That squad was the first team eliminated on the tournament's first day, a last-second three-point shot for the tie hitting the rim.
Two years ago, Notre Dame authored its best regular season in 30 years, finished second in the Big East, advanced to the conference semi-finals, and earned a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
That squad played poorly, was suffocated, and lost to #10 seed Florida State (a talented defensive team); eliminated on the last game of the weekend.
This year, the Irish inexplicably won 13 conference games, advanced to the Big East semi-finals, and played well in a heartbreaking NCAA Tournament loss to Xavier in the last game played Friday night.
And for the ninth straight season, many of which were played at a high level throughout, the Notre Dame basketball team won't be in this week's national discussions regarding the Sweet 16, Elite 8, and beyond.
From this annual mid-March carnage we can draw two conclusions:
- Right or wrong, the bulk of Notre Dame's basketball fans have grown weary of NCAA early-round flameouts. At some point, these solid, sometimes standout regular season warriors need to break through to the NCAA's second weekend. Lower seed, higher seed, it doesn't matter.
Teams record upsets or play their best ball of the season during this single elimination tournament all the time. Good teams, average teams, athletic teams, hot teams, teams that rely on the three-point arc, and teams that base their attack on defense and rebounding. But rarely is that team Notre Dame (and as diehards know, that unfortunate eventuality pre-dates the Mike Brey era by 20 years).
- Notre Dame should/could have a solid, deep, seasoned, and slightly more athletic basketball team next year. The bulk of the rotation returns (with Scott Martin pending and the pleasant surprise of Tim Abromaitis unlikely), a big man transfer in Garrick Sherman–one that started 12 games as a freshman for Michigan State's most recent Final Four team, no less–becomes eligible, and two of three incoming freshmen could play key roles from mid-December's, if not the opening tip.
But the Irish can't continue to peak in late February and expect a fully invested fan base. That's certainly not a fair assessment of a program with a very good coach, 100 percent graduation rate, and fun-to-watch committed players, but no one can reasonably argue against its accuracy.
Finally, kudos to sophomore point guard Eric Atkins for draining a clutch free throw with two seconds remaining Friday night…it's a shame he wasn't allowed a chance at the second.
Bleary-eyed Sunday Mornings AwaitNotre Dame's last chance at downing Denard Robinson's Michigan Wolverines is the highlight contest in next year's home slate: a prime time matchup with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. (EDT) on NBC.
The game marks the ninth evening kick-off in Stadium history and fourth against the Wolverines. Notre Dame holds a 3-0 edge on Michigan under the lights in South Bend and is 6-2 all-time in prime time kickoffs at the Stadium dating back to 1982. The Irish have defeated Michigan (3-0), Michigan State (2-0), Stanford (1-0) while dropping decisions to Miami (1984) and to USC last fall.
The remaining five home games (Purdue, Stanford, BYU, Pittsburgh, and Senior Day vs. Wake Forest) will kickoff at 3:30 (EDT).
Notre Dame's neutral site contest vs. Miami at Soldier Field will also be played under the lights.
Road game times are yet to be determined including Navy (Dublin), at Michigan State, at Oklahoma, at Boston College and at USC to end the regular season. The Navy contest will be televised by CBS.
Should the Week Three contest at Michigan State be moved to the evening as it has in three of the last four matchups (2004, 2006, 2010), Notre Dame fans will view three straight prime time contests (Michigan State, Michigan, Miami) before hitting mid-season.
The season-ending contest vs. USC is nearly guaranteed to kick-off at 8 PM (EDT) with at least one of two matchups at Oklahoma/Boston College likely to receive a prime time start.
Carlisle, Coaches, and Pro HopefulsThe addition of Amir Carlisle to the 2012 fold adds a much-needed playmaker to the offense and special teams. Of interest will be the staff's handling of Carlisle in congress with similarly skilled Theo Riddick (RB/Slot).
Irish punt return duties seem there for the taking as well, assuming Carlisle can execute a fair catch, of course…
Notre Dame's Pro Day is set for Tuesday, April 3rd. Details, participants, schedule, and post-workout interviews to follow…
Finally, the Notre Dame Coach's Clinic is set for April 12-14 (Thursday-Saturday). This year's guest speakers include former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel and current Harvard head man, Tim Murphy, with Brian Kelly and the entire Irish staff giving presentations.
Registration is available online at www.notredamecoachesclinic.com. The clinic is $65 per coach or $50 per coach for groups of at least six coaches for those who pre-register. Walk-up registration is $80.