a great win. But it was not a team-defining win.

The Irish shot 50 percent from three-point range against Syracuse, 17 percent higher than their season average.

They have, on average, been outrebounded this season, but had 13 more rebounds than the No. 1 team in the country.

The win over Syracuse was a great memory for the seniors, both on the team and off. It was exciting for the fans who rushed the court, and it gave Notre Dame a featured place on SportsCenter. But does it mean the Irish will win the rest of their games? Absolutely not.

Irish coach Mike Brey made smart moves, starting freshman guard Pat Connaughton and preparing his team to break Syracuse’s press. But does it mean the Irish are good enough to beat any team on any given night?

Of course not.

Notre Dame had one chance to beat Syracuse last night — every bounce had to go its way. And on this particular Saturday night, every bounce did.

Even at their worst, when sophomore guard Jerian Grant’s inbounds pass hit off the rim and in, scoring a basket for Syracuse, fortunes quickly turned back in favor of the Irish. Junior forward Jack Cooley took a fast break pass and threw down a two-handed dunk that landed him on SportsCenter’s top plays.

When Notre Dame was about to be called for a shot-clock violation, it drew a foul. Missed shots were goaltended and scores from Syracuse were called off for offensive fouls. Every break fell Notre Dame’s way, and that is why they were able to knock off such an impressive foe.

The win over Syracuse is good for Notre Dame’s resume moving forward, and if they end up 9-9 in the conference it could propel the team into the NCAA tournament. But anyone who thinks this victory means Notre Dame is a good basketball team is way off base.

The Irish can win at home, and on some nights they can beat good teams. They utilize the burn quite well, which is a testament to how well Brey gets the most out of his players in down years. And the team certainly shows signs of promise for the future. But a win over Syracuse does not mean this will be a successful year.

The Irish have a long way to go. They are not a good shooting team, despite their performance against Syracuse. They have improved on defense, but good offensive teams will get to them eventually. And worst of all, their scoring options are limited, which was painfully obvious in their loss to Connecticut.

It was a great night, but it was not a defining night. Notre Dame is on the right track, but it is certainly not there yet. The Irish show signs of future success, but are not ready to make a run in the Big East, let alone in the NCAA tournament.

The win over Syracuse will help the Irish earn a bid in March, but they still have a long way to go.

Saturday’s game is a good representative of this season as a whole — always in doubt.

 

Contact Eric Prister at eprister@nd.edu

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