Sunday, May 1, 2011

Irish In the Groove After Winning Their Third Straight in Conference Play

Good teams find a way to win the close ones. Notre Dame dug down deep last week to gut out two conference wins to solidify second place in the Big East standings. Against Providence it was a gutsy last minute heroics by all-everything Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson in regulation to salvage their home court winning streak. On Saturday it was a total team effort from the Irish to brush off the pesky Blue Demons.

Even though there are skeptics out there that say the Irish are soft, can't put anyone away, and can't hold a lead; has really not been watching Notre Dame. Out of the eight games that Notre Dame has played that have been decided by 10 points or less, the Irish have been on the winning end six times (Kansas State, San Francisco, Connecticut, Villanova, Providence, and DePaul). Statistics don't lie, and defensively, the Irish are having a breakout season. Out of 328 Division I schools, Notre Dame is 45th in FG% Defense (40.3%), 8th in rebound margin (8.2), and 22nd in scoring margin.

Offensively, the Irish are even more lethal: 3rd in Assists (14.8 apg), 8th in Assist-to-Turnover ratio (1.41), 14th in 3 pt. FG% (40.4%), 25th in scoring (79.8 ppg), 38th in FT% (74%), and 8th in the nation in personal fouls per contest (14.8). Only three Irish players have fouled out in their 20 contests this season. That's not only good discipline, but a seasoned team that is cool under pressure. Notre Dame could have easily folded in the second half after seeing their 13 point lead against DePaul diminish to two points. Instead, the Irish nailed a 3 pt. bucket by Kyle McAlarney. After a Blue Demon basket, ND applied the pressure by trapping which resulted in this turn of events: Ryan Ayers jumper from the baseline, a tip-in bucket from Luke Harangody, a steal by Tory Jackson, which resulted in a poster picture dunk from Ayers.

Good teams adjust and find ways to get it done. After having a week off in between games, Mike Brey installed a 1-2-2 defense that he has shelved for two seasons. Not only has that worked real well, but it was key in their current three game winning streak. Both Villanova and Providence shot well below their averages, while the Irish forced DePaul to beat them from the outside. Even though the Blue Demons shot uncharacteristically from three, ND still nearly led the game for the full 40 minutes.

Basically, Brey's boys are getting it done with an electrifying offense, led by one of the best big men in the country, and a ever evolving defense that makes key stops at all the right times. Teams are taking notice, as the bullseye is on the Irish's back. Good thing for us, Notre Dame is gelling at the right time.

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