McAlarney had been the floor general of the Notre Dame team. He was averaging 10 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field. The sophomore was a dead-eye three-point shooter, nailing 26-of-56 baskets from behind the arc. More importantly, McAlarney made great decisions on the court. His assist-to-turnover ratio was at 2.5:1. He's still third in the Big East in assists per contest (5.4/game). In the 12 games played this year, McAlarney did not have one where he committed more turnovers than assists. Scoring wise, he hit double figures four times, including a career-high 21 in the victory over Rider. Just hours after the solid outing, McAlarney's decision making off the court led to his dismissal from the university.
With the process over, what now for the 2006-07 Irish? They've played seven games without McAlarney and are 5-2 in those contests. Two players have assumed the void. The most pressure has been on Tory Jackson. The freshman guard from Saginaw, MI hasn't played fewer than 26 minutes since McAlarney's suspension. Jackson is quicker on the basketball but lacks the outside shooting presence that McAlarney brought to the floor. Jackson is shooting 41 percent from the field, 54 percent from the free throw line and just 18 percent (5-of-27) from three-point land. Defenses can sag into the lane and challenge him to make the long distance shot. With McAlarney, opponents had no such luxury. Also, Jackson has 57 assists to 41 turnovers, a bit under McAlarney's ratio.
There's a learning process with freshman and maybe it's starting to come together. Jackson has averaged 10 PPG the last two contests and dished out 13 assists to five assists. Tuesday's game in New York City at Madison Square Garden against St. John's should be another learning experience. The Red Storm (11-8, 2-4) are coming off an upset win over Syracuse and will look for two in a row over a Notre Dame team that hasn't won a true road game this season. Jackson will be instrumental in helping lead the Irish towards the NCAA Tournament, either positively or negatively. Another freshman, Jonathan Peoples, is the second option. His minutes have skyrocketed since the New Year and has played over 11 minutes in the past five games. Peoples spells Jackson at times and will be crucial in providing depth at the point guard position.
With McAlarney out, two freshmen will guide the offense for the rest of the Big East season. But Jackson and Peoples have a few good options to get the ball to. Russell Carter is third in the league in scoring at 17.9 PPG while junior forward Rob Kurz is a double-double machine in the paint. Freshman big body Luke Harangody provides points down low while senior guard Colin Falls is a sharpshooter from three-point range. There is a reason this team is first in the conference in scoring.
But the experience on the court and three-point shooting ability are the two biggies missed by McAlarney's dismissal from the university. A possible run into the NCAA Tournament would have been greatly aided by the sophomore's presence. But the Irish team must play with the hand that's dealt and the freshmen will get on-the-floor experience in a hurry. Notre Dame plays four of the next five on the road and a lot should be learned about this team in the next two weeks.