Monday Morning Briefing

Recruiting news (good and bad), an unlikely transfer in, and a pair of hardwood upsets highlighted a wild 48 hours of sports at the University of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame students are a week away from their return from Christmas break, but they missed one of the biggest sports weekends of the year at the University during their absence.

From Saturday morning through late Sunday afternoon, the Irish basketball teams scored a pair of road overtime upsets with the #3 ranked women's squad taking down #2 Connecticut in Storrs, and the unranked men's unit shocking their fans with a double-OT win at #10 Louisville.

Just prior to those hardwood heroics, Brian Kelly's football program gained a commitment and secured a west coast freshman transfer. Less than 24 hours later, it (at least temporarily) lost one of the most promising players from its 2012 list of verbal pledges.

Below is a more detailed review of the weekend that was at Notre Dame:

The Good

I'm biased, but the best moment of a wild Notre Dame sports weekend was the stunning upset by Mike Brey's bunch at Louisville:

  1. Notre Dame's win at #10 Louisville Saturday was not only the most unlikely win of the season for the Irish according to Irisheyes.com, but also in the view of the Vegas oddsmakers: the 12.5-point spread was the largest beaten outright by the program since a two-point win as 14-point underdogs at West Virginia...in 1998! (John MacLoed was the Irish head coach).

    Brey's Irish have made a recent habit of double-digit conference upsets, winning at #2 Pittsburgh as underdogs of 10.5 points last February, and against the same odds at Georgetown in late February 2010.

  2. Saturday's box score shows the sophomore backcourt of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant (technically a redshirt-freshman) as a combined 8 for 29 in the victory. Those that watched the game's second half know better – the pair grew up under duress and in a hostile environment to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at the KFC Yum! Center, a building that housed 20 consecutive victories prior to a home court downturn (consecutive losses including a defeat at the hands of #12 Georgetown).

  3. The Irish were left for dead (by me, and most colleagues) after an 0-5 non-conference showing. They've since beaten two ranked teams with Saturday's road victory serving as a feather in their cap during NCAA Tournament deliberations in mid-March.

    Notre Dame is still a long-shot for the dance – but with two wins in their first three Big East games and a game in which they'll be favored on tap (South Florida), it's a plausible end-season scenario for the first time since the team was eviscerated by Missouri in late-November.

    • Nation's Best: 57 up, 57 down. That's what Muffet McGraw's #2 ranked Irish overcame with their 74-67 overtime win at #2 Connecticut, snapping the Huskies 57-game Big East winning streak.

      "Obviously when you get to the national championship game, you think that you're a pretty good team, and then you kind of start all over again," McGraw offered after the victory. "We've got to prove ourselves all over again. So coming out and being able to beat such a great reputation nationally, ranked second in the country, you know they've got a tremendous program."

      The win was Notre Dame's second straight vs. the nation's best basketball program – the former occurring in last year's Final Four.

      Big Skill

      The addition of 6'2" 205-pound safety Elijah Shumate to the 2012 class gives Kelly another flexible DB/LB/RB prospect (Spring, Texas-product Nick Baratti the other). As Kelly noted in our first interview more than two years ago: "The 'Big Skill' (recruiting category) is profiling out – if I could take 20 guys that were ‘tough gentlemen' that also fit the profile of Notre Dame academically, that were 6'4" and 215 or 220 pounds, you'd (writers and fans) never be able to track who's playing where. Some play defensive end, some play tight end; some are safeties…‘Big Skill.'"

      Shumate and Baratti might not reach 6'4" and neither will play defensive end, but they both appear to possess the necessary addendum Kelly added that day to the Big Skill category in which he puts more of a premium on, "a ‘football player' one that likely possesses certain traits that make you who you are as a football player."

      With "Power" players collected at a premium in the 2011 class, and "Skill" the focus this winter, look for a major Big Skill push in the 2013 recruiting cycle. Its a group that will be needed to round out depth on what will be a versatile roster.

      Incoming and Outgoing?

      The name "Amir Carlisle" came my way under sealed affidavit (only a slight exaggeration) on Christmas Eve. I still have to admit surprise that a USC Trojans freshman has apparently made his way so seamlessly to Notre Dame after one semester on the West Coast.

      Regardless, Carlisle's addition will either augment the running back position in 2013 or become a necessity should Cierre Wood forgo his final season of eligibility after another good season next fall.

      Carlisle could also project to the slot as did Theo Riddick before him, but I have to assume, like his predecessor Riddick, that Carlisle would be much more effective in space as a runner with a head of steam and the football in his hands rather than as a forced slot target.

      De-commit #2: The Autumn loss of South Bend-product David Perkins from Kelly's 2012 class was negligible. Issues abound with the talented but combustible Perkins, and many of those wouldn't fly at the University of Notre Dame as they did at Washington High School.

      But the potential loss of Scout.com's #1 ranked cornerback Ronald Darby would be major. Kelly's roster needs an influx of rare speed – not the padded, garden-variety 4.5 forty-yard-dash variety that has miraculously accompanied hundreds of high school prospects over the years – but true, unadulterated, game-changing speed.

      Darby has it, and the Irish need more of it. Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt were the 2011 season's prodigal sons – Darby needs to be the same in 2012.


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