Monaco: Irish still have more to prove
Mike Monaco | Thursday, March 19, 2015
Underneath the sliced-up nets still hanging around the necks of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton and knotted along the back of Bonzie Colson’s championship hat.
Underneath the Purcell Pavilion rafters from which an ACC championship banner will soon hang.
Underneath the still-lingering giddiness from a weekend’s triumph in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Lurking somewhere beneath the confidence Notre Dame showed — deservedly — after spinning the color wheel in ACC country from baby blue and royal blue to mustard over the weekend, the Irish know the reality that’s still there.
An ACC championship is undoubtedly a major accomplishment for Notre Dame, one of the best in the 110-year history of the program. But there’s still the ever-present sentiment the Irish need to do something, anything, in the NCAA tournament. And whether or not they explicitly showed that understanding beneath the post-celebration confidence, it’s there. They know.
Notre Dame hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2003, when Colson was in first grade and Mike Brey was still sporting mock turtlenecks. The Irish fell to No. 1 seed Arizona, a Lute Olson-coached squad that featured Luke Walton, Channing Frye and Andre Iguodala, among others. After the loss, Brey told reporters in Anaheim, California, that Notre Dame had a very good year and the program went to “new territory.”
The Irish haven’t returned.
Heck, Notre Dame hasn’t even won an NCAA tournament game since 2011, when the second-seeded Irish topped Akron in the first round before falling in a 14-point loss to Florida State. No current Irish player has been part of an NCAA tournament victory.
When asked if those recent NCAA tournament failures weigh on him, Brey was blunt.
Still, Notre Dame can talk all about its one-game-at-a-time mentality and winning its two games in “the Pittsburgh tournament,” but it’s there.
The Irish know the negative perception about their postseason performance.
“The program hasn’t done much in March before,” Grant said. “Obviously we’re going to keep getting that until we do something.”
Ask Grant about his goals, and he doesn’t shy away.
“We still want to rewrite history here at Notre Dame,” he said. “We have done something so far, but just to be able to go to the Sweet 16, the Elite Eight, to get a chance to play against Kentucky and do something special there, it would mean a lot.”
Ask Auguste about the NCAA struggles, and he admits it’s a Notre Dame tendency that serves as an “ugly reminder” that’s always on his “back shoulder.”
Connaughton is quick to point out this is a different Notre Dame team. Borne out of a losing season and a first-round loss to Wake Forest in last year’s ACC tournament and cultivated during a preseason trip to Italy, this Irish squad has developed its own identity.
There’s no better indicator of that than the ACC hardware Notre Dame nearly left behind in the Greensboro Coliseum. And it’s that very trophy that crystallizes Brey’s bubbling confidence.
No other Notre Dame team has earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. No other Notre Dame team has won this many games (29) in the modern era.
No other Notre Dame team has made Brey so confident heading into the NCAA tournament.
The Irish have reeled off a remarkable season, one fully deserving of celebration and praise. This team, like Connaughton says, is different.
That’s fair. But the name across the chest hasn’t changed.
Will the tournament results?
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.