It’s a new year and after recharging over the holiday season, we’re back and ready to roll in 2010. Let’s kick off the decade with a little running diary of the Irish and Huskies this afternoon. UConn comes in ranked #10 in the country but fresh off a controversial loss to Cincinnati. The Irish are only a seven point underdog which seems a little tight considering ND’s historical ineptitude at UConn, but this is a perfect opportunity early in the conference season for the boys to announce their presence.
I have a feeling this season is going to play out either like the 2005-2006 campaign where we overachieved and were in a lot of games but never finished, or it’s going to be like the 2006-2007 campaign where we surpassed all expectations en route to clinching an NCAA berth. Here’s hoping it’s the latter.
2:04 Harangody gets things started off right with a long two after some great ball movement and a good kickout by Tyrone Nash. There are plenty of things to criticize Brey for, but you really have to admire how he’s able to piece together teams that year in and year out have such incredible ball movement.
2:05 Absolutely fantastic start by Tyrone Nash. On the first possession he drew a travel, the second possession he found Harangody for an open two, and the third possession he banged inside, missed his shot but tipped the rebound out to the perimeter and eventually got the ball back and finished. Just looking at him man up on defense he seems like a totally different and motivated player. He could be a HUGE difference maker if he can consistently give this sort of sustained effort.
2:06 Hansbrough picks Kemba Walker’s pocket and takes it the length of the court where Nash cleans up for another bucket. 6-0 Irish and Calhoun calls a timeout as he incredulously looks at his team on the court. Doesn’t seem like UConn knows the game started.
2:16 The Huskies have officially woken up. The Irish got up 10-4 but the size, speed, and athleticism of UConn is starting to show through as the Huskies cut it to a one point deficit with about 13 minutes left. They’ve already got four blocks including one where Stanley Robinson sent a Ben Hansbrough shot into the third row.
2:19 We head into the 12 minute timeout with the Irish leading 15-11 thanks to a Tory Jackson three from the corner. The Irish are doing a good job staying out in front and not letting UConn get on any sort of sustained run. The Huskies have a ton of size and athleticism—especially on the interior—and there are times when you wonder how ND is going to be able to keep up. If we’re going to stick around late in the game we have to continue to keep UConn somewhat off-balanced when we’re on offense and perhaps most importantly force them to go one and out on defense. If we can find a way to keep the rebound battle close we’ll have a shot. Otherwise they’re going to be able to gradually wear us down.
2:21 The announcers are talking about how well Abromaitis and the team in general does in the classroom which is great, but please for the love of God don’t say our team is “full of smart cookies” ever again. Smart cookie is a term mothers used in the early 90’s.
2:27 We’re at the eight minute timeout and the Irish are clinging to a 1 point lead, 19-18. These announcers (Clay Matvick is the play-by-play, Bob Wenzel is the color) are ridiculously excitable—every time UConn fast breaks they make it sound like you’re watching Magic and the Showtime offense. Every time Tory Jackson does something Wenzel gushes about him. They’re just loving everything which is borderline annoying. Gus Johnson should be the ceiling for excitability and at this unexciting juncture in the game he wouldn’t be imitating Pepper from Dodgeball like these guys are.
2:33 UConn is on a little run here and takes the lead 26-22 on a pair of Edwards baskets so Brey calls a timeout to settle things down. The last four possessions we’ve thrown out a 2-3 zone, a 3-2, and straight man. When we go man-to-man it really highlights the athletic mismatches we face at just about every position. We’re going to sink or swim based on how effective our zones can be.
2:37 At the four minute timeout Notre Dame is back out in front 27-26 after a little 5-0 run. Carleton Scott is getting significant playing time for the first time in awhile which is good to see. He’s been shaky shooting the ball thus far—I think he’s 0-3—but it’s good to see him out there. Scott is one of the few that can match up athletically in this game. He’s like a taller, lankier version of Russell Carter. On the other hand you have Jonathan Peoples who is having a rough outing to say the least. He proved against Providence that when teams forget about him he can jump up and bite them, but against a team like this his deficiencies are really evident. We’re still hanging tough though, have to be happy with this start as an ND fan.
2:44 Harangody hits a shot in the lane with two seconds left to pull the Irish within two points at halftime, 34-32. The Irish did a nice job weathering a UConn run there. Meanwhile Wenzel is about to run out on the court and start dry humping the Big East logo. Good Lord, someone spike his drink. Yes, it’s been a good game thus far but give me a break.
2:48 Quick halftime rundown:
* Great first half from Tyrone Nash, best half of basketball I’ve seen him play his entire career. He finished around the basket (9pts) and was the presence we need on the defensive interior.
* Also an effective first half for Ben Hansbrough. He did a great job staying patient for the most part and did a good job getting in the lane every now and then in an attempt to get to the free throw line. He doesn’t take many bad shots.
* Quiet half for Abromaitis. The announcers keep talking about how he looks jittery. I don’t really sense that, he just hasn’t had many opportunities thus far.
* Harangody finished the half with 12 points and five boards but he has to be more efficient on the offensive end and provide some semblance of defense.
