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Full-strength Irish prepare for midweek matchup against Boston University

Following their first loss of the season at the hands of St. Bonaventure, Notre Dame men’s basketball responded by defeating No. 20 Michigan State by nearly 20 points. After narrowly falling against Syracuse on Saturday, 62-61, the Irish will hope to bounce back in a similar way as they host Boston University on Wednesday night.

For most of Saturday’s game, it appeared that Notre Dame (6-2, 0-1 ACC) would enter this week on a two-game winning streak. The Irish offense picked up where it left off after the win against Michigan State and posted one of its best halves of shooting all season in the first period. Graduate student guards Dane Goodwin and Cormac Ryan each made three three-pointers in the first half alone. However, Notre Dame’s inability to stop Syracuse in the paint allowed the Orange to weather the Irish’s perimeter shooting storm and stay in the game. When the Irish offense was slowed to a halt by Syracuse’s second-half defensive adjustments, the Orange were able to escape with a one-point victory.

Moving forward, interior defense will likely be a point of emphasis for Notre Dame, especially against a team like Boston University (5-4, 2-2 Patriot) who does not play with much size, but gets strong rebounding production from its guards. The Terriers began the season 4-1 but followed their strong start with three consecutive losses. After bouncing back in a comprehensive road victory against Merrimack on Friday, they will look to carry momentum into South Bend. Their strength lies on the defensive end, where they have allowed on average just 65 points per game this season. Notre Dame, who has executed well on offense, will need a performance similar to that of the first half against Syracuse rather than the second, which saw them struggle to find the hoop.

Offensively, the Terriers scored over 90 points in back-to-back blowout victories early in the season but have since come back down to earth. They have not scored more than 70 points in any of their last five games. Breaking 70 points, which Notre Dame has done on a relatively consistent basis this season, will likely be enough to propel them to a victory. The Terriers have been one of the least efficient three-point shooting teams in the nation at just 31%, which will allow the Irish to put extra attention on protecting the paint.

Notre Dame entered the game against Syracuse with their roster finally at full strength after graduate student guard Marcus Hammond’s return from injury. Hammond finished the game with six points and three assists and converted a three-point play in the game’s final minute that would have been the game-winner if not for Syracuse’s score on the ensuing possession. After participating fully in practice since that game, he will likely be more comfortable and assertive offensively on Wednesday. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey spoke after the Syracuse game about how Hammond will benefit from additional practice time, as well as his potential to boost a thin Irish rotation by contributing off the bench along with freshman forward Ven-Allen Lubin.

“For me, it was kind of new territory because, ‘Wow, I have two subs always,’” Brey said. “He and Ven off the bench are fabulous. We have a chance to get him in shape now with some practice reps.”

The emergence of Lubin over the last several games has been a crucial development for the Irish. The freshman has scored in double figures in three of their last four games and brings strong post play to a Notre Dame offense that does most of its work on the perimeter. Against an undersized Boston University team, the Irish will look to Lubin and senior forward Nate Laszewski to carry a heavy load offensively. Laszewski, Notre Dame’s leading scorer, was quiet against Syracuse, scoring just two points on 1-6 shooting. However, he still managed to impact the game in other ways and will look to get back on track offensively while providing the same effort and intensity that he had on Saturday.

“It was a rough game,” Brey said about Laszewski. “I felt for him because he just couldn’t find it, yet the guy always defends and he’s rebounding and he’s putting his chest on dudes and trying to help us win.”

Notre Dame shot 8-18 on three-pointers in the first half against Syracuse and just 3-15 in the second, which highlighted a significant difference in shot quality. In the game’s early stages, the Irish frequently got the ball into the paint and found kick-out opportunities for open shooters. In the second half, Syracuse made it difficult for Notre Dame to utilize the high post, and the Irish often passed the ball around the perimeter until having to force a contested shot in the final seconds of the shot clock.

Finding ways for players like Laszewski, Lubin and Goodwin to get post touches will open things up for Notre Dame’s elite perimeter shooters and provide chances to get to the free throw line. It will be difficult for the Irish to win games while attempting just five free throws like they did against Syracuse, and they will look to be more aggressive on Wednesday.

Notre Dame has already shown the ability to respond to a tough loss and will have the opportunity to do so again on Wednesday.

The Irish will host Boston University at Purcell Pavilion at 7:00 p.m. EST on ACCNX.

Contact Matthew Crow at mcrow@nd.edu.

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Cross country teams prepared for regionals, seek spot in national meet

The Notre Dame men’s and women’s cross country teams will look to secure a place in the national meet this Friday when they compete at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Head coach Matt Sparks acknowledged that his team understands the high stakes of this meet. He also said the coaches have tried to decrease the amount of pressure on the athletes by treating preparation for this meet like any other.

