Owens: Team needs a tournament win (March 22)
Andrew Owens | Friday, March 22, 2013
Once in a quarter-century.
That’s how many times a sometimes promising, often befuddling Irish program has reached the Sweet 16 in recent years. Even the successful (in the regular season, at least) tenure of Irish coach Mike Brey, which includes nine NCAA tournament bids in 13 seasons, has not yielded a coveted berth in the sport’s magic number in a decade.
So what gives? Why does a program peppered with tickets to the Big Dance consistently underperform against squads like Xavier, Old Dominion and Winthrop in the tournament?
In last year’s first-round frustration, a lane violation by guard Jerian Grant in the closing seconds with backcourt mate Eric Atkins on the free throw line eliminated any last gasp of a comeback attempt: a game in which the Irish squandered a 10-point, second-half lead that was almost as hard on the eyes as the adidas Shamrock Shake uniforms.
The year before, the No. 2 seed Irish put up back-to-back flat performances in tournament play as they survived against 15th-seeded Akron before they were ousted by Florida State two days later.
In 2010, the current seniors experienced their first NCAA tournament disappointment in the form of a 51-50 loss to Old Dominion after a late-season surge to reach the Big Dance.
This time around, the Irish will face a squad Brey compares to familiar foes Pittsburgh, Villanova and Marquette. The Cyclones feature nine players who notched double-digit minutes per game this season, and six of those players averaged at least nine points per contest.
They’re deep, balanced and are tremendous from beyond the arc, leading the nation in 3-pointers made. But the good news for Notre Dame is that Iowa State also leads Division I in three-point attempts. If the Cyclones start missing, they get frustrated and keep shooting, a scenario that would bode well for an Irish squad that prefers low-scoring contests.
If the Irish bow out in their opening contest again, it won’t be the only disappointment this year’s squad represents. With the exception of graduate student guard Scott Martin’s injury, the same nucleus has had the chance to jell for two seasons. For all the optimism last year’s surprise march to the tournament generated moving forward, this year’s version has removed the buzz as Notre Dame prepares to move to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
But an NCAA tournament victory can change that.
A win in Dayton, Ohio – or, if the stars align, two – this weekend would remove the gorilla from Brey’s back heading into the off-season.
Each contributor of the rotation Brey employs Friday will return next season with the exception of senior forward Jack Cooley. The program has signed four players for next year, including one of the nation’s top talents: Mishawaka’s Demetrius Jackson, the type of player Notre Dame will need in the ACC.
There’s plenty of reason to feel good about the direction of Irish hoops, but there’s still one dark thundercloud hovering above the program.
And it feels like it’s been there for a century.
Contact Andrew Owens at email@example.com
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the author.