Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™
March 6, 2002
You Want Respect?
You Have to Carry NY
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service
NEW YORK (IE) – Why did Central Connecticut State garner the same number of votes this week in the AP poll as Notre Dame?
It's simple. Eastern writers have a large contingency of media members in the 72-person poll and Notre Dame has perennially been awful at the largest gathering of these writers – the Big East Conference Tournament. You want respect? Win a couple of games at the Garden and play on the weekend.
"My theory," said Jim O'Connell, national college basketball writer for the AP, "is that Notre Dame doesn't get the votes because it doesn't track high in the Big East. The voters never want to place too many teams from one conference in the poll and Notre Dame has never had that respect as an upper-echelon Big East team."
That's why Notre Dame's quarterfinal round game with St. John's Thursday night at 9:30 is so important. Its time to change the perception of this program.
It won't be easy. The Irish have the worst record (1-6) and lowest winning percentage in Big East Tournament history. Five of the losses have been by 10 or more points and in every game the Domers have had more turnovers than assists. Ugly.
"We use to be the laughingstock of the Big East, there's no hiding behind it," said senior forward David Graves. "This program is too proud and too rich in tradition to be that way."
The skepticism for the Irish program may be starting to lift. The New York Daily News picked Notre Dame to win this tournament. The Post and The Times both had the Irish in the final four here. ESPN's Mike Tirico fawned over Mike Brey at the Big East Awards ceremony Tuesday.
But all the goodwill for the program could be lost if the Irish fall to the Red Storm. It's time to make a stand in this tournament, and the players and staff know it.
"We're going to try and win the thing," said Brey. "We're in a position to handle things better. We're more mature. I think I know what to expect a little more the second time."
Brey's first Notre Dame team was an embarrassment at the Garden last March, losing 66-54 to Pittsburgh. The Irish were minus-14 on the boards, had 16 turnovers to seven assists and shot 19-for-52 from the field. What's worse, they looked like they would have rather been in South Bend.
"I don't think we were hungry last year," Graves understated. "We lost focus of our total goal. This year, everybody is hungry. We're poised and ready to have a strong showing in three days. We have the bench now to do it, and the guys are stepping in and playing well."
This formula worked for Pittsburgh. The Panthers won three games in the Big East Tournament last March. So when they started off fast in November and December this year, they quickly found their way into the polls. "A team like Oregon," said O'Connell, "doesn't track high in the Pac 10 so it took them a long time this year to get recognized. It's all perception."
The Irish will be looking for quick revenge against the Johnnies, who beat the Irish 84-81 last Wednesday. While Madison Square Garden rocked for home team on that night, the World's Greatest Arena has been far from friendly for the city team during this tournament. St. John's has lost in the first round nine of the last 16 years.
"We gave the game away last week," said senior forward Ryan Humphrey. "If we could have made one or two more defensive stops, we would have had a victory."
Humphrey also agrees that Notre Dame came into this tournament fat and happy last year.
"We felt people were going to lay down for us because we won (the West Division)," Humphrey said. "This year we have to make people lay down."
THE NOTEBOOK: Notre Dame had a late morning workout at John Jay College before the players scattered throughout the City of Heroes. Humphrey and point guard Chris Thomas spent time with their parents. Brey and his wife Tish and children Kyle and Callie took in "MammaMia" at the fabled Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway…Syracuse's winter meltdown continued with its 78-64 loss to Villanova. The 20-11 Orange have now lost nine of their last 13 and seven of the last nine to teams with winning records. The two victories came versus Notre Dame. IrishEyes figures Syracuse now can be the first team to win both the pre-season and post-season NIT…..Surely many Notre Dame fans feel Georgetown will be better next year without Kevin Braswell at the point. It's no coincidence that it was Drew Hall who made the game-winning penetration and dish against Providence and the magical John Linehan….Braswell still has at least one more game to avoid earning the distinction as the league's most disappointing player. That honor right now among upperclassmen has to go to Seton Hall's Darius Lane. The Pirates under Louis Orr are doing little to inspire hoop madness in North Jersey....Notre Dame has allowed 40 or more points in five of the last six halves it has played. That won't get it done in this tournament. "One man makes a mistake, that's all it takes," says Humphrey.....The general c concensus with the media is that St. John's needs to defeat Notre Dame to get into the NCAA's.
(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at email@example.com)