O’Malley’s Monday Musings

Nine thoughts following Notre Dame’s second straight gut shot loss in Elite 8 competition. (And oh yeah, spring football!)

1 – It seems implausible now… But Notre Dame beat North Carolina in February largely because the Irish owned the glass, corralling 20 offensive boards en route to an 80-76 win over the massive, athletic Tar Heels. They were instead pummeled last night, losing the battle of the boards 32 to 15 (fifteen?) with UNC collecting 13 on the offensive glass, nearly matching Notre Dame’s game total on both ends.

Moreover, credit the nation’s best team for finishing the drill: momentum swung and game pressure was applied when Notre Dame stormed back to take the lead near the 10-minute mark but the Tar Heels owned the duration. In three previous Irish victories over the last 15 months it was Carolina that folded in crunch time.

2 – Wait ‘Til Next Year: The most improved player in the nation since March 1st is V.J. Beachem, and I’m not sure it’s close. Additionally, Beachem’s classmate Demetrius Jackson appeared to play himself into the NBA Draft Lottery but the local hero had a look on his face as the seconds clicked down last night that he might want to return to finish what he, Beachem, and fellow senior-to-be Steve Vasturia started.

Jackson will test the NBA waters – and he’ll test well – which means the only reason to come back (he’ll get his degree later) is the pursuit of a national championship and thus the status of Notre Dame legend.

3 – No Choice, But… Irish head coach Mike Brey had no choice but to dust off the “Burn” offense to conclude the first half – he was basically stealing minutes with Zach Auguste on the bench saddled with two fouls – but using it thereafter into the second stanza was, for me, ill-conceived.

Notre Dame’s offense was far more effective, not to mention confident, in attack mode. Might as well die with your boots on.

4 – The ‘Cuse is in the House: Jim Boeheim was caught cheating. The NCAA doesn’t know how to properly discipline cheaters. Since 1 + 1 indeed equals two, count me among those joining the crotchety old curmudgeon in what I can only assume are a solid two middle fingers extended in the laughable Athletic Association’s direction. Boeheim crashed your party, NCAA, just as UConn did en route to the 2014 national title one season after being kept from the proceedings because of systemic academic failures.

As for North Carolina’s Roy Williams (also part of rampant academic misconduct, punishment delayed in an effort to chase this year’s title), I picture a more unassertive “aw shucks, what me worry?” open hand gesture in the NCAA’s collective direction as he attempts to cut down another set of nets next Monday.

5 – A “Good Problem to Have,” Part II? Cole Luke, Nick Watkins, Shaun Crawford as the first tier…Devin Butler and Nick Coleman next in line. Rookie reinforcements will join the fray this summer, plus redshirt-freshman Ashton White. Notre Dame’s cornerbacks unit has as much promise as any position on the roster in 2016. But we (media, fans, and coaches) were saying the same about the Irish middle linebackers at this point last season and through August, where the logjam of talent was “a good problem to have.”

It was clearly different when the bullets went live, and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder needs a big, playmaking season from his athletes on the perimeter.

6 – It Starts Up Front, Twice: The most important players on Notre Dame’s roster next season are Isaac Rochell, Daniel Cage, Jarron Jones, Jerry Tillery, and Andrew Trumbetti. Regardless of your chosen order among that quintet, on this topic I’m sure we can all reasonably agree, because if the Irish can’t consistently stop the run, their goose is cooked defensively.

But it’s the performance of fellow D-Line rotation members Jay Hayes, Jonathan Bonner, and likely a newbie (a healthy Daelin Hayes? Elijah Taylor? Someone off the radar?) that could make things interesting for VanGorder’s front seven. True, week-to-week depth up front can be more effective than having 1-2 dominant players as the Irish did last season in Rochell and Sheldon Day.

Remember, the most important positions in modern college football are: DL, OL, QB, cornerback, and backup DL…varied arguments regarding the remainder begin thereafter.

7 – The Vacuum: At first blush, Notre Dame’s top candidates to emerge as leaders are Mike McGlinchey, James Onwualu, Drue Tranquill, the aforementioned Isaac Rochell, and both upperclassmen quarterbacks. It’s a solid six-pack, but it’s likewise true that the Irish coaching staff – notably the head coach – has its work cut out in this regard.

Leadership and guidance through inevitable early season doubt might have to come from the top of the food chain until it can naturally take hold among the herd well into the fall. And balancing the fallout from a nationally publicized quarterback controversy is likely to be a major, major challenge.

8 – Bigger Can Be Better: I have a suggestion for the Irish coach staff in the wake of news that hiccup-quick slot receiver C.J. Sanders out at least four months due to a hip injury, and thus clearly either a redshirt candidate for 2016 or player that won’t likely be up to full speed  during Notre Dame’s trying September slate.

A return to the 12 Package (two tight ends) as the base, with senior Durham Smythe in-line and the preternaturally talented Aliz’e Jones as a detached “slot.” If Jones can improve as a blocker (and by “improve” I mean do a 180), Notre Dame’s offense could devastate defenses with legitimate run/pass options on every snap plus a six-foot-five, 245-pound athlete down the seam.

9 – Quite a Ride: Take solace Irish fans: the two most disheartening losses for Notre Dame’s basketball program over the last 28 (Sweet 16, 1988) possibly 35 seasons (Danny Ainge) both occurred in the last calendar year. But that’s a good – no, a great thing for a school that previously had an indifferent fan base loosely following it’s basketball team since the conclusion of the Reagan Administration.

Tis better to have loved and lost…

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