by Kevin O'Neill
It isn’t bitter. The teams and the fans behave well towards each other. The coaches respect each other. Notre Dame and Louisville have built a no-hatred rivalry that makes watching their basketball games a must.
Six of their last eight games have gone to overtime, three of them with multiple overtime periods. The teams have split those eight games evenly, and they have split the six overtime games evenly too.
“Let’s go three,” Mike Brey quipped when asked about Louisville after the St. John’s game.
“It’s awesome,” Brey continued. “There’s so much anticipation. I think our guys are excited, and I think Louisville is because there have been dramatic games. It’s certainly a great story line off the last one.
“We were fortunate enough to steal a win down there last time, so this group has played well there; but we know we’re going to get the (best) shot of a real good team.”
At his Thursday press conference, Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino called Saturday’s contest “the most important game we’ve ever played at home” during his 12 seasons at the helm. He cited two reasons. “One being we’re playing for a championship, which you don’t normally get,” he said. “And two is we’re saying goodbye to two really, really special young men.”
Those two young men are senior point guard Peyton Siva and junior center Gorgui Dieng who is likely to put his name in the NBA draft. “There are a lot of fine gentlemen in both professional and college basketball, but I don’t think any could epitomize what you’d want from a student or what you’d want from an athlete more so than Peyton and Gorgui,” said Pitino “That’s what makes it so special. They’re unique for this day and age.”
We know Louisville’s other key players because it’s a veteran team – Blackshear, Behanan, Smith, Hancock, Ware, Harrell, and VanTreese. The matchups matter, of course; but Notre Dame vs. Louisville is always about controlling the tempo. Louisville wants to play fast, and Pitino always seems to find himself bemoaning Notre Dame’s ability to prevent that from happening.
Notre Dame is far from a perfect team, but panic is not one its flaws. Consider the end of regulation in ND-UL Part 1, the excellent second half after a terrible first half against St. John’s last Tuesday, the nine game Big East winning streak last season after a looking bad during a 7-5 start to the season, or this season’s 11 conference victories (with a game to go) when .500 looked like a lofty goal halfway into the conference schedule. This group of players has shown a propensity for resurrection when things look bad.
In addition to the above, The Irish trailed as late as the 12:23 mark of the second half in their first victory over Cincinnati, trailed by 7 points at the half vs. USF in Tampa, trailed at the the 13:00 mark of the second half vs. Villanova, trailed with 1:21 left in regulation vs. DePaul in Rosemont and again with 5:00 left in the rematch in South Bend, and trailed infamously at Pittsburgh before rallying to win easily. They even rallied from a big deficit to make the Marquette game interesting before finally succumbing to the Warriors last Saturday.
Some of those recoveries are not badges of honor. The Irish have no business trailing DePaul and USF in the first place, but keeping their wits about them averted disaster. Averting disaster is what successful postseason teams do.
Atkins and Grant
Defense, Rebounding, Jack Cooley’s double-doubles… Those things are important, obviously; but the Irish are awfully tough to beat when both Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant are scoring.
“Those guys have to shoot for us,” Brey said earlier this week. “They just can’t be the playmaker. If you’ve got a shot, take a shot. They need to do that Saturday.”
Brey was reacting to the guards’ game against St. John’s – 15 combined points in the first half en route to a four point deficit vs. 21 points in the second half drubbing of the Red Storm, but there are other examples. They combined for 31 points vs. USF making 10-21 shots for the game, but they only had 6 points on 4 shot attempts when the Irish trailed by 7 points at halftime. Grant never got his offense going in the loss to Connecticut (5-18, 11 points) and had only 6 points in the loss to Providence. Atkins only had 6 points in the loss to Georgetown, 5 in the loss to Syracuse, and 7 in the loss to Providence.
Grant and Atkins average 15 and 13 points per game respectively. Notre Dame’s offense is in trouble when they don’t get their averages.
ND Women Honored
Skylar Diggins captured her second consecutive Big East Player of the Year award. Jewell Loyd was named Big East Freshman of the Year and Muffet McGraw took Big East Coach of the Year honors.
Natalie Achonwa and Kayla McBride joined Diggins on the 12-woman all-conference first team. Loyd received an honorable mention citation.
Well deserved on all counts.
On Friday, Big East commissioner Michael Aresco announced what has been rumored for a week – Effective July 1, seven Big East Catholic schools will form their own basketball-dominated league. They will take the Big East name, and their postseason tournament will be at Madison Square Garden.
Now it’s Notre Dame’s move. Will it move to the ACC in time for fall sports to play in their new league, will it spend a year with its Catholic brethren and join the ACC in 2014, or will it stay with the Big East football schools for a year before joining the ACC?
The answer depends on two significant issues.
- Can the ACC’s fall sports scheduling be modified to accommodate Notre Dame?
- Can ND reach a financial agreement with the Big East for an early departure?
Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick believes Notre Dame owes nothing because the league has been dissolved. ESPN is reporting that the Big East wants Notre Dame to pay $2.5 million to leave July 1st, well ahead of its required 27-month notice period.