The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Team gets beat on the boards

Chris Hine | Friday, February 20, 2009

Early in the second half of Notre Dame’s 79-68 loss to West Virginia Wednesday, Mountaineers guard Darryl Bryant missed a 3-pointer.

It seemed like a good defensive stop for Notre Dame until West Virginia grabbed the offensive rebound. And then another. And then another. And then another.

On West Virginia’s fifth shot of the possession, Mountaineers forward Da’Sean Butler finally put Notre Dame (14-11, 5-8 Big East) out of its misery by hitting a jumper in the lane. Most teams struggle when they allow second-chance points, it’s no surprise a team that allows fifth-chance points would lose.

In many ways, that possession could end up being a metaphor for Notre Dame’s season. Despite many chances to get its season back on track, Notre Dame keeps letting them slip away and is in grave danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three seasons.

Saturday’s game at Providence (16-10, 8-6) represents one of Notre Dame’s final chance to keep its Tournament hopes alive and prevent the metaphor from being complete for now.

A win over the Friars would keep a 9-9 conference record a realistic goal for Notre Dame’s Big East slate. On the rest of their schedule, the Irish have four home games, the most challenging coming against No. 14 Villanova on March 2. After Providence, Notre Dame has one road game left on its schedule when it travels to No. 1 Connecticut on Feb. 28. That’s a good thing for Notre Dame, who has been abysmal on the road this season. The Irish have a grand total of two road wins this season – against 2-25 Loyola Marymount and 8-18 DePaul – hardly wins they can brag about.

Assuming a loss at Connecticut, Notre Dame could get in the NCAA Tournament with a .500 Big East record. Last season, both Syracuse and Villanova finished 9-9 in conference play and faced each other in the first round of the Big East tournament. In a virtual play-in game for the Big Dance, the Wildcats won, and played on in March, while Syracuse was relegated to the NIT for the second straight season.

But this scenario would likely require Notre Dame to overcome its road woes and beat the Friars Saturday.

Providence, who sits in sixth place has done what Notre Dame has failed to do this season – beat the middle of the pack teams in the Big East. Its biggest win came against Syracuse, and it has a record of 8-2 against teams below it in the standings. Providence returns many players from last season, when it took Notre Dame into overtime at the Joyce Center before falling 81-74. Guard Weyinmi Efejuku, who averages, 13.7 points per game, is its leading scorer. But if Notre Dame wants to remedy its rebounding problems from Wednesday, when West Virginia out-hustled Notre Dame to a 44-32 victory on the boards, it will likely have to keep a body on Geoff McDermott, who’s averaging eight points and 8.88 rebounds per game this season. In Notre Dame’s win last season over Providence, McDermott nearly had a triple-double, scoring 10 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out eight assists.

Even with Notre Dame’s numbers, forward Luke Harangody continues to put up player of the year numbers, averaging 24.4 points per game and 12.7 rebounds. But down the stretch Wednesday, the rest of Notre Dame’s offense disappeared. Notre Dame had 28 points in the second half against West Virginia – Harangody had 16 of them.

Notre Dame will also need to play the defense that it played in home wins over Louisville and South Florida last week, when it allowed just 57 points in each contest. But a requirement for good defense is good rebounding, something that Notre Dame needs to improve for Saturday, or it could end up disappointed on selection Sunday.

The game will start at 12 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN Full Court.

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

Contact Chris Hine at [email protected].