“Reinvented” Notre Dame Is Not Done Yet

Posted by WCarey on January 5th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Saturday afternoon’s game in South Bend between Duke and Notre Dame.

In the preseason, expectations were fairly high for Notre Dame as it began its first campaign as a member of the ACC. While there were questions about the team’s frontcourt depth, the Irish returned three key starters in the backcourt in seniors Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and junior Pat Connaughton. Unfortunately, the Irish quickly showed that they have some glaring weaknesses by suffering four losses in the first two months of the season. The first setback came on November 17 when Mike Brey experienced his first November defeat at the Joyce Center versus Indiana State. While Notre Dame then notched easy wins over Santa Clara, Army, and Cornell, its defensive shortcomings became more evident during its subsequent trip to Iowa City where Iowa handed them a 98-93 defeat. A week later, the Irish were stunned again on their home court in a game that North Dakota State controlled from start to finish. After regrouping to score an impressive victory over Indiana in the Crossroads Classic on December 14, the Irish then went to Madison Square Garden and choked away an eight-point lead with 51 seconds remaining in a defeat by Ohio State.

Notre Dame's First ACC Game Went Swimmingly in South Bend (USAT)

Notre Dame’s First ACC Game Went Swimmingly in South Bend (USAT)

The four setbacks on the court were not the only losses Notre Dame suffered in the 2013 portion of the season. A day after the Ohio State loss, news broke that Grant – the team’s leading scorer – would not be enrolled at the university for the remainder of the season due to an academic matter. The team also lost sophomore Cameron Biedscheid – who was already redshirting this season – a few days after Christmas when he announced his intention to transfer.

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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #3 Notre Dame

Posted by mlemaire on November 10th, 2012

Expectations; it’s something that coach Mike Brey and Notre Dame aren’t used to. Last season the Fighting Irish were pegged to finish ninth in the preseason coaches’ poll and they went on to win 13 conference games and make it to the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. But this season, thanks to the return of nearly every meaningful contributor from last season’s team and the addition of a few precocious freshmen, expectations are high and the Fighting Irish are expected to contend with Louisville, Syracuse, and Cincinnati for the Big East crown. Brey and his squad won’t be able to play the role of underdog anymore, but they won’t have to either as they finally have the talent and the depth to compete with any team in the conference. If they can tighten up their defense, develop more interior depth, and become more efficient offensively, this team will be one of the best in the country. But if they struggle to defend and the offense becomes stagnant, we could be looking at just the latest in a long run of Notre Dame teams to flame out on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

2011-12 Record: 22-12, 13-5

2011-12 Postseason: NCAA Tournament Round of 64, lost to Xavier 67-63.

Things Are Looking Up for Mike Brey, Who Might Have Assembled His Best Team Yet (AP Photo)

Schedule: Last season the Fighting Irish played the 236th-most difficult non-conference schedule and so this season, the program added a few challenges while also keeping most of the creampuffs as well. The biggest match-up will be against No. 3 Kentucky in the SEC/Big East Challenge at the end of November, but St. Joseph’s is their first opponent in the CvC Classic Championship and while they aren’t ranked, they favorite to win the Atlantic 10. And Purdue under Matt Painter won’t be an easy game either.

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Big East Summer Capsules: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by mlemaire on August 7th, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Notre Dame.

1. You win some and you lose some… eligibility petition that is.

It was a tumultuous May for Notre Dame fans and head coach Mike Brey emotionally. The beginning of the month brought the somewhat expected  bad news in that that star forward Tim Abromaitis‘ petition for a sixth year of eligibility had been denied despite his sterling academic record and unfortunate injury history. It had always been a long shot but if Abromaitis had been able to return, the Fighting Irish could have been a contender for next season’s conference crown. A little more than a week later the news was better as forward Scott Martin‘s petition for a sixth year of eligibility was granted by the NCAA, giving the program’s fan base the shot in the arm they were looking for. Now, Martin is assuredly not the same player as Abromaitis, but he did post 9.5 PPG and 5.7 RPG last year while offering positional versatility, smart decision-making, and veteran leadership. It would have been wonderful for the program to get both players back, but they should be more than content to even get one guy back from what seemed like an unlikely possibility. Martin is a consummate glue guy and will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in Notre Dame’s success next season.

