Wednesday, March 25, 2009


March 25, 2009

Well, it is only the NIT tonight, but it is a match-up many thought in the preseason could happen in the 2009 NCAA Tournament this year as Luke Harangody and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will take on embattled Billy Gillispie and Kentucky.

Not known for their ability on the defensive end, the game's outcome might hinge on How Does Notre Dame Slow Jodie Meeks (South Bend Tribune) in tonight's NIT Quarterfinal?

A spot is on the line in next week's NIT Final Four in NYC as the Healing Notre Dame Men Brace for Kentucky (South Bend Tribune) in a game where The Future for Harangody and Gillispie is Unclear (Post-Tribune).

Kentucky fans want to know if it will be Billy Gillispie's last game as coach of the Wildcats as the coach is under fire after a 40-26 record in his two seasons as head coach in Lexington. Notre Dame fans want to know if it will be Luke Harangody's last game with the Irish before entering the NBA draft.

Either way, the Wildcats Will Have their Hands Full with Harangody (Louisville Courier-Journal) as basketball fans can have a small appetizer before the real tournament gets back under way on Thursday.

According to the latest college basketball odds, Notre Dame is a 2 1/2-point favorite.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2009


March 18, 2009

NIT action in the Big East began last night with Notre Dame facing a tough UAB squad led by Mike Davis.

The Irish Survive 1st Round vs. Blazers (Post-Tribune) as a Late Run Gets ND a Seat in 2nd Round (Journal-Gazette) in a 70-64 victory.

A 10-0 run, aided by a technical foul on UAB coach Davis, but the Irish up 60-50 heading into the stretch and Notre Dame would hold on for the win in front of just 2,039 fans on St. Patrick's Day on the Irish campus.

Luke Harangody scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Irish improved to 19-14 on the season. Robert Vaden led UAB with 24 points as the Blazers finish the season at 22-12.


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Wednesday, March 11, 2009


March 11, 2009

Notre Dame got past Rutgers on the opening night of the 2009 Big East Tournament, 61-50, and sets up Wednesday night's meeting with West Virginia.

Despite a 3-17 shooting performance from Luke Harangody, the Irish were able to keep the Scarlet Knights at bay and put an end to the RU season. Tory Jackson had a team-high 12 points for ND with Staten Ilsand native Myle McAlarney adding 11.

Notre Dame improved to 18-13 overall on the season. The finished 8-10 in the Big East, good for the 10th-seed in the conference tournament. However, a season of disappointment for the Irish can only be salvaged with an unprecendented run of five wins in five nights through the Big East Tournament to earn the automatice bid for the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

On the other side of the ledger this evening is Bob Huggins' West Virginia Mountaineers. With a 10-8 Big East record and overall mark of 21-10, WVU has a ticket punched to the 'Dance' and will use this week in NYC to hopefully improve their seeding.

WVU defeated the Irish, 79-68, in Morgantown in their lone meeting this season. Alex Ruoff broke out of a shooting slump in that contest, scoring 24 points and junior Da'Sean Butler scored 19. Both players will look to shake off their poor night's in the season finale, a loss to Louisville, and lead WVU tonight.

Here are some pregame stories and previews on tonight's game:

New Season Starts Today (Times West Virginian)
WVU Chances Hinge Largely on Rebounding, Shooting (Times West Virginian)
Mountaineers Need Shots from Ruoff, Butler (Daily Mail)
To Bye or Not to Bye (Charleston Gazette)
Jackson Points Way for ND (South Bend Tribune)
Irish Home Free in Opener (Journal Gazette)

There is something about Notre Dame that you still beleive they can put something together here in New York. Last night, an off night from Luke Harangody allowed Rutgers to put the clamps on Kyle McAlarney on the perimeter, limiting his open looks and pulling the usually high-scoring Irish into a rock fight. Although it is not their preferred style, they lucked out that their opponent lacks firepower and ND pulled out a 61-50 win.

Tonight they will face another team that will be tougher on the boards and getting after it on defense, traits of a Bob Huggins team. And, if that was not enough, a win over WVU brings up Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals. So, one can see what the Irish are up against if they are to pull off the improbable run through the conference tournament. They will have to get down and dirty on both ends of the floor.

