A 16-point halftime deficit; a margin that was never challenged. Season lows in points scored (56), field goal percentage (35%) and, to be blunt, overall effort.
Notre Dame’s fourth no-show among its nine league road games was perplexing only in its timing, as Mike Brey’s Irish doubtless needed a win more than their hosts, but apparently a team reeling from five consecutive losses took more pride in its lowly lot in ACC life than did a squad with faint hopes of a conference crown.
Florida State’s method to dissect what has been an inconsistent 2016 Irish defense was, not coincidentally, similar to Notre Dame’s offensive m.o. over the last two seasons. That is: pick-and-roll the defense to death and make them deal with the disparate consequences of their actions.
Protect the rim or overplay the arc? Saturday, Notre Dame did neither.
For Brey’s oddly indifferent Irish Saturday, it was a healthy dose of (wide open) long range jump shots – the normally bricklaying Seminoles finished 11-24 from downtown – coupled with an additional nine barely contested buckets in the Irish defensive paint.
Notre Dame’s defense has been its strong suit in at least four league wins this season, but last night it was a major part of the problem and reintroduced a blueprint for future foes on how to best attack Brey’s bunch in March.
Notre Dame rightly prides itself on the ability to bounce back from defeat, winning 13 straight in such situations. But what about embracing the chance to be great?
Two weeks after Brey offered a refreshing “Why Not Us?” scenario regarding a shot at the ACC regular season championship, his Irish instead find themselves back at their default goal of a double bye for the forthcoming conference tournament. Fourth-place or bust.
Notre Dame finished 1-2 in what was always going to be a determining three-game road trip – they were slight favorites entering each contest, played well twice, blew one of those, and took it on the chin in the third.
Perhaps Brey was more on point in mid-January when, in the wake of the squad’s first Top 25 ranking in seven weeks, he offered the following: “We might be the only team in the history of the poll to ask they take back our ranking.”
Notre Dame is clearly a better team when it feels slighted, when it feels its against the tide, when it feels its undermanned, and – pardon the cliché – with its backs against the wall.
That’ll be the aggregate in more than half of their remaining regular season, ACC and NCAA Tournament games. We’ll see if they respond in kind.
A FINAL DOSE OF HOME COOKING
The Irish concluded their nine-game conference road slate with a 4-5 mark – that’s likely one victory less than it “should have been” but hardly a debilitating result. What would hurt their cause – and likely the squad’s tenuous confidence level thereafter – would be a second home defeat.
Enter No. 12 (and rising) Miami and a rematch with a Hurricanes squad that bundled the Irish to begin the month, and head coach Jim Larranaga’s veteran group is coming off consecutive home wins over No. 3 Virginia and No. 11 Louisville.
Can the Irish, 6-1 in league home games to date, rise to the occasion Wednesday to defeat the surging ‘Canes? (Expect soon-to-be unranked Notre Dame to open as a two-point favorite over Top 10 Miami.)
Two home wins by the Irish (NC State visits South Bend next Saturday) to open March would close the regular season home slate at 8-1; a 12-6 final conference finish.
Considering Miami travels to aggressive, improving Virginia Tech to conclude its campaign thereafter, and fellow double-bye hopeful Duke (10-5) will have its hands full at Pittsburgh and against North Carolina two games later, a double bye for Brey’s bunch is well within reach. (Louisville is ineligible for tournament play.)
But they’ll have to play their best basketball Wednesday night to keep that hope alive. And much better, more focused basketball one, two, and perhaps three weeks later to make a run similar to last March.