2. It certainly doesn’t seem like Mike Brey is going anywhere any time soon.

Mike Brey’s Coaching Prowess Paid Off To The Tune Of A New, 10-year Contract (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

With still three years left on his contract extension, Notre Dame didn’t bother waiting to show Brey exactly how much they appreciated his run at the helm of the program, giving him a new, 10-year contract that will run through June 2022. Brey has made a name for himself in the Big East by taking the program to eight NCAA Tournaments despite slightly lesser talent than some of his peers. Brey is a three-time conference coach of the year and he is best known for his methodical offensive approach that often allows Notre Dame to stay in close games even when they are athletically over-matched. There is no question that Brey deserves the contract and the Fighting Irish are doing the right thing by showing Brey they are committed to him as their basketball coach, because he is one of the best in the business and the university isn’t and never will be a basketball school. At the same time, a lot can happen between now and 2022.

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Morning Five: 05.14.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 14th, 2012

  1. The competition for the best team in the West just got a little more interesting as Anthony Bennett, the top remaining recruit in the class of 2012, committed to UNLV. Bennett, a top ten recruit by almost any recruiting service, will join Mike Moser, Khem Birch, and several other talented, but less heralded player to form what could be the most formidable frontcourt in the country. Add in a veteran backcourt and one more scholarship opening for next year and you have the makings of a potential top ten team and one that might be more dangerous in March than their more heralded counterparts in the Pac-12–UCLA and Arizona.
  2. Just when you thought that John Calipari and Kentucky might be one piece short they pull out a surprise on Sunday afternoon in the form of Julius Mays, who will transfer from Wright State to Kentucky and will be able to play next season after graduating from Wright State this spring. We will skip over our thoughts on the transfer rule that has led to an explosion in individuals who plan “to attend graduate school in an area not offered” at their previous school (later clarified after a discussion with John Infante) and instead focus on the impact that bringing in a senior combo guard who averaged 14.1 points per game last season while leading his team in scoring, assists, and steals. It obviously is a big move that helps shore up some of the team’s deficiencies and provides them with an outside threat who shot 42.4% from three-point range this season. Given the depth the Wildcats have Mays will probably come off the bench, but if the fans are worried about Mays adjusting to the level of play in the SEC they can be comforted by the fact that like fellow transfer Ryan Harrow Mays spent time in the ACC at North Carolina State although his route to Kentucky included a detour before winding up in Lexington.
  3. Former Kentucky guard Sean Woods, best known to basketball fans as the man who hit the shot before “The Shot”, will move on from Mississippi Valley State to take over as the next head coach at Morehead State. Woods, who led Missouri Valley State to the NCAA Tournament this past season, will be introduced at a press conference scheduled for 2 PM tomorrow and immediately becomes the second most popular basketball coach in the state with the force of Big Blue Nation behind him. The hiring also means that we should expect to see more frequent matchups between Woods’ new school and his alma mater. Of course it is probably more important to note that Woods will also have to deal with an Ohio Valley Conference that will be markedly improved with Belmont joining the OVC this season giving it two very strong programs–Belmont and Murray State–in addition to the Eagles.
  4. After losing its appeal for a sixth year of eligibility for Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame won an appeal for a sixth year for another player as Scott Martin was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. While some Irish fans and NCAA critics will blast the NCAA for its decision to grant Martin a sixth year after not doing so for Abromaitis in reality the situations were quite different. Martin lost a year due to a transfer to be near his father who was battling cancer then Martin was injured before ever getting a chance to play for the Irish to account for his two years while Abromaitis took a year as his personal (or team-directed) choice due to lack of playing time then was injured after playing part of a season. While Irish fans and many college basketball fans hoped to see Abromaitis return for another year, Martin’s return is a nice consolation prize as it means that the Irish will have their entire starting lineup from last year back when it overachieved in the eyes of many observers.
  5. Derrick Nix, who was arrested the day after the National Championship Game, was ordered to pay $853 in fines and court costs and serve 24 hours of community service as part of his plea deal for a misdemeanor charge of impaired driving. In addition, the Michigan State rising senior will have attend eight to 12 sessions regarding marijuana use as well as a discussion led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The penalties appear to be appropriate for what is usually handed out in these type of cases for first-time offenders without serious criminal histories. Of course, most people in these type of cases do not have Tom Izzo waiting on the other end to dish out additional punishment.
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Big East Weekly Five: 05.09.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on May 9th, 2012

