Last year, Notre Dame leader Mike Brey was named national coach of the year, and deservedly so. This year, he did an even better job. Because he had so much less talent to work with. The Irish (22-11), picked for ninth in the Big East Conference back in October before star player Tim Abromaitis was lost for the season in November with a knee injury, came on strong to finish third with a 13-5 league record.
It was “Ewing Theory” in it’s finest form, because despite losing the only player with any accolade, the Irish weren’t far off (at least in Big East play) from last year’s squad, which earned a #2 seed close to home after being in the discussion for a #1 seed and ranked in the top 5 nationally towards the end of the season.
Last year’s Irish team looked like they could make a lot of noise in the tourney if their shooters stayed hot. It didn’t happen though, as the Irish choked, and got upset by #10 seed Florida State in the SECOND round.
This team on the other hand, looks likely to go nowhere in the big dance.
This year’s team got “cheaper” conference wins because they took advantage of a weaker league than last year. After Eric Atkins, a true talent, they got here with a bunch of guys, some somebodies. Look who Brey brings to the NCAA table: Jack Cooley, Jerian Grant, and Pat McNaughton, and end of bench guy who seemingly scores 25 one game, 0 the next, with apparent regularity.
NO ONE had heard of any of these guys before the season started. Well, everyone knows “the guy who looks exactly like Luke Harangody and ended up at the same school.” Some would say that makes for a compelling story, but I don’t. Last year’s team was fun to watch and high scoring. This bunch is frequently overmatched and lacking in athleticism in their match-ups so they have to run the BORING burn offense and bring the game into a turtle race.
It’s Dick Bennett-like final scores in the 40s and 50s.
But the worst part is it works: the Irish handed top seed Syracuse (East Region) its lone regular-season loss—and also defeated 2012 NCAA participants Marquette (#3), Louisville (#4), Connecticut (#9), West Virginia (#10) twice, South Florida (#12) twice and Detroit (#15). But don’t think it’ll work in the tourney.
The Irish received a number-seven seed in the South Region, marking the first time in history the Notre Dame men have been seeded seventh in the NCAA Championships. And I think they’re way overrated.
They’ll take on 10th-seeded Xavier (21-12 and runner-up in the Atlantic 10 Conference title game Sunday) Friday in a FIRST-round game at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Here’s a synopsis of what the Irish have done in the Brey era in the tourney
– In 2011, the second-seeded Irish defeated #15 Akron 69-56 in the FIRST round, then dropped a SECOND-round contest 71-57 to #10 seed Florida State in Chicago.
– In 2010, the sixth-seeded Irish dropped a first-round South Region game 51-50 to #11 seed Old Dominion in New Orleans. This was the year Brey REALLY led them to EWING THEORY. When Gody went down during the stretch, he switched to the burn offense and they went from barely on the bubble to a six seed. Then got Harangody back and were quickly dismissed from the tournament.
– In 2008, the fifth-seeded Irish defeated #12 George Mason 68-50 in a first-round game in Denver, before losing a second-round contest 61-41 to #4 Washington State.
– In 2007, the sixth-seeded Irish dropped a first-round Midwest Region game in Spokane 74-64 to 11th-seeded Winthrop.
– In 2003, the fifth-seeded Irish defeated Wisconsin-Milwaukee 70-69 in an NCAA first-round game and fourth-seeded Illinois 68-60 in a second-round match up (both in Indianapolis) before falling 88-71 in a West Regional semifinal to top-seeded Arizona in Anaheim, Calif.
– In 2002, the eighth-seeded Irish men defeated Charlotte 82-63 in the first round in Greenville, S.C., before falling to top-seeded Duke 84-77 in the second round.
– In 2001, sixth-seeded Notre Dame defeated Xavier 83-71 in the first round in Kansas City, Mo., before dropping a second-round game 59-56 to third-seeded Ole Miss.
This is the 32nd NCAA trip in school history (31-35 record). The Irish played in the NCAA Final Four 34 seasons ago in 1978 in St. Louis.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
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