As Expected

Though the Irish folded late in Philadelphia Wednesday, the team has positioned itself for a post-season run, reaching our pre-season prediction of 4-4 after eight contests. IrishEyes offers its regular player-by-player post-game break down and a few thoughts on the surprisingly soft upcoming slate.

A look at the contributions of each Irish player in Wednesday night's loss at No. 3 Villanova.

For a full recap of the contest, click here.

Roster Rundown

Time to Force the Action – Tory Jackson: ESPN game analyst Jay Bilas was correct when he reiterated that Jackson needs to attack more at the offensive end. He's the team's best facilitator of offense with the ability to penetrate deeply and find an open teammate on kick-outs and in tight spaces near the rim. Jackson ranks as the best in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, but vs. Big East heavyweights such as Villanova (and three more remaining on the conference slate ), the Irish might be better off if the senior forces the action rather than allow the offense to bog down around him.

Jackson finished with six points, seven assists, and no rebounds (an anomaly, likely explained by the emphasis on the team's guards staying back defensively to ensure fewer breakouts by the speedy four-guard Villanova attack. He continues to struggle with his shot, but playing in constant attack mode, perhaps with two minutes of rest per half, would help the senior and his team remain in rhythm vs. the upcoming slate.

Remember Him? – Luke Harangody: Harangody can't play scoreless basketball for 12-plus minutes vs. the nation's No. 3 ranked team, but in the All American's defense, the Irish offense saw fit to find its top dog for a total of two shots in that span, as the home team methodically extended its lead from one at the break to 12.

Over that decisive stretch, Harangody missed two of three free throws, committed a turnover, recorded a steal, grabbed two rebounds, took an ill-advised jump shot and missed an easy layup. The stat sheet figures in the previous sentence offer that the most aggressive front line player in the conference was a bit too passive vs. the nation's third ranked team.

Of Harangody's 21 points and 9 boards vs. the ‘Cats, 16 and 7 occurred in the first 20 minutes, a span in which the Irish answered every rally from the quicker home team with a confident possession of its own. That attack broke down immediately in the second half, partly as a result of the team's inability to stop Villanova from scoring inside. The plentiful scoring chances in transition that the Irish enjoyed over the first 20 minutes disappeared without the benefit of defensive stops and the visitors were predictably unable to keep pace.

When that scenario inevitably repeats over the next 10 games, Notre Dame would do well to focus on its All American on the low block.

Take Me Home – Tim Abromaitis: The junior's 3-13 shooting performance was part opponent, part off-night, as Abro rimmed off a few open looks from long range. His tough night was ameliorated by an 8-10 effort from the charity stripe. If the usually on-target Abromaitis can continue to earn trips to the line at that pace, Notre Dame should emerge victorious in at least five of their next six contests.

Abro's home/road splits remain troubling, though not unusually for a first-year contributor (or for a Notre Dame basketball player, for that matter):

  • Four Home Starts (Providence, West Virginia, Syracuse, DePaul): 31-54 from the field (57.4 percent); 18-32 on 3-point shots (56.2 percent); 15-18 from the foul line (83 percent); 95 points and 23 rebounds.
  • Four Road Starts (Connecticut, South Florida, Cincinnati, Villanova): 15-42 (35.7 percent); 6-22 (27.2 percent); 15-20 (75 percent); 53 points and 25 rebounds.

The rebounds and free throw attempts suggest that Abromaitis remains aggressive, but the Irish will need more from their second-best scorer to win at least two more road contests (five remain) this season.

Putting in Work – Tyrone Nash: 12 points (on 4-5 from the field; 4-7 from the line), 6 rebounds, 2 assists (vs. one turnover), and four fouls in 23 minutes. This Irish team needs at least eight boards a game from its junior power forward, but I can't fault Nash's effort Wednesday night at the Wachovia Center. After consecutive games (and losses) vs. Cincinnati and Syracuse in which he contributed one point and two rebounds (no field goals) in 32 total minutes, Nash has responded with 25 points (on 8-11 shooting) and 16 boards in 57 minutes as the Irish earned a split vs. DePaul and the Wildcats.