  1. John Marinatto’s tumultuous three-year run as Big East commissioner ended on Monday when he tendered his resignation. Marinatto’s departure, which reportedly came at the request of member school presidents, puts the already unsteady Big East on even more tenuous ground as the newly realigned and super-sized conference may find itself once again in the cross hairs of other media exposure hungry leagues.  Joseph Bailey, III, the former CEO of the Miami Dolphins, was named interim commissioner. Expect the Big East to move quickly to name a permanent leader, and that person will have to be ready to work under pressure given the fact he or she will be faced with stabilizing the membership and bringing home an extremely important television deal this fall. Whether justified or not, Marinatto will get most of the blame publicly for the current state of the conference. The argument can certainly be made that he lacked the leadership ability and negotiation skills necessary to see the Big East through the landscape changes that faced him, but some of his presidents and so-called allies did not set Marinatto up for success when they led the refusal of a reported $1.2 billion dollar television contract extension with ESPN. That helped to put the conference in a vulnerable position when it subsequently booked to other leagues in search of bigger dollars.
  2. Notre Dame and Tim Abromaitis learned last week that the star forward will not be granted a rare sixth year of eligibility. Abromaitis, who will not appeal, appeared in just two games for the Fighting Irish last season after sitting out a four-game NCAA suspension and before suffering a season-ending ACL tear. The 6’8” Abromaitis, who averaged 13.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in South Bend, continues to rehabilitate his surgically repaired knee and intends to pursue a professional basketball career. Should hoops not work out, Abromaitis has solid credentials to fall back on as he holds both undergraduate and MBA degrees from Notre Dame.  Mike Brey and the Irish basketball program await a decision on another sixth-year eligibility applicant, Scott Martin, who sat out two years ago due to transfer (from Purdue) in addition to missing last season with a torn ACL of his own.
  3. Connecticut picked up some much-needed good news on the recruiting front as it gained a commitment from Phillip Nolan, a 6’10” power forward from Milwaukee. Nolan, who is ranked 118th nationally by Rivals.com, may be an under-the-radar catch as he played in just six games (transfer), averaging 12.3 points per outing, for Milwaukee’s Riverside University High School this past season. The shortened campaign came about because before enrolling at Riverside, Nolan spent his first two seasons at Vincent High School followed by stops at a pair of prep schools. Nolan will have a great opportunity at immediate playing time on the heels of the much publicized frontcourt departures of transfers Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith and Michael Bradley along with early NBA draft entrant Andre Drummond.
  4. Providence will enjoy ESPN’s sixth-rated recruiting class next season but Ed Cooley has refused to rest on his laurels as he continues to search for a big man to join the group. After losing out to conference rival St. John’s in the race for highly-regarded forwards JaKarr Sampson and Orlando Sanchez, this year’s recruiting crop still has a vacancy. Cooley scored a front line talent for the 2013-14 season when he received a commitment from seven-foot transfer Carson Desrosiers. Desrosiers played his first two years at Wake Forest and averaged 4.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 31 games as a part-time starter for the Demon Deacons. Desrosiers considered the Friars coming out of Massachusetts’ Central Catholic High School before opting to head south to the ACC.  He will have two years of eligibility after sitting out next season under NCAA transfer rules.
  5. In other transfer news, we noted here last week that Arizona State transfer and last year’s leading scorer Trent Lockett was fast becoming a person of high interest for Marquette. Well it seems the feeling was mutual as Lockett, a 6’4” guard who averaged 13.0 points and 5.8 rebounds for the Sun Devils as a junior, will in fact transfer to play for Buzz Williams in Milwaukee. Lockett is eligible to play for Marquette next season and will be a welcome addition to a lineup that will be looking to replace the production of the departed Darius Johnson-Odom and Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder. As with Providence, Wake Forest supplied another Big East school with a transfer as guard Tony Chennault, a native Philadelphian, will be heading home to attend Villanova after two years in Winston-Salem. Chennault played 31.2 minutes per game last season, averaging 9.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists, but elected to transfer to be closer to his mother who has been dealing with health issues. To that end, Chennault is seeking a waiver that will allow him to play for the Wildcats in the 2012-13 season.
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Morning Five: 05.02.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 2nd, 2012

