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Men’s Basketball Commentary: Team experiencing a rebirth without star Harangody

Michael Bryan | Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This senior class has won more Big East games than any in Notre Dame history, but tonight’s showdown with Connecticut might be the biggest of their careers.

A week ago, this Irish team looked dead. Luke Harangody, their All-American, All-Everything forward and leader, was out far longer than anyone expected with a bone bruise. While the Irish showed their resiliency and mettle in a double-overtime loss at Louisville, the bad defeats to Rutgers, St. John’s and Loyola Marymount looked to doom Mike Brey’s squad to a second straight NIT appearance.

Then everything clicked. The Irish made every open shot and locked down Pittsburgh’s offense in a blowout at Purcell Pavilion. Even more improbably, Notre Dame marched into the Verizon Center and shocked Georgetown by 14 points three days later.

And in one stunning week, without their future NBA draft pick, the Irish firmly placed themselves back on the ubiquitous NCAA Tournament bubble. They’ve fought their way back in the conversation, but cementing that status starts with a win tonight.

Without their star player, the Irish have played an incredible and unselfish brand of basketball. Young players have stepped up to fill the void left by Harangody, and more experienced players like Tory Jackson and Ben Hansbrough have stepped up their scoring and leadership.

The future without Harangody also suddenly looks brighter, as returning big men like Tyrone Nash, Carleton Scott, Jack Cooley and Mike Broghammer have stepped up for big minutes. Scott had the best game of his career against the Hoyas on Saturday, stealing offensive rebounds from Georgetown players and throwing down big dunks.
Cooley, who probably has been asked for autographs by people who might think he actually is Harangody, has resembled the big man not just with his appearance but with his play. Cooley played hard-nosed defense on Georgetown 7-footer Greg Monroe, scored four clutch points and grabbed three rebounds.

All of these players will have to continue to step up the final two games of the regular season and for the Big East tournament. The group has opened up the offense and buckled down defensively against top opponents, but if they drop games to the Huskies and Marquette next week, they’ll be competing for a consolation prize instead of a championship.

The game tonight is close to an elimination game for both teams. Connecticut is more experienced, more talented and more athletic, yet if the Irish continue to play with the intensity and heart of the past two games, they should pull it out. Either way, one team tonight will leave Purcell Pavilion one step closer to the NCAA Tournament, and the other one step closer to hosting round one of the NIT.