“One of the themes of the way we coach our sport is to just continue to repeat the process. We don’t build up, and we don’t treat any meet as especially bigger than the one before it,” Sparks said. “The kids know enough about each meet and where they stand and what they need to do. So we as coaches don’t put that extra pressure and anxiety into it for them.”

Sparks is pleased with how both teams have looked in practice over the last couple of weeks.

“We’ve had a great two weeks of practice. Things seem to be falling together at the right time for both genders,” Sparks said.

The men’s team struggled a bit at the ACC Conference Championships a couple of weeks ago. Despite being the favorties to win, the Irish finished fourth as a team.

Despite the disappointing race, Sparks was not concerned about the performance, but he suggested that he tweaked some things to make sure the men’s team was fresh for Friday.

“The men had a little bit of a rougher conference meet than the women did,” Sparks said. “So we adjusted some things over the last couple of weeks to freshen some people up and get them more ready to go.”

Sparks hopes that the men’s team can have a faster start Friday as they try to rebound from ACCs.

“Getting off to a great start, I think it’s a key in any athletic endeavor to give yourself a chance to be successful,” Sparks said. “If you have some rough patches early in the competition, it’s sometimes hard to recover from those. That’s a little bit what the men’s team has struggled with getting a little bit lost early in the race. They were able to rally at the Joe Piane and the Nuttycombe meet to finish well. At the ACC meet, they just couldn’t pull it together the last half of the race.”

Sparks discussed the emergence of sophomore Carter Solomon, who placed first at the ACC Championships a couple of weeks ago, as a leader for the men’s team. Solomon was an elite runner in high school. And Sparks is ecstatic to see Solomon leading the team after two years under his belt in college.

“He quickly asserted himself about a month into the season and recognized that somebody needed to take the reins and be a leader,” Sparks said. “He’s been a great leader on the course, but also in the locker room. He’s vocal, and he’s well respected by everybody. It’s neat to see that maturation process for him to go from where he was as an elite high school kid, but it’s taken two years for him to recognize that it is his turn now to be the leader.”

On the women’s side, Sparks is excited to see his team compete after impressively finishing second at the ACC Championships. The Irish finished only a couple of points back from top-ranked and defending national champions North Carolina State.

“The women have been especially healthy and had a great conference meet,” Sparks said. “NC State is number one in the country, and we gave them a good run for their money. That was exciting and gave everybody a lot of confidence for what the next two weeks should entail, that we are starting to see ourselves with those truly elite programs in the country.”

Sparks said he thought the women benefited from a smaller field size at the ACC Championships, which allowed them to get out fast and have a good race.

“The last month, we’ve been racing competitions that had 25 teams in the race. It just gets very crowded, and it’s a challenge and you become lost in the crowd sometimes. The athletes were able to see their way to the front of the race [at ACCs]. We were out especially well, got up front, and felt very confident and rode that wave of confidence throughout the race,” Sparks said.

The top two teams at regionals automatically qualify for the national meet, with other teams qualifying via an at-large berth. The men’s team are the second-ranked team in the region and the women’s team the top-ranked. Sparks is hoping both can earn an automatic bid to the national meet.

“Our goal is to earn one of those two automatic berths,” Sparks said. “Last year we won both races, which would be a nice thing to repeat, but at the end of the day, all we need to do is finish in the top two to automatically qualify.”

With both team’s recent success in the meet, the Irish could have a target on their backs come Friday. Sparks emphasized the importance of taking care of business and each team running their own race.

“We just need to keep repeating the process and doing what we have always done,” Sparks said. “We control our own race, and that’s the theme we’ve talked about over the last couple of weeks. We need to do what we can do and not worry about what the other team might do. We might be the favorites coming into it. I feel like that makes things a little more exciting, in that we just need to take care of business and be the best version of ourselves on the day.”

The women’s 6K race will begin at 10 a.m. EST, followed by the men’s 10K race at 11 a.m. EST.

Contact Nate Moller at nmoller2@nd.edu.

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Sports

Herko: The era of superconferences

On June 30, college football fans thought the biggest announcement of the day was Notre Dame Head Coach Marcus Freeman telling Irish fans to wear green against the September 17th game against Cal. They were wrong.

Later that night, news broke that would change not only the distribution of power in the Power 5 Conferences but college sports as we know them. But what exactly are the ramifications and lingering questions around UCLA and USC’s decision to leave the Pac-12 and join the Big 10?

What does this mean for the Power 5 Conferences?