  1. The biggest non-Amare Stoudemire basketball news on Tuesday was that the Atlantic 10′s courtship of Butler appears to have finally resulted in a match. ESPN.com reported last night that Butler will formally accept an offer today to join the league in 2013-14, replacing Temple in all sports. As one of the few truly elite mid-major basketball programs unaffiliated with a top 10 conference, this represents a major coup for the A-10 going forward regardless of whether the league is also able to also poach VCU and George Mason from the CAA. Butler’s admission helps to bolster the midwestern footprint of the conference, along with existing members Xavier, St. Louis and Dayton, and it will allow Brad Stevens an entree into the fertile recruiting grounds of the mid-Atlantic with multiple trips to the East Coast cities of New York, Philadelphia, Washington each year.
  2. The other conference realignment news that shook out on Tuesday related to another Atlantic 10 school, Charlotte, and whether that school will be on the move in coming days or weeks as well. The school rejected an offer to join the Sun Belt on Tuesday and reportedly did so because it anticipates an opportunity to join Conference USA after it adds a football program next year. Where this would leave C-USA is really anybody’s guess, as the conference is slowly but surely maneuvering toward an incomprehensible 30+ team behemoth (with the eventual pairing of the Mountain West). Whoever wrote the law of unintended consequences when all of this conference realignment stuff (re)started a couple of years ago could not have predicted this morass.
  3. In the 2008 presidential election, the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky voted for Republican candidate John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama by a 58% to 41% margin. That 17% victory margin will be put to the test on Friday when the thing that Kentuckians love more than anything else in the world — their national champion Wildcats — will visit the Obama White House to honor and celebrate the school’s eighth NCAA trophy. Of course, these events are rarely political in tenor (apologies to the Boston Bruins’ Tim Thomas), but that hasn’t stopped full-time politicos from speculating that both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), who refused an invitation, and the White House, are playing partisan games in scheduling the event on Kentucky Derby week (which occurs Saturday). Is this an election year?
  4. Tuesday was a busy day in the world of comings and goings, but the most disheartening news is that college basketball will not get another year of Tim Abromaitis at Notre Dame. Abromaitis had petitioned for a sixth year of eligibility because he tore his ACL in November after playing only two games last season — he also had taken a redshirt year in 2008-09, meaning that he ultimately only suited up in South Bend for three full seasons. In other news, Tennessee’s Renaldo Woolridge (aka SwiperBoy) will spend his last year of eligibility at USC, no doubt spending his free time outside the gym over on the Sunset Strip pitching his audio wares.
  5. It was 10 months ago when Michigan recruit Austin Hatch lost his family, his dog and very nearly his own life in a horrific plane crash that left him with a severe brain injury and the possibility of a very restricted way of life. The Detroit Free-Press revisited his story on Tuesday and found that although there are still many steps to go, Hatch’s doctors say that his rehabilitation has been “as successful as anyone they have seen.” Hatch still plans on attending Michigan in a little over a year, and says that he keeps in touch with head coach John Beilein a couple of times a month. He hasn’t yet been cleared to play basketball, but he has the spirit and will to believe that he’ll get back on the court eventually. Considering how far he’s already come and with 17 months before his first collegiate practice in Ann Arbor, it’s hard to believe that he won’t get there and become one of the best stories in all of amateur athletics.
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Big East Afternoon Five: First Weekend Recap Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 19th, 2012