* This UConn team is very much what I’ve come to expect of Jim Calhoun units. They’re incredibly talented and athletic but they look borderline disinterested for lengthy stretches. The Huskies never seem to be able to keep the foot on the gas for an entire game—a lot of times they let inferior teams hang around like the Irish are right now and occasionally someone jumps up and bites them even though they’re clearly the better team (see: George Mason in 2006).
3:00 We come out of the break with some halftime stats. 26 of UConn’s 34 points have come in the paint, but they also on have four second chance points. What does that mean? That the Huskies don’t need a second chance because they’re making it the first time they shoot. It’s time to man up on defense inside and stop giving up easy looks.
3:06 We’re at the first TV timeout of the half and the Irish are still down two (43-41). Harangody has a couple buckets and Nash threw one in as well. Harangody’s game has really evolved over the course of his career. He does have an effective jumper now and he’s got a Tyler Hansbrough-like arsenal of running/awkward shots that find a way in the hoop, but part of me wishes he channel his inner freshman a bit. His freshman year he just hurt people whether it was his own teammates in practice or the opponents. I wouldn’t go as far as saying he’s become a finesse player, but when’s the last time you remember him banging people around like he did as a freshman? He seemed like the big kid who didn’t know how to play with the little kids that year—we used to call him “Bam Bam.” I’d loved to see some of that again.
3:12 Notre Dame is forced to call a timeout at the 14:24 mark after Stanley Robinson gets his own rebound twice and throws home a monster dunk over Jonathan Peoples on what’s sure to be a Sportscenter Top 10 play. The color guy just blacked out he was so excited. Irish are down by 6 and we need to stop the bleeding fast.
3:19 We head into the 12 minute TV timeout with the Irish down only three after back-to-back threes by Hansbrough and Abromaitis. The three by Hansbrough was set up by some fantastic ball movement where ultimately Tory ended up finding him in the corner on the break. We need to find a way to stay close and then hope for a spurt at the right time. Abro’s been quiet, maybe that bomb from the corner woke him up.
3:23 Irish back on top 54-53 after back-to-back jumpers by Harangody. Tory Jackson has done much on the scoresheet today but with few exceptions he’s played a very steady game and has set the table extremely well. He found Luke for his last bucket on a nice little kick off of dribble penetration on the baseline.
3:33 UConn has started to open things up with a 10-2 run and the commentators are continually mixing up Harangody and Hansbrough. They just had an entire conversation on how effective Hansbrough’s jump hook is (it was Harangody who made the shot) and how Harangody had his pocket picked at the top of the key (Hansbrough was the one who was stripped).
3:40 We’re at the four minute timeout and the Irish are down by six. Abromatis and Jackson hit back-to-back threes to keep us close but UConn is wearing us down. Stanley Robinson has 20 points, 12 rebounds, and has been a pretty dominating presence on the defensive interior. It’s going to be tough to make up this deficit—I like Abro, Hansbrough, and Tory, but that trio doesn’t have the outside firepower last year’s squad had with McAlarney and Ayers. COME ON IRISH, MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.
3:43 Tory misses the front end of a 1-and-1 out of the timeout. That’s far and away his biggest Achilles heel. UConn promptly goes down and runs a beautiful pick and roll out of a 30-second timeout that leads to an Edwards dunk. Instead of being down four we’re now down eight. Devasting swing right there.
3:52 UConn has put this game away and now it’s just a matter of what the final will be. Disappointing
3:58 UConn wins 82-70.
Three Snap Judgments
1. Not a bad performance by the Irish. They hung around with a top ten team on the road for about 35 minutes which is a positive. However this game also highlights how far the team is from being elite. We played a very good game, UConn handed in a lethargic performance, and we still lost by 12.
2. Stanley Robinson is an impressive athletic specimen. He had his way all day with an overmatched Irish front line, posting 22 points and 16 rebounds. This UConn team should be a top ten outfit with the combination of Robinson-Dyson-Walker-Edwards but their effort and focus is inconsistent. They had enough talent to blow ND out of the building but let them hang around until late in the second half. Mark my words: the Huskies will be a high seed in March that gets knocked out earlier than they should.
3. Like I said at the beginning of the game, for all of Brey’s faults as a coach no one can debate how well his team works the ball offensively. Very rarely does an opponent get them out of synch (Washington State in the NCAA tournament was one that sticks out); normally when the offense doesn’t hum it’s just because they aren’t making shots. The team didn’t shoot particularly well today (40% from the field, 36.4% from 3pt range) and didn’t get to the foul line nearly enough (only 8 attempts compared with 23 by UConn). Those are two big reasons ND lost. The other main reason is UConn just wore the Irish down inside over the course of the game. As the second half wore on the boys had no answer for the combination of Robinson and Edwards.
The Irish don’t have the high octane three point attack we’ve been accustomed to seeing over the past five or six years. Having that ability to go on 9 and 12 point runs in the blink of an eye covers up a lot of flaws. We’ll find out over the next two weeks whether or not ND can survive this year without that three point safety net.