In their first game against the Mountaineers, the Irish grabbed an early double-digit lead, only to see WVU storm back and take a lead at the half and pretty much cruise through the second half. WVU will look to hit the boards hard once again and take care of the basketball. The Irish defense is not one that forces too many turnovers, so the effort on the boards by WVU should lead to extra chances to score, which will make the difference in tonight's game.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

West Virginia 72
Notre Dame 66


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Tuesday, March 10, 2009


March 10, 2009

The conference tournaments can offer teams a second chance on a season. A virtual do-over on a season gone wrong. There is probably no team in the country in more need of a 'do-over' than Notre Dame.

Starting off the season as a universal pick to be among the top four teams in the Big East and a near consensus as a Top Ten preseason team in the country, the Irish season started off well enough, reaching the finals of the Maui Invitational with a win over highly regarded Texas before falling to No. 1 North Carolina. They fell a week and a half later to Ohio State on a neutral floor, but Luke Harangody was still recovering from a bout with pneumonia.

The Irish then started off Big East play at 3-1, but a surprising loss at St. John's opened some eyes. However, nobody could forsee how quickly the Big East could demoralize a team, especially a veteran-laden squad as highly regarded as the Irish.

The Irish lost at Louisville, in overtime, to fall to 3-2. It was the first game of a difficult period of their schedule. As the games kept coming, so did the losses, seven in a row in all, knocking the Irish to 3-7 in the Big East and 12-10 overall.

The losses stopped suddenly, with a 90-57 pasting of Louisville at the Joyce Center, but the damage was done. The Irish finished 8-10 in the league and 17-13 overall, squarely on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble.

Now, they have new life. The Irish showed they can be capable in their thrashing of conference champ Louisville to break their streak, but frustrating defensive lapses and lack of consistent scoring from anyone outside of Harangody and Kyle McAlarney has derailed their season. Senior Ryan Ayers has shown a better scoring touch of late, and they will need more of that in the Big East Tournament.

So, tonight, in Madison Square Garden, begins a clean slate for Notre Dame as they tip off the 2009 Big East Tournament against Rutgers.

Here are some pregame stories and previews found online today:

Rutgers vs. Notre Dame (Chicago Tribune)
Hill Likes Rutgers' Chances (Asbury Park Press)
Kyle McAlarney is Notre Dame's Best Hope for Tournament Run (Chicago Tribune)
History Not on Notre Dame's Side (South Bend Tribune)

Two weeks ago, Notre Dame rallied form a 35-27 halftime deficit on their home floor to defeat Rutgers, 70-65. The Scarlet Knights are using that game as a confidence booster as they prepare to face the Irish on the Madison Square Garden floor.

In his third year as head coach of the Scarlet Knights, this is Fred Hill's first trip to the Big East Tournament. After seasons of 3-13 and 3-15, Rutgers actually went backwards in his third year, finishing 2-16 in the Big East and 11-20 overall on the season.

With McDonald's All-American freshman Mike Rosario and highly touted Greg Echenique as freshmen starters from day one, this was supposed to be the start of Rutgers move under Fred Hill up the standings, not another season of the 'same ol Rutgers.'

The March Madness betting odds have the Irish as an 11 1/2-point favorite in this game. With Notre Dame still believing they are a good team, look for a solid effort out of the Irish while the Scarlet Knights' offensive woes continue under the lights of Broadway.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Notre Dame 74
Rutgers 58


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Friday, March 06, 2009


March 6, 2009

St. John's at Notre Dame (-11 1/2) 7 PM.

(college basketball odds are provided by BetUS.com)

Here are some preview articles and links on the game:

Men's Basketball: Notre Dame (16-13, 7-10) vs. St. John's (15-15, 6-11) (Post-Tribune)
St. John's at Notre Dame (Chicago Tribune)
Notre Dame Hosts St. John's in Fightin Irish Home Finale (Chicago Tribune)
Irish Seniors Left With Regret, Happy Memories (Journal Gazette)
It is More than 'Just Another Game' (South Bend Tribune)

Notre Dame will be sending off seniors Ryan Ayers, Luke Zeller, Zach Hillesland and Kyle McAlarney tonight as the Fighting Irish look to avenge an earlier loss when they close up the regular season by hosting St. John's.