  1. The dust has settled from what was another wild opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and four Big East teams have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen — Syracuse, Marquette, Louisville, and Cincinnati. Only the Big Ten has as many teams still dancing. But there will be plenty of chances to hear about the teams still playing this week, so let’s dedicate this roundup to news about the teams that are done.
  2. Let’s give North Carolina State some credit, because they are playing good basketball right now, but Georgetown should be the most disappointed of the eliminated Big East teams today. Hampered by Henry Sims‘ foul trouble and a rough shooting day from Jason Clark, the Hoyas were never able to get all the way back into the game and exited the tournament early for the third straight season. As The Washington Post points out, Georgetown can take solace in the fact that they easily outperformed everyone’s expectations in the regular season and put together an impressive season given their inexperience. But somehow, I don’t think Clark and Sims and John Thompson III are giving that much thought right now.
  3. Are the referees kidding us by calling a technical when Jawanza Poland hung on the rim for an extra beat after throwing down an alley-oop to give his team a five-point lead? He wasn’t taunting; he wasn’t yelling; he wasn’t even showing any emotion. He just took a little extra swing on the rim, and the referees got all indignant, called the technical, and swung the momentum back in Ohio’s favor. It wasn’t the decisive reason that the Bulls ended up losing, but it was an unnecessary call, especially in a hard-fought tournament game. Looking on the bright side of things, no one expected Stan Heath‘s club to be playing for a Sweet Sixteen berth when this season started. After the game Heath said his team will be a “hungry group” next season, and with a solid returning cast as well as a recruiting class ready to make an impact, the Bulls could change from perennial league laughingstock to perennial tournament contender in no time.
  4. Since we are still on this overachiever kick, now feels like the right time to ask if anyone expected Notre Dame to be dancing earlier this season when star forward Tim Abromaitis was lost for the season because of a torn ACL. Unfortunately, that probably doesn’t do much to dull the sting that the Fighting Irish must feel after letting a double-digit second half lead slip away in their loss to Xavier. They don’t get to cry about the correctly called lane violation because they let the Musketeers shoot 50% from the field and were never able to clamp down defensively and stop the run. The good news for Mike Brey and company is that they will be a much better and more experienced team next season, especially if Scott Martin is granted a sixth year of eligibility. This team, at times, was too inconsistent and streaky which was due partially to their youth. But this season will be an excellent learning experience for guards like Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, so expect the Fighting Irish to be out for redemption next season.
  5. Connecticut barely made it onto anyone’s radar this March before they were summarily dispatched by Iowa State with ease. The defending national champions came out flat, like they have many other times this season, and the Cyclones took advantage and ran away with the win. While most Huskies’ fans will quickly forget about this season, there is still a lot to talk about for this program. UConn is facing a potential ban from next season’s NCAA Tournament because of previous players’ poor academic record; the possibility that their Hall of Fame coach will retire; and the possible defections of two of their best players in Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond. All of this drama will make for an interesting offseason in Storrs.
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Big East Morning Five: 03.02.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 2nd, 2012

  1. This evening figures to be an unusual one emotionally for injured senior star Tim Abromaitis once senior night festivities commence prior to Notre Dame’s contest with Providence.  Abromaitis has been forced to watch for the majority of this season due to an ACL tear he suffered in November, and is trying to make peace with the fact that his career at Notre Dame may very well be over. The thing that will keep Abromaitis in a state of emotional flux is the battle between the finality of senior night and the faint glimmer of hope that he may be granted a rare sixth year of eligibility and play for the Irish again next year.  As for tonight, Abromaitis will suit up for show but will not play in any fashion, including warm-ups. To Abromaitis’ credit he is keeping things in perspective and holds no delusions of grandeur when it comes to playing again.  “I’ve kind of looked at it both ways – there’s a chance I’m coming back, so do what I need to do to keep that door open,” Abromaitis told the Chicago Tribune. “But at the same time, I am pretty rational about knowing that it very well could be the last time out there and could be a little emotional for me. I’m just trying to take it in stride and be glad for the opportunities I have had.”
  2. Villanova has not enjoyed tremendous success on the court this season but they could be receiving some good news about their future very soon as top Class of 2013 recruit Allerik Freeman narrowed his choices to Villanova and Kansas according to his Olympic (NC) High School coach Ty Baumgardner.  Freeman, a 6’4” guard who is ranked 13th nationally by ESPN.com and 24th by Rivals.com had been pursued by the likes of Georgetown, Arizona, Kansas State, North Carolina State, Ohio State, and others. Freeman has visited both Villanova and Kansas unofficially, meaning he paid his way, and could decide before taking any official visits.
  3. In keeping with the high school scene, rosters for the All-American Championship were announced yesterday.  The event, which started last year, is an all-star showcase that features four teams who will play a doubleheader on April 1 in New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena.  ESPN3 will carry the games live beginning at 3 PM EST and ESPNU will replay at 9 PM EST. Two highly sought-after Big East 2012 recruits, Nerlens Noel and Chris Obekpa, will be playing in the game.  Noel recently trimmed his list but Syracuse, Georgetown and Connecticut still appear to be in the running.  Obekpa’s list includes Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, St. John’s, Providence and West Virginia. Highly touted high school juniors and brothers, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, will be there as well.  Both are being recruited by Villanova while Andrew also holds an offer from Georgetown. There are also a number of committed Big East players who will appear: Omar Calhoun (Connecticut), Ricardo Ledo (Providence), Dajuan Coleman (Syracuse), Jerami Grant (Syracuse), D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Georgetown) and Cameron Biedscheid (Notre Dame).
  4. Perhaps Connecticut fans will be treated to a Willis Reed-like event, but it is not looking like head coach Jim Calhoun will make his return to the sideline on Saturday as hoped when the Huskies take on Pittsburgh.  Calhoun is reported to be feeling better after surgery on Monday to alleviate pain and discomfort caused by a spine-thinning condition called spinal stenosis as well as a “large disk fragment” that was found when doctors went in, but was not able to attend practice on Thursday.  Should Calhoun not be ready for Connecticut’s practice this afternoon it renders his chances of coaching on Saturday to virtually nil.  The Huskies (17-13, 7-10 Big East) somewhat remarkably remain in contention for an at-large NCAA berth despite their well-documented struggles. A loss on Saturday would certainly figure to firmly put them on the outside looking in, even in the minds of the pundits.
  5. The Naismith Men’s Basketball Player of the Year is obviously a huge honor and just to be considered is certainly something to be proud of.  To that end, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced its somewhat oddly named ‘Midseason 30’, which is a a list of the 30 finalists for the award.  Four Big East players made the cut: Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, and two from Syracuse in Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters. The Naismith recipient will be announced and awarded during the Final Four, which we presume implies that the second “half” of the season will be played in the next four weeks.
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Big East Afternoon Five: Leap Day Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 29th, 2012