Aside from his foul-plagued 13-minute 0-fer at Cincinnati, Nash has averaged 11 points and 7 rebounds away from home in conference play.

Earning his Keep – Carleton Scott: 11 minutes, one shot attempt (a missed three-pointer, though he was wide open), two rebounds (one offensive); an assist, a steal, and three blocked shots. If Scott wants more minutes, he needs to hit the boards more consistently. His interior defense (consecutive blocked layups when the Irish were desperately trying to fend off the ‘Cats near the end of the first half) fired up the squad, but the first-time contributor provided little lift in his few minutes of court time that followed.

Self-inflicted Wounds – Ben Hansbrough: 19 minutes and as many turnovers (3) as shot attempts. Hansbrough entered the contest third nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio, but his impatience and lack of focus undermined his overall game in Philadelphia and any chance the Irish had for an upset.

With just two fouls by his name at the start of the second half, Hansbrough took just over one minute to commit his third and fourth, respectively. After returning to the contest near the 14-minute mark, Hansbrough picked up his fifth foul and the best seat in the house for the final 12:48 of the contest. The senior is too smart of a player to make such costly mental mistakes (a player control foul near the hoop, whether the call was accurate or not, was an unnecessary end to Hansbrough's evening).

Repeat, Repeat – Jonathan Peoples: The senior opened the Big East season with a career night vs. Providence at the Purcell Pavilion: 26 minutes off the bench, 23 points (5-5 from beyond the arc); 6-8 from the foul line, 6 rebounds.

In the six games played between that contest and Wednesday's at Villanova, Peoples did not attempt a free throw in 81 minutes, hit just 1 of 7 shots from long range (a staggering 1 of 14 from the field overall) scored four total points and managed just six rebounds.

A senior trip-captain, Peoples has not embraced his sixth-man role (it must be noted that Coach Brey offered "I talked to him about winning the ‘Sixth-Man of the Year' award in the Big East following Peoples' sterling effort vs. the Friars in late December). But he did respond with 8 points, 3 boards, 2 assists (and 3 turnovers) when pressed into 25 minutes of action vs. a clearly superior quartet of Villanova guards.

The end result wasn't pretty, but that effort and aggressiveness will afford Peoples more playing time on the league's shortest bench.

Just a Taste – Joey Brooks: Seven minutes, two points, an assist, and a diving steal near the Wildcats' bucket. This probably isn't the ideal time for the Joey Brooks crusade, but which veteran Irish player has fared so well that Brooks is relegated to the bench?

DNP – Freshmen Mike Broghammer and Jack Cooley: Though I'd like to see the pair come in for a few possessions apiece in an effort to bang, foul, and grab a few boards (an inevitably firing up the home crowd), I have no problem with Brey sitting the two untested big men vs. the undersized Wildcats. No potential matchup favored the freshmen in Philly.

Review of the Preview

The game was listed among a group of four that would be considered Major Steals should the Irish have prevailed. The matchup in Philadelphia appeared to be the toughest for the Irish in the pre-season, and Villanova's ascension to No. 3 in the polls did nothing to dissuade that opinion.

My pre-game prediction called for 30 minutes of solid basketball by the Irish with 162 points scored and a 12-point loss. The point total was accurate, but ND managed about 27 minutes of competitive ball before succumbing 90-72 to their more talented, and unfortunately more focused hosts.

On Tap

The 15-6 Irish (4-4 in conference) travel to New Jersey Saturday to take on Rutgers (9-11, 0-8) the league's only winless team in Big East play. IrishEyes predicted Notre Dame would be 5-4 at the end of January with a chance to make a run vs. the soft middle of its conference schedule thereafter.

Taking care of business in Piscataway is a crucial first step.

A preview of the Rutgers contest will be published Saturday morning.


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