A staggered Notre Dame basketball squad continued its downward spiral Tuesday night, its 68-53 bloodletting at the hands of Athletic Coast Conference heavyweight Virginia the most recent defeat during an ugly 21-day stretch that includes six losses in seven contests.
Unable to win in league play away from home, Notre Dame has lost twice in four conference games inside the Purcell Pavilion with a heretofore unthinkable four home defeats overall.
Roster attrition through injury, suspension and otherwise has taken its toll. Payment is due in the form of an NIT berth -- the Nationally Irrelevant Tournament -- at season's end.
Notre Dame suffered 20 turnovers Tuesday night -- 27 Cavaliers points the net result. The Irish managed just 10 assists -- Virginia's suffocating perimeter defense and plan to aggressively trap the post reaped dividends for the visitors throughout.
"Let's give them a lot of credit," said Irish head coach Mike Brey post-game. "I think that's the best team in the league, the most confident team in the league. They thoroughly beat us down tonight. We made some bad decisions but they're really good defensively. Kind of imposed their will on us and broke our spirit a little bit."
Virginia is better than Notre Dame and likely better than a lot of teams. But these Irish don't have much fight, at least not in keeping with their predecessors that valued each possession on both sides of the court. Maintaining the program's streak of five consecutive NCAA Tournament berths is no longer a realistic consideration.
"You look at one of those (type of defeats) and you're amazed it only counts as one loss," said Brey. "But we'll go back to work tomorrow and try to figure out how to win a league game."
The deepest rotation Brey has featured in recent seasons is missing the coach's oft-ridiculed, but oh-so-necessary constants. There's no veteran rock reminiscent of Jack Cooley inside. The bruises the big man delivered on both ends have been replaced by scoop shots and indifferent defense.
The other team has the ball, they might score, but let's just make sure nobody gets hurt.
Contact as a form of impediment appears optional.
Suspended senior guard Jerian Grant, maddening tendencies and all, would doubtless help the cause on the perimeter. Playmakers are in short supply.
Veteran toughness and calm have been replaced by uncertain, tentative, unable, and some cases, not-yet-ready for prime time players. Both young and old alike.
The Irish defense had no answers near the rim
"You would hope at this point of the season you'd have (an identity) on one end of the floor," said Brey. "We really don't have it on either right now that we can count on.
"There can always been defensive effort. You can always start with that. As far as offensively, tonight's an example where your three old guys can't really find a very good rhythm, we're just not -- I don' know if we'll beat anybody that way."
"We're on our heels a little bit," Brey offered. "We're searching, we're not the most confident group and you can't inject anybody with confidence. We played our young guys the last six minutes. Just nice to see our young perimeter play together."
No Irish player hit double figures until freshman Demetrius Jackson -- in his first non-starting role prior to the New Year -- hit a pair of free throws to reach 10 points with 1:17 to play.
His output and effort led the Irish.
His efforts going forward will likely play a role in a season that finishes above or below .500
"I thought Demetrius did attack a little bit tonight," said Brey. "He was a spark for us. We decided to bring him off the bench just to change it up a little bit. Maybe that helped him.
"In the midst of not feeling very good, I don't want to lose where he's at right now and some of our young guys, because they got some quality minutes. This is still a long road here. Can we keep them progressing?
"I think my main focus is those three veteran guys," he continued. "Keep their heads up and go back to work…They're very hard on themselves, so they're very down. We need an upbeat practice tomorrow."
The 2014 Irish are a sinking ship, one with too many holes to plug. The final 10 regular season games and ensuing (and likely brief) conference tournament game will be more about improvement than impact for the now 11-10 (2-6) Irish.
"Can you figure out who you are before you go to the ACC Tournament?," Brey offered as a remaining goal. "It's probably realistic for who this team is and where we are. Can we find some identity en route to that? That's where we're at."