Despite the disappointment of Final Four expectations gone wrong, tonight is also a celebration of a group of players that helped the Irish to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances following their sophomore and junior seasons. With juniors Tory Jackson and the 2007-2008 Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody returning from last year's NCAA team, expectations were sky-high, however, a seven-game losing streak and struggles all year getting defensive stops have pushed the Irish into the mix for the NIT, not the NCAA Tournament. The Irish would have to win an unprecendented five straight Big East Tournament games next week to win the Big East Tournament and get the conference automatic bid to the Big Dance.

St. John's has hung around this season. Sure, another losing Big East campaign under Norm Roberts has long been clinched, but the 'storm were dealt a bad hand right off the bat when their top player Anthony Mason Jr. was lost for the year before they finished their third game of the season. The blow was severe to the young team, but they have shown some grit and toughness along the way and enter tonight's regular season finale at 6-11 in conference play.

But, tonight will be about Notre Dame. The energy and emotion of senior night and the frustrations of a season gone wrong should translate to a rousing effort and a comfortable win for a grand send-off of the seniors.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Notre Dame 83
St. John's 67


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Wednesday, March 04, 2009


March 3, 2009

by Ray Mernagh

Last night Notre Dame still had hope, with a really good Villanova team visiting South Bend, that a season full of endless struggles could be saved. After losing at Connecticut last weekend, every single Irishmen inside the Joyce Center's locker room knew this game, plus the next one against St. John's, were must wins. Victory in both would -- amazingly -- have them in position, with some light lifting at the Garden next week, to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Mike Brey confirmed this belief before the game to the ESPN cameras when he said they "needed to win 1 of these 2" games in the UConn/'Nova stretch. What he didn't say, or more likely what wasn't shown or asked, was how the Irish planned on doing that.

When given the opportunity to spend time with a coach before a game, any media scribe worth his Morton's will try and find out what that coach wants his team to take away from the opposition. Do they want to take away the dribble-drive to the middle by shading the defense towards the baseline, or take away the baseline by shading towards the lane? Maybe they want to trap the other team's primary ball handler whenever possible so that he'll have to give the ball up to a less-capable decision maker. Do they want to chase the other team's two best three-point shooters off the line and make them drive the ball because they tend to turn it over when attempting a blow-by dribble on a hard closeout?

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The same questions can apply offensively too. Do they want to drive and kick? Bring the other team's big man out top so the driving lanes are more open? Run a particular defender through a ton of screens all night long? Feed the post and play inside-out? Run off misses? What about makes? Look for the trailers on the secondary break? Even when the opportunity to pick the staff's brain is denied, it's usually easy enough to figure out the game-plan -- on both ends of the court -- within the first five minutes of action. All you have to do is pay attention to the floor and then look to the bench's reaction to what happens at the end of each possession. If the bench, meaning the coaches, are clapping that means they're happy with what just happened. If they're pointing at a player to go into the game and the kid coming out is getting a saliva shower as he's dressed down about his role in what just transpired -- you can assume whatever he did wasn't part of the plan discussed ad nauseum for the last 36 hours.

Having said all that, and after watching the tape of Villanova's 77-60 win at least three times, I'm still stymied about what Notre Dame's plan was. Villanova's defensive plan was clearly to take away Kyle McAlarney's open looks and to push Harangody off the block and frustrate him. The 'Nova plan on offense was to attack the inept Irish D with ball-screens, which they've refused to defend all year, plus go right at Harangody in the post.

Notre Dame is a team that seems to want to trade baskets in the hope that at some point you'll start missing yours. That seems to be their plan in every game. I know Mike Brey is a good coach. I've got to believe he has more of a plan than that -- but his players don't seem capable of executing any plan other than the "we're gonna outscore you" one. It just doesn't work when there's literally no desire at all, by anyone other than Tory Jackson and Tyrone Nash, to play any kind of defense. It also doesn't help when a great college guard like Scottie Reynolds is completely comfortable in what's supposed to be a hostile setting. Reynolds toyed with the Irish all night, while Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark's work against Harangody should put any argument about him being Player of the Year in the league on mute.

