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Men’s Basketball: Team has keys for sucess in postseason

Fran Tolan | Monday, February 25, 2008

Notre Dame is a very dangerous team.

Now, the term dangerous is used pretty loosely this time of year to describe potential NCAA Tournament teams. But there are several traits that make a squad an obvious candidate to do damage in its bracket.

Strong 3-point shooting, rebounding and foul shooting are the most significant factors that make the Irish a dark horse Final Four contender.

On Sunday against Syracuse, Notre Dame displayed its penchant for the 3-ball, hitting 14-of-25 from beyond the arc.

As Irish guard Kyle McAlarney hit 9-of-11 from deep, Jim Boeheim could not help but be reminded of former Orange guard Gerry McNamara, whose shooting lifted his teams to countless Tournament wins.

But the comparison between McAlarney and McNamara was an unsatisfactory one in Boeheim’s eyes.

“He shot better than Gerry,” Boeheim said of McAlarney.

If McAlarney catches fire like he did against the Orange, the Irish are capable of winning any game in March.

Despite being physically dominated by a very athletic Syracuse team, the Irish came out on top because of their dead-eye shooting. The team shot almost 55 percent from the floor and made 22-of-33 foul shots. Notre Dame’s 74 percent free-throw shooting percentage leads the Big East. Points from the foul line have helped the Irish finish off many opponents and that will be an important factor in the post-season.

And even though Syracuse out-muscled the Irish on the boards, they have the best rebounding margin among Big East squads.

If the Irish can shoot like they did Sunday and rebound like they have throughout the season, they will be one of the most dangerous teams in the Tournament. Considering all of its weapons, there does not seem to be much of a ceiling on what Notre Dame can accomplish.

“There’s no limit,” Irish forward Luke Harangody said. “… I think everyone’s real excited with where we’re at right now.”

The Irish are getting major production from players once thought of as minor contributors, leaving the squad with the depth and personnel to compete with the nation’s best teams. Five players scored at least 10 points against Syracuse and reserves Ryan Ayers, Jonathan Peoples and Luke Zeller all played key minutes.

Ayers’ confidence level appears to triple every game, as was evident in his monstrous two-handed dunk Sunday. After getting a steal near half-court, the Ryan Ayers of two months ago might have pulled the ball back to wait for his teammates.

Not any more. Instead, Ayers said he knew he wanted to dunk it as soon as he gained possession.

With such depth, the Irish will not be derailed by foul trouble. When starting point guard Tory Jackson was forced to sit after picking up a few early fouls Sunday, Peoples stepped in and dropped seven first-half points.

Notre Dame’s top eight players can hold their own against any rotation in the country. And if the Irish get hot (correction – stay hot), they will do more than simply hold their own.

For early-round NCAA opponents, that could be dangerous.

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

Contact Fran Tolan at [email protected]