Hoyas Hefty Test for Irish

Notre Dame has had one game this season where it had absolutely no shot at winning, from opening tap to final buzzer: Georgetown. Can the Irish get their revenge Saturday at the MCI Center? IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli needed to be coerced inside (the weather is "sublime" in D.C.) to file this report. Stay with us through the weekend for courtside coverage.

 

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February 8, 2002

 Hoyas Need W
More Than Irish

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. (IE) – It’s a good thing the Notre Dame-Georgetown game wasn’t played Friday at high noon. The MCI Center would have been empty.

It was a sublime, 65-degree day in our Nation’s Capital Friday, perfect for picnicking on The National Mall and strolling the brick-lined neighborhoods of Georgetown. On the Hoyas’ campus, McDonough Gym was dark and silent while a steady thwack came from the packed outdoor tennis courts. There was no good reason to be inside on such an inspiring day.

But business calls on Saturday at noon and both teams should be eager to report. It’s another critical "crossroads" game in the tightly-bunched West Division of the Big East Conference. If Notre Dame (6-3 Big East, 16-6 overall) wins it stays tied in the loss column for first-place (with Pittsburgh and Syracuse) and inches ever close to the NCAA Tournament. An Irish victory would also but Georgetown two games in the rear-view mirror and puts the Hoyas (5-4, 14-7) on a path to the NIT.

A Georgetown victory, however, would move the Hoyas ahead of the Irish. And Craig Esherick’s team would have a tiebreak edge with a season sweep over Notre Dame.

"The game probably means more to us," said Esherick. "It’s on our homecourt, we’re chasing them. It’s a game we need."

Georgetown has won two straight – 75-60 over Syracuse and 84-77 over West Virginia – and has been off for a week. The Irish have won four straight, righting themselves beautifully after being pounded, 83-73, by Georgetown at the Joyce Center on January 21.

"A total physical mismatch," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey still says when recalling that game. "We didn’t have a chance."

Despite the team’s respective records, match-ups indicate that the Irish will be underdogs on Saturday. A troubling stat: Notre Dame turned the ball over just six times in the first game against Georgetown. And it still lost by 10 (it felt like 30).

"I was shocked when I saw that statistic, just shocked," said Esherick. "With the type of pressure defense we play, are you kidding? Notre Dame has a very good one at point."

Indeed. Chris Thomas, hands down in this reporter’s opinion, is the Big East Rookie of the Year. But the law of averages says Georgetown’s senior point guard, Kevin Braswell, is going to harass Thomas into more than three turnovers Saturday. If Braswell plays Thomas evenly, the Irish are in big trouble because the Hoyas have an enormous edge up front.

The Hoyas had a 51-35 rebounding edge in the first game with five players securing six or more boards. Big East MVP candidate Mike Sweetney had 21 points and 16 rebounds, leading the charge. But the Irish also didn’t have a size or athletic answer for 6-11 Wesley Wilson (11 points, six rebounds), 6-9 Courtland Freeman, 6-6 Gerald Riley or 6-8 freshman Harvey Thomas.

Can Harold Swanagan make that much difference? The senior captain did not dress against the Hoyas last month, and if he can help draw the Irish even off the glass, he’s more valuable than any of us dreamed.

"Tom Timmermans will need to step up also," said Brey. "I thought he was outstanding against Seton Hall (Sunday)." Is Timmermans ready for such a challenge?

Watch out for Georgetown freshman guard Tony Bethel also. A certain All-Rookie selection, Bethel is valuable for both his shot (10.8 points per game) and his perimeter defense. "Normally freshmen don’t guard," said Esherick. "That’s not an issue with Tony. He wants to play defense." So no easy looks for the Irish.

It’s an exceptionally difficult test for the Irish. On the flip side, though, Notre Dame has won two straight at the MCI Center and at least one-third of the anticipated 15,000 fans tomorrow will have Irish leanings. Swanagan will be buoyed by his outstanding second-half performance last year in this building. Troy Murphy fouled out with three minutes to play and Swanagan carried the offensive load in the most satisfying road win of the season.

Notre Dame should feel little pressure also. The four-game winning streak has given Brey’s bunch a little breathing room. If the Irish can manage a 2-1 record in their next three games (including a game at Rutgers next Thursday and a home game with Syracuse a week from Sunday) their division and NCAA standing will still be strong.

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at aatandsonspr@aol.com)


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