The Nine: Part II

Part II of our review of last night's double-overtime classic in Louisville examines the effort of Notre Dame's freshmen big men, the apparent Game 27 epiphany of the coaching staff, and offers further proof of sarcasm's healing power.

Click here for Part I.

Post Presence – Jack Cooley

Cooley had logged six Big East minutes entering the contest. He responded to his first dose of significant college basketball action with 5 rebounds (two offensive), 2 points, 2 steals, and a blocked shot in 19 minutes (not to mention a few minutes of national notoriety courtesy of the ESPN announcing crew of Fran Fraschilla and John Saunders).

More important, Cooley played solid post-position defense on Samardo Samuels before fouling out (the first of four Irish big men to do so while attempting to guard Samuels with kid gloves over the course of the contest).

The viable big man offered Irish fans a glimpse of the 1-2 sophomore center duo that will help ease the loss of program-great Luke Harangody in 2011.

A-Plus for Effort – Mike Broghammer

10 minutes, 2 steals, an offensive rebound (and ensuing bucket, which put the Irish ahead by three with 1:32 remaining in regulation). Broghammer had previously played one minute in one Big East game (at UConn).

The freshman had a chance to play the unlikely (impossible?) role of hero but his short baseline jump shot bounced twice off the rim before falling to the floor at the end of regulation.

As Broghammer's obvious energy and physical nature deserves further examination, I've decided to save it for the section at the end of this column.

Point Center – Tyrone Nash

The junior had a rough night, fouling out at the 4:30 mark of regulation with 4 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, a block, and 2 turnovers (in 28 minutes).

Nash allowed Samuels deep post position and was victimized by two silly fouls (his fault) and one hideous call (his fifth foul) over the course of the evening. The junior has developed into a nice post scorer and extra ball-handler that head coach Mike Brey relies upon to break man-to-man pressure as most centers are unable to contend with his ball handling acumen in a full-court situation.

Nash has had and will have much better days, but avoiding silly fouls will be a key during the season's final four-plus contests.

Second Verse, Same as the First – Jonathan Peoples

Peoples drained his initial offering – a 25-foot set shot from the left wing with the shot-clock winding down – then air-balled and nicked the front of the rim on his next two attempts. He logged 14 minutes with the 1-3 shooting effort the only statistical evidence that he was on the court.

Which reminds me….

Eight Men Out – Joey Brooks

48 minutes and 23 seconds after the opening tip, the promising freshman swingman made his first appearance in the contest after Notre Dame's fourth big man (in this case, Carleton Scott) had fouled out. The 6'5" Brooks was the only remaining non-redshirt or non-injured scholarship player on Brey's bench and (in keeping with the custom of the contest) was promptly called for a foul guarding Samuels in the post.

Why did Brooks watch while his exhausted teammates fought for every bucket, rebound and loose ball? Because you can't put a value on 14 minutes without a rebound, assist, steal, blocked shot, foul or turnover, I suppose…

Brooks was unguarded for more than three seconds on the game's final play under the basket, but Abromaitis never saw the freshman (or maybe he assumed he was still on the bench?) as the plan was clearly to attempt the game-winning three rather than attempt to take out Louisville in a third overtime.

As an aside, I have no problem with the theory of going for three and the win in last night's double-overtime, foul-laden situation. Notre Dame had no scholarship/healthy players remaining on the bench. Tim Abromaitis had four fouls… the Irish were on borrowed time and five more minutes would have greatly favored the Cardinals. Would a pass to Brooks and third overtime be better than a loss? Of course. But the strategy itself was sound, though obvious to everyone in the arena. Winning on the final possession was Notre Dame's best/last shot at the upset.

Game Officials

All three of Samardo Samuels relatives performed their duties to the best of their limited abilities...

Coaching and "The Blue Team"

Head coach Mike Brey and Irish senior captains Tory Jackson and Luke Harangody regular refer to "The Blue Team," Notre Dame's freshmen-laden bench (clad in blue practice jerseys), as a unit that fights for every inch in practice. One that makes the starters better by giving challenging the regulars when preparing for games.

Though mandated by the absence of Harangody, Brey's use of The Blue Team last night was impressive. Cooley and Broghammer brought an energy and physical presence that was sorely missing over the season's first 27 contests.

Carleton Scott graduated from practice blues to starting blues in Freedom Hall and responded with his most confident overall performance including a clutch three-point bucket to give the Irish a late lead.

Brooks, as noted above, would not have been called upon in the 50-minute contest had Scott not been the fourth Irish player disqualified after receiving his fifth foul. If you've followed the Irish over the last two seasons, his complete absence makes no basketball sense, but it's not unexpected, either.

Mike Broghammer fouled out in 10 frenetic minutes. In those 10 minutes he set the three best on-ball screens of any Irish player this season. In fact, I can't think of the fourth…the rest of the team's roster ties for last in that dirty work category.

He brings energy, aggressiveness, and size in the paint. He runs the floor and only wants to contribute in every way possible. In other words, one meaningless minute seems about right given the fact that Notre Dame bench members are basically utilized as ballast to ensure the tail end of the bench does not float away.

Jack Cooley played solid position post defense on Samuels, his inexperience showing on multiple occasions. That, of course was unavoidable, as there's no way Cooley could have worked his way into the lineup when the Irish had 20-plus point leads over Providence or West Virginia this season. Could he have not competed in the paint vs. the juggernaut that is DePaul?

Sarcasm aside, could neither of these active big men made a difference when the Irish were murdered on the boards (50 to 31!) in a two-point loss at Cincinnati? Or when Rutgers, RUTGERS! pounded the Irish for 46 boards including 15 offensive in their one-point upset win over ND in late January?

Last season, Tyrone Nash wilted away on the bench as a trio of Irish seniors averaged between 1.9 and 2.8 rebounds per contest, watching while Notre Dame stumbled through a seven-game mid-season skid.

By the time Nash received enough minutes to make a difference (14, 10, 9, 12, 8, 20, 25, 15, 21, and 20 to finish the season with a 6-4 record), Notre Dame's NCAA ship had already sailed.

You know what they say about those that don't learn from mistakes of the past…

Head Coach Mike Brey mentioned that he felt this team, more than those of the recent past, had a chance to improve straight through the end of the season. He was right. They did.


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