  1. We got off to a late start today so let’s make it a good one. Score this one in the “You have got to be kidding me!” category, but Connecticut‘s loss to Providence last night was a debacle that perfectly sums up its season. The Huskies shot 46% from the field, led by as many as 14 in the second half, and still let the lowly Friars climb back into the game and eventually win. Most are now saying that this team doesn’t belong in the NCAA Tournament and they really don’t. You can’t lose nine of your last 13 games in the regular season and still expect the Tournament Committee to look favorably upon you, and you can’t play a must-win game against the worst team in your conference and blow a late lead to lose. Blaming this on interim coach George Blaney is a cop-out, though. Blaney may be too passive and he may not lead the team with the iron fist of Jim Calhoun, but Blaney is not responsible for letting one of the conference’s least efficient offensive teams go on a 26-5 run in the middle of the second half. UConn fans can scapegoat whomever they want, but this failure is on the players, plain and simple.
  2. The difference between UConn and West Virginia — who routed its inferior opponent, DePaul, in a must-win game at home — is leadership. UConn is a team full of talented underclassmen. West Virginia is a team that will only go as far as their two excellent seniors, Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant, who combined for 50 points last night in what was their final home game as Mountaineers, take them. Bob Huggins‘ team has also been in a bit of a tailspin down the stretch, but if they can beat South Florida in Tampa this weekend, they may still be able to play their way into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Looking ahead to tonight, the team with the best chance to impress the Tournament Committee is Cincinnati. The Bearcats play their final home game against No. 8 Marquette, a team that has been winning but hasn’t been dominating. The Golden Eagles are not the same team on the road as they are at home, and for Mick Cronin’s bunch, a win over a Top 10 team would likely cement their place in the NCAA Tournament heading into the Big East Tournament next week. The obvious matchup to watch will be the red-hot Jae Crowder squaring off with Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates who will be playing in his final home game.
  4. Allow me to take a minute to step away from bubble implications and talk about one player who is out of the spotlight thanks to his team’s unexpected struggles, and that is Pittsburgh do-it-all senior Nasir Robinson. Reading this article about Robinson’s season, it shouldn’t take long for you to love this guy. A 6’5″ power forward, Robinson doesn’t have a future in the NBA and his senior season has been a disappointment, but still he says he won’t make any excuses and all he does is talk about how he wants to help his teammates. The Panthers have had plenty of gritty players exactly like Robinson who make the most out of their limited potential (Brad Wanamaker immediately comes to mind) and that is a testament to coach Jamie Dixon‘s talent evaluation and coaching. This is why Robinson deserves some stand-alone recognition. He will be forgotten soon enough, but for now, let’s give the guy some love for an excellent career and leadership values he should be proud of.
  5. There will be a lot of mixed emotions in South Bend Friday night when Notre Dame seniors Scott Martin and Tim Abromaitis put on their uniforms for what might be the last time. Both players have petitioned the NCAA for a rare sixth year of eligibility but it seems unlikely that either will have their request granted. Of course Abromaitis will be in uniform but won’t play as he recovers from his torn ACL. There should be plenty of cheers from the Fighting Irish faithful, especially for Abromaitis, but there will also be a lot of people looking at him in uniform and wondering what could have been.
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Night Line: Notre Dame Keeps Winning With Balanced Offensive Attack

