Mazurek: Notre Dame not elite, but no need to panic
Marek Mazurek | Tuesday, January 31, 2017
If you’re a navigational system in a car, you recalculate.
If you’re a popular movie from the ’90s, you reboot.
If you’re Eminem, you “snap back to reality.”
And if you’re a Notre Dame basketball fan coming off an 84-74 home loss to No. 21 Duke, you need to re-evaluate the 2016-17 season.
For all of the nonconference schedule and the first nine ACC games, now-No. 20 Notre Dame was rolling. The Irish won their nonconference tournament, they slowly crept up the rankings and took the national media by storm when they opened conference play at 5-0. Whether it was because they needed something to believe in after a disappointing football season or something else, Irish fans seized on this team.
This was a team many Notre Dame fans hoped would challenge for a league title and a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament.
But after a third straight loss, Notre Dame’s dreams of hoisting the ACC regular season trophy are fading. The Irish have lost four of their last five, including their last two home games.
Simply put, Notre Dame is not an elite team.
Elite teams don’t lose two straight home games.
Elite teams make their free throws. Notre Dame shot 68 percent from the line Monday, which falls quite short of the near 90 percent it was shooting earlier in the year.
Elite teams make the tough shots late in games to pull out the victory. The Irish made those shots against Pittsburgh, Louisville and Clemson, but Duke’s Grayson Allen made them Monday night.
Elite teams don’t have off nights from their best players. But against the Blue Devils, senior guard Steve Vasturia went 1-for-9 and scored just two points in 35 minutes. Junior guard Matt Farrell also had a tough night, shooting just 3-for-9.
Elite teams find ways to get baskets when they hit slumps. The Irish did not make a field goal for nearly nine minutes in Monday’s game and forced up shots on deep 3’s or out of control drives for most of the first half.
So again, the Irish aren’t elite.
But that’s ok.
If you’re an Irish fan, take a step back. The view is still pretty good.
Mike Brey is still at the helm, and he’s led the team to two consecutive Elite Eights. Both of which came in years when the Irish weren’t even close to being ranked in the preseason. Both of which came in years when the Irish turned on the jets at exactly the right time during the big dance.
Moreover, both of those Elite Eight berths came in years when the Irish weren’t considered elite.
There’s a reason Brey and his players have constantly told the media they aren’t panicking: They’re not. And they shouldn’t.
Brey knows change is necessary and hinted at either sophomore guard Rex Pflueger or freshman guard T.J. Gibbs starting in place of junior forward Martinas Geben when Notre Dame takes on North Carolina on Saturday.
Monday night’s loss to Duke proved the Irish aren’t elite right now, but what matters is if they can be elite in March and April.
At 6-4 in conference play, Notre Dame currently sits in fifth place. That takes a lot of pressure off of Brey’s squad, as Notre Dame can go back to playing the underdog role it has so much experience with.
No one can predict what will happen in a turbulent and hyper-competitive ACC, but if history is any guide, a Mike Brey-coached team of veterans will be just fine.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.