I feel the need to chime in before the last couple weeks of the season with some quick reflections on the Irish resurgence and thoughts on what's to come.
1. Rally Sons of Notre Dame
Mike Brey deserves a lot of credit for getting role players who got limited minutes (like Carleton Scott and Jack Cooley) to make major contributions over this great little four game stretch. The players deserve even more credit for not folding when their leading scorer and rebounder went out. Everyone from Tory Jackson to Mike Broghammer has handed in gutty performances during this win streak and even in the tight overtime loss to Louisville.
The questions I have for Mike Brey is why it took an injury to incorporate these guys (Scott/Cooley) with extended playing time and why Peoples was relegated to this role on the bench only after Harangody went down (he's averaged 4mpg in this three game win streak, the only three games all season where he played less than 10 minutes)?
2. Now That's What I Call Defense (Volume I)
For the first time in all my years of watching Notre Dame Basketball under Mike Brey I watched a team that was truly committed to defense when they shut down UConn. The Huskies have much better athletes at every single position but thanks to some great hustle and execution of a perfect gameplan the Irish smothered them.
This was the ultimate debunking of the myth that ND can't play good defense against the more athletic top-tier teams in the Big East. All it takes is effort and commitment. If they can keep this up over the next twelve months the Irish will be in the tournament in two weeks and a legitimate force to be reckoned with next year.
3. Great Scott
In the preseason predictions we did on the site with K-Mac and Ayers I chose Carleton as my "Player Most Likely to Surprise." The last two weeks have totally solidified my man crush on our rail-thin forward with the condor wing span. Despite the fact that he would be a middleweight in Bengal Bouts he's shown he possesses game-changing ability on the defensive end. He's a fantastic weakside help defender and someone who opponents now must think about when they drive into the lane. Whether he gets a hand on a shot or not he usually redirects the path of it thanks to his Manute Bol-esque arms.
Jay Bilas has to wear a bib when he watches Scott's tape. Also, I'd like to request that the band plays this song whenever he makes a big play before a timeout. Scott should probably learn the dance too--it'd probably shoot him up to #1 on my list of all-time favorite players if he did.
4. A Wise Man Once Said "Know Your Role"
When Luke Harangody comes back he must adjust the way he's been playing. There's a huge body of work that scouts can look at from this year to determine whether they think he can hack it in the pros, now it's time to focus strictly on what will help the team. He needs to channel Freshman Year "Bam Bam" Harangody, the guy who lived inside and roughed people up on both ends of the court. He needs to toughen up on the defensive end and worry about getting shots in the paint rather than camping out by the three point arc. A lot of people thought he had to shoot 20 times a game in order for the Irish to do anything this year. The last few weeks have proven that belief wrong.
This team has been playing incredibly well in his absence and I think a large part of that is the personnel fits Brey's scheme a bit better. Tyrone Nash is not the offensive force that Luke is, but he plays with his back to the basket, has a nice little arsenal of post-moves, and has FANTASTIC vision and passing ability for a big man. As we touched on earlier, Carleton Scott has added a new dynamic on defense while Cooley has added the bruising minutes Harangody used to supply his first couple years. Obviously you're not going to plant Luke on the bench when he comes back, but the time has come to tweak his game for the good of the team down the homestretch.
5. Don't Start the Dance Yet...
Everyone seems to think one more win gets us in. I disagree completely. We need two more whether it's Marquette and our first round Big East game or two in the Big East tournament. Yes, we're playing very, very well right now and have had some quality wins (Pitt, GTown, UConn, WVU), but it seems like everyone has conveniently forgotten that we have some pretty brutal albatrosses hanging around our necks right now (losses to Rutgers, Northwestern, and--gulp--Loyola Marymount).
Right now we're on the good side of the bubble but it's hardly a comfortable position. Should we drop one of these next two games suddenly the pundits (and selection committee) will remember the sub-par RPI, the weak SOS, and the fact that we've got some bad, BAD losses. There's an easy way to take care of that and it's W-I-N.
6. My One NCAA Tournament Wish
If the Irish squeak into the tourney, please for the love of God match them up against Xavier in round one. Mikey and I have been praying for this matchup since we were 16 years old. It would lead to a flurry of trash-talking posts that could only be topped by a Notre Dame-Penn State football game. The bet would be hefty, but no amount of money or on-demand pushups wagered could match the pride that would be on the line.
And for the record, we'd curb stomp those Muskiqueers.
GO IRISH, BEAT MARQUETTE