Posted by EJacoby on February 23rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The Indiana Hoosiers have been praised throughout this season for having one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country. But as IU has begun to sputter of late, a different team in Indiana is proving to be similarly efficient with a variety of offensive options. By thumping West Virginia on Wednesday night, 71-44, Notre Dame has now won nine straight games after yet another versatile offensive attack that was too much for the Mountaineers to handle. Mike Brey’s boys in South Bend remain tied for second in the Big East and are a dangerous matchup thanks to all the different options they can throw at opponents.

The Fighting Irish are Clicking Through Collective Offensive Play (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

The Fighting Irish began this season with much riding on their fifth-year senior star Tim Abromaitis, who was expected to make a run at Big East Player of the Year. But when the forward suffered a season-ending ACL injury on November 25, the entire dynamic of the team changed. It took plenty of bruises — the Irish were just 8-5 in the non-conference — but this team has figured out how to play as a group without Abromaitis. While only six players on the team average 20 minutes or more per game now, each one is capable of being the star on any given night. In fact, during the current nine-game winning streak, five different players have led the team in scoring. Coming into tonight, guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant and forward Jack Cooley were all averaging between 12 and 13 points per game on the year, while emerging swingman Pat Connaughton was averaging 12.6 per contest in his last five games. The other starter, forward Scott Martin, also averages 9.1 PPG in Big East play, giving the Irish a full lineup of capable scorers.

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Why Mike Brey is the Leading Candidate for Coach of the Year, Again

Posted by EJacoby on February 16th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. 

Think back to November 24, when many teams were playing in early-season tournaments and fans were able to get a strong first glimpse of their favorite teams. Notre Dame got plenty of exposure that week, but for all the wrong reasons. The Fighting Irish had just incurred a 29-point beating at the hands of Missouri in the CBE Classic semifinals and followed that performance up with a loss to Georgia in the third place game. The next day, star senior forward Tim Abromaitis suffered a torn ACL in practice that would immediately end his season and seemingly the team’s too. If you told a Notre Dame fan back then that three months later their team would be 10-3 in conference on a seven-game winning streak in the Big East, it would be truly hard to believe. For that, and many other reasons, Irish head coach Mike Brey is the current leader in the clubhouse for National Coach of the Year once again as we head into the home stretch of the regular season.

Things Are Looking Good for Mike Brey, Who Just Might Win Another Coach of the Year Award (AP Photo)

Brey has been named Big East Coach of the Year three times (’07, ’08, ’11), and was the AP National Coach of the Year last season for guiding his team to an unexpected run at 27-7, an NCAA Tournament 2-seed and #5 overall ranking when the season ended. Coach Brey also has a habit of making a splash with his team in conference play when it looks like it has no chance to be competitive. Think back to two seasons ago, when the Fighting Irish were sitting at 6-8 in the Big East on a crash course for the NIT before Brey led the team to four straight victories to end the regular season. Then came a deep run in the Big East Tournament, and Luke Harangody, Ben Hansbrough, Abromaitis, and company were safely in the NCAA field, from NIT to 6-seed in just three weeks. The head coach in South Bend doesn’t get the same kind of recognition as some of his conference coaching peers like Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, and Rick Pitino, but Brey has often done as fine a job as them with far less talent to work with.

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RTC Top 25: Week 14

Posted by KDoyle on February 13th, 2012

And then there were none. In a surprise loss at home to Tennessee State, Murray State finally has a “1” in their loss column and there are no longer any unbeatens. It looked as if the Racers might have run the table all the way to the NCAA Tournament, but it was not in the cards for first year coach Steve Prohm. Kentucky still remains atop the rankings as a unanimous #1. On the heels (wink, wink) of Duke’s dramatic comeback win at North Carolina, the Blue Devils have jumped back into the Top 10. Notre Dame, who has been teetering on the edge of the Top 25 for a few weeks now, is finally rewarded for their strong play in the Big East as they check in at #21. The Quick ‘n Dirty after the jump…

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