With Oklahoma and Texas leaving the Big 12 for the SEC last year, and the sudden lack of Pac-12 teams in Los Angeles, the Power 5 is now the Superpower 2. Both abandoned conferences are without any real star programs and without any teams that someone could seriously consider for a national championship.

The ACC is a little different. They still have Clemson, UNC and Pitt, but no one who has been both historically and currently exceptional. The good news for them is that all of their schools are tied up in a deal with ESPN that runs until 2036. The bad news is that they are
playing catch-up. Before the recent migrations, the ACC could at least have Clemson win a ton of games, bring in revenue and everyone else would do okay.

However, the Big 10 and SEC are positioning themselves to be the only relevant conferences. In the long run, this will be really bad for the ACC, especially if they cannot convince a few major programs to join. And since they cannot compete with the financial incentives of the other two conferences, their significant schools will leave at the end of their contract, if not sooner because of a talent drain to schools with more funding.

What does this mean for independents, specifically Notre Dame?

Obviously, there are other schools that are independent besides the Irish, but they’re the only program that everyone really, really wants. For the ACC, Notre Dame is its only shot at survival. For the Big 10 and SEC, it’s the best program that’s potentially up for grabs. Basically,
whoever wins this battle wins the war.

Here’s the problem: Notre Dame prefers to be independent. Not only does the NBC deal actively prevent them from joining a conference (which expires in 2025), but the Irish like being on their own.

Here’s the bigger problem: Notre Dame prefers winning championships even more. If the two Super Conferences eventually take over college football, this means that they will also be in
control of the college football playoffs. Thus, making it almost impossible to be considered for a spot without having an advocate at the table.

If the Irish did decide to pick a side, they would be greatly compensated for it. Big 10 schools, for example, are expected to make between $80-$100 million next year. And if the Irish did join a conference, the Big 10 is the most likely landing spot.

Not only does the hockey program already compete in the Big 10, but it is a better values match for Notre Dame. All of the schools in the Big 10 are AAU (Association of American Universities) members, which pride themselves on strong academics and research. Notre Dame also has extreme rivalries with Big 10 schools that college football fans would want to protect.

Unless the SEC let Notre Dame pick their price, there really isn’t any match or connection between the two. Other independent schools just don’t have the market of Notre Dame and are going to really struggle to not be left behind in the reshuffle.

Ok so you’re the Big 10 or SEC, what now?

Before the Notre Dame question even gets answered, each conference has to decide how many is enough. Both conferences are sitting pretty with 16 teams in or on their way. When do they stop? At 24? 30? What is the right number of programs that maximizes profits while also
minimizing the power of the other?

Well, that really depends on where you want to expand to. The Big 10 now controls the three largest markets in the United States: Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. (Oh, that’s why Rutgers is important.) The SEC controls the South, which may be less lucrative, but is way more passionate about football than other parts of the country. So what else is left? Philly is already controlled by the Big 10. They could look to Dallas, but TCU isn’t all that exciting. And finally San Francisco, for Stanford and Cal, but the Bay Area isn’t a great football market. And if those schools go anywhere they’d probably follow USC and UCLA because the University of California Trustees want Cal and UCLA to stay together.

That’s not a very friendly market for the SEC. Especially if other Pac-12 schools, like Washington and Oregon, want to follow Southern California to the Big 10 to preserve rivalries. Therefore, the SEC is probably looking to keep control of the South by going after schools like Missouri and Oklahoma State, or poaching from the ACC.

The poaching could be particularly difficult for the SEC because many of the ACC schools would probably be more interested in the Big 10 because of the AAU membership as well as higher academic standards that fall more closely in line with their universities’ standards.

What does this mean for smaller schools and non-football programs?

As much as both the SEC and Big 10 want to expand, they will eventually reach a limit. As they decide who they want to invite, they will really only be considering football and basketball, even though it will most definitely impact every sport. This could spell disaster for programs that relied on funding from the rest of the Power 5 or were in smaller conferences.

It is probable that when the dust settles in a few years that new, less influential conferences will form, but they will have way less revenue to divide between members. Football helps provide funding for other sports at all universities, no matter the size (assuming they have
a football team). If football programs everywhere suddenly have way less money, then that’s going to have a really negative impact on less lucrative sports.

The financial burden is going to be felt by basically all athletes at less successful division 1, 2 and 3 programs, and especially women’s sports. Additionally, schools in places that are expensive and/or difficult to travel to, like Hawaii, will be left out.

So while all this movement from conference to conference will make for some really exciting football games, it could spell trouble for the rest of college athletics.

The views in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Annika Herko

Contact Annika Herko at aherko@nd.edu.