A few examples I'll highlight here explain Notre Dame's troubles this season far more than the brutal Big East TV schedule they've played does.

1) Villanova's first bucket of the game, a three by Scottie Reynolds, comes after a brutal Dante Cunningham ball screen all but knocks Tory Jackson the 167.9 miles back to his native Saginaw, Michigan. Obviously nobody communicated with Jackson on the play. In this instance it was Harangody who compounded the mistake by not even attempting to hedge or get an effective hand up on Reynolds. It's happened all year, in every Notre Dame game I've seen, they just switch ball-screens. Maybe Jackson would've tried to get over the screen if he'd only known it was coming. It's just a huge error in fundamentals. The following three-step process in playing the ball-screen comes right out of the Charlie Coles taught Basketball Theory class at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. One -- You tell the guy on the ball the screen is coming. Two -- You hedge up on the high-side of the screen to stop the dribbler's momentum. Three -- the on the ball defender fights over the screen, gets in front of his man again and you recover back on your man. There's a theory out there that this ND team lacks athleticism and quickness. The theory has a lot of merit with some of their players. It has none with both Jackson and Harangody. Anyone who saw the big guy catch that long pass in transition, dribble and then spin last night isn't being honest if they think Luke can't hedge on a ball screen and recover. He just doesn't want to.

2) On another defensive possession Tory Jackson denies an entry pass into the post by using a lot of effort, ultimately kicking out his leg and stopping it with his foot. This results in Jackson being stretched to the point of doing the splits and he falls awkwardly to the ground. Three of his teammates look at him -- they see him on the floor after making a solid defensive play -- and not one comes over with a hand to help him up.

3) At the 5:00 mark in the second half Dwayne Anderson of Villanova shoots an air ball. Harangody starts to run ahead on offense, assuming Ryan Ayers will come up with the miss. By the time Corey Stokes out-physicals Ayers for the ball, Harangody is almost to the free throw line. He can't do anything but look back as the uncovered Anderson dunks the ball for a 67-51 lead. Harangody was benched right after this and despite what Brey claimed after the game, I think this is the coach's attempt to bring out the Donovan McNabb in his All-American down the stretch. Lord knows he's gotta try something.

The three examples offered above are simple, fundamental things -- defending a ball screen, helping up a teammate that fell because he hustled, and boxing out a shooter until your team has possession of the ball -- that good teams do. Notre Dame didn't do any of them. The Irish were supposed to be a desperate team last night. Instead, they appeared entitled.

One of the announcers argued that Notre Dame "has proven they can beat really good teams" this season when talking about the Irish's at-large hopes. I agree. Notre Dame has proven they can beat really good teams exactly once this year. They beat Texas, who I'd call a decent team, 81-80 in November. They beat a very good team, Louisville, last month in a game that Rick Pitino used as a teaching tool by sitting down his starters in the second half.

Notre Dame has lost to every other good team they've played. The only hope the Irish have now of an NCAA berth is to win five games in a row next week in the 2009 Big East Tournament next week in New York City. There's only one problem -- Notre Dame just isn't a very good team.


Ray Mernagh is the Basketball Editor for the Pittsburgh Sports Report and writes for Basketball Times as well as his own blog, Hoop Wise. Ray's first book, 1 Chance 2 Dance: A Season Inside Mid-Major Hoops in Mid-America, focuses on 18 months of MAC basketball.



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Tuesday, March 03, 2009


March 3, 2009

Notre Dame has been working at digging out of the hole that a seven-game losing streak had caused. There seemed to be some progress of rebuilding the season from the ruins of a failed top 10 team, but the Irish NCAA Hopes takes Another Hit (Post-Tribune), and this one could be fatal, as it appears the Irish are Likely Headed to the NIT After Bad Loss to 'Nova (South Bend Tribune) on the Joyce Center court Monday night.

Villanova and ND played to a 32-all first half tie as a mountain of Irish turnovers prevented ND from taking a lead at the break.

The second-half was a different story as No. 11 Villanova Pounds Notre Dame (Chicago Tribune), outscoring the Irish 45-28 in the second half on the way for a 77-60 win.

