Notre Dame has used four different starting lineups in the last five games and head coach Mike Brey hinted after the loss at UCLA that a fifth lineup could be trotted out on Thursday against Louisville.
While the frequent lineup changes feel like desperation, is there any other way to describe what a preseason top 10 team is feeling after losing seven straight games?
The Irish practiced on Sunday night after returning from Los Angeles and had Monday off before getting back to work on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I don't think we'd probably do anything until maybe Wednesday after practice or even Thursday at pregame meal," Brey said of making decisions. "I think it's got to kind of be open-ended right now given where we're at. If we make that decision on Thursday at pregame meal at 3, than that'll be the timing."
"I think it's taken a little bit of pressure off in Hillesland's and Ayers' cases and brought them back around and they've been more productive," said Brey. "In Jackson's case, I just thought maybe a different climate for him, he obviously responded very well individually."
Jackson agreed with Brey in his assessment and his decision.
"I really didn't use that as motivation or anything. I felt like it was a good move, Coach did a good job of just trying figure things out, mix things up a little bit," said Jackson. "He tried something new and I don't complain with that. I love Coach and whatever he does or whatever he wants me to do I'm willing to do it because he's my leader."
Jackson said that coming off the bench helped him against the Bruins when he led the team with 17 points.
"It really helped me see a lot of things," he said. "Early in the game I saw how some of the defenders from UCLA were defending some of the guards and I felt like I could take advantage."
Ayers said that it helps both the players who are taken out of the lineup and the players who are inserted in their places.
"More guys play with a chip on their shoulders," he said. "Guys feel like they're more important now that they're in the starting lineup which is a good thing and guys who aren't in the starting lineup say, ‘OK, I've got to make an impact.'"
But while the changes to the starting lineup have helped individual players, they have yet to help the team earn a win.
"What you'd like to have in a perfect world is to have your group respond better when you do that," said Brey. "We've had individuals respond, but we have not had our group respond."
So Brey will try to tinker with the lineup again to find a winning formula. He said after the UCLA game that he was not sure who he wanted to start or who he wanted to play against Louisville on Thursday, saying ‘no more guarantee time anymore.'
Even after a five-point, one-rebound performance at UCLA, there is no way that Brey would sit down Luke Harangody at the start of a game. Similarly, Kyle McAlarney is a guy who will not be coming off the bench and Brey sounded pleased that Jackson's reemergence would allow him to put him back in the starting lineup.
That would seem to leave Brey with that same three-guys-for-two-spots rotation between Hillesland, Ayers and Zeller. Sophomores Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott continue to play well and would seem like logical options as possible starters had Brey not said the move was unlikely, at least for now.
"I don't know about starting, but all of those guys will get their chances. They'll have their opportunities," Brey said of Nash and Scott. "They have got their chances and will continue to get their chances as we look to find a rhythm and a mix. I don't know if starting on Thursday would be, but maybe that's just Thursday."
But don't tell that to Nash or Scott, who are using Brey's comments after the UCLA game as motivation.
"We're all hungry now. That's really a wake up call for all of us," Nash said. "Everyday in practice we're really going to compete against each other because we know the spot's open now and we're looking to take advantage."
"Your opportunity, you never know when it can come up and if you keep working hard in practice it may pay off," said Scott. "It definitely motivates me…I'm really anxious, I just want to help out the team as much as I can."
Nash has seen the energy level of practices this week shoot back up.
"It's back to training camp really for us, everybody's fighting for that spot. I think it's good for us because it makes all of us compete and it's fun," he said. "It's an opportunity for me and other guys to step up to the challenge. We all look forward to getting that chance, but we have to compete everyday. Like Coach says, ‘Whoever competes is going to play.'"
It's up to Brey to make sure that whoever plays on Thursday is going to compete.