'Nova junior Scottie Reynolds scored 23 points and senior Dante Cunningham added 18 for the Wildcats who shot 45% from the field and committed just five turnovers in the entire game.

Ryan Ayers connected on seven three's and scored 23 points to lead Notre Dame and Luke Harangody added 18, but Kyle McAlarney's lone three-pointer came on the Irish's first possession and his five points were the next highest total for an ND player behind Ayers and Harangody.

Notre Dame was not helped by their 15 turnovers, 39% shooting from the field and a 10-20 night from the foul line. The Irish close the regular season by hosting St. John's, but anything short of winning the 2009 Big East Tournament likely means the NIT for the Irish, a team that started the season ranked among the top 10 in the country.


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Monday, March 02, 2009


March 2, 2009

Barring a deep run in the 2009 Big East Tournament next weekend, this might be the last hurrah for Notre Dame and their NCAA Tournament chances. The Irish are 7-9 in the Big East, but they have won four of their last six games and finish with two at home this week, beginning with tonight's Big Monday match-up against Villanova. This past Saturday, the Irish lost a golden shot at improving their resume significantly when they fell just short in a 72-65 loss at UConn in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated.

The Wildcats are safely in the NCAA Tournament as Jay Wright's squad is 11-5 in the Big East and 23-6 overall. However, they look to get back on track after a Saturday afternoon home loss to Georgetown, which followed a two-point come-from-behind win on the road over lowly DePaul.

Here are some pregame stories and previews found on the web:

Notre Dame (16-12, 7-9) vs. Villanova (Gary Post-Tribune)
Villanova at Notre Dame (Chicago Tribune)
Notre Dame Faces Another Must-Win vs. Villanova (Chicago Tribune)
Anxious Irish to Tangle with 'cats (Journal Gazette)
ND in Must-Win Mode (South Bend Tribune)

This is it for the Irish. Backs are against the wall, we will see how they respond.

Following a seven-game losing streak where everyone left ND for dead, they responded to win four of five, including a rousing 90-57 win over Louisville to put an end to the losing streak. They nearly made it five of six, but went down at the wire against UConn in Storrs over the weekend.

A win at West Virginia or a win at Connecticut would have done wonders for the Irish resume, which currently is not good enough for the NCAA Tournament. A win on their home floor tonight against Villanova is another step in the right direction and they close the regular season at home on Friday against St. John's, so they still have a chance to reach .500 in Big East play at 9-9 with two more wins.

The Irish have reigning Big East Player of the Year in Luke Harangody inside to lead the way and he should be able to put up big numbers against the Wildcats. Villanova will hope to put pressure on Harangody with the improved offensive threat that is ante Cunningham, forcing harangody to play both ends of the court and hope the long season and lots of minutes can wear the 6-foot-8 big man down.

In their cozy confines of the Joyce Center, the Irish shooters led by seniors Kyle McAlarney and Ryan Ayers, tend to find the range much better than on the road. The tough perimeter defense of the Wildcats will look to lock down the perimeter, but if you give McAlarney a sliver of room he can make you pay. Opening up the game with some three's will open room inside for Harangody and Irish point guard Tory Jackson will be under a lot of pressure to manage the offense effecitvely and eficiently.

Villanova had been putting up points at a high rate, using a balanced attack led by Cunningham and junior Scottie Reynolds. Sophomore Corey Fisher has also been a more consistent source of offense and, along with Reggie Redding, a stout defender on the perimeter. What has made 'Nova so tough in their recent run of good play has been the offensive contributions from Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson, a pair of seniors, as well as Corey Stokes, which seem to come at the right time when needed.

As always, a Jay Wright team will come out and play hard. They will be looking to shake off the cold shooting of Saturday, and the Irish defense is one that is more than likely to allow an opponent to get well offensively.

However, this is simply a must-win for the Irish and playing at home, you can expect them to be playing confident and with a sense of comfort at the Joyce Center. Look for some early three's and then Luke Harangody to take over in the paint. Once that happens, it will be tough for Villanova to overcome the energy that will take over the building.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Notre Dame 83
Villanova 75


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