These two players should be leading the way for the Irish next season (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
I needed to step away from basketball for a few weeks to be able to reflect on what transpired between November and March without emotion to muddle my view. If you remember my season preview, the team that was presented in that post was not the team that was featured on the court for most of the season.
Tim Abromaitis went down in his second game, Scott Martin got off to a horrendous start offensively, Mike Brey shuffled Alex Dragicevich and Joey Brooks in and out of the starting line up before settling on Pat Connaughton and with bad loss after bad loss in the pre-conference season, Notre Dame looked CBI bound about a month into the season.
More of the quick recap of the Irish roundball season after the jump
This team didn’t come into this season with high expectations from the media and even their own head coach. Before being picked to finish 9th in the Big East by the conference’s coaches, Brey himself said that "we’re going to have to scratch and claw to win an NCAA tournament bid."
Then came the win against then #21 Pittsburgh to open the Big East season. Sure, Pitt turned out to be overrated this season, but it meant a lot to this team who gained the confidence and belief that they could play and beat anyone. A couple of more growing games later came one of the greatest wins in Irish sports history: the takedown of undefeated #1 Syracuse at home. It wasn’t just a win, it was a complete beat down and clinic on how to beat Jim Boheim’s infamous 2-3 zone. Somehow, Brey was able to reduce the whole season to a single game for these young guys. One night where they can redeem their (up to that point) underwhelming season, one night in which they can make a memory of a lifetime as the nation’s eyes descended upon Purcell Pavilion on that fateful Saturday night.
That win propelled this squad to 8 more wins in a row as they set a school record 9 Big East wins in a row. That win streak included a takedown of Connecticut on their home court, a comeback win from a 20 point deficit against Villanova, and a thorough whipping of #15 Marquette. You as readers remember those moments: the young backcourt of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant carrying their team down the stretch with clutch play after clutch play no matter how poorly they played in the first 35 minutes, the rise of the monster known as Jack Cooley, and the charges taken by team MVP Scott Martin.
There’s no denying it, this team played peaked and better than it should have during league play. It was arguably the first Mike Brey team in 10 years to play at a higher level than its talent was capable of. But those highs were real and not a figment of our collective imagination, and that’s probably why the last few games of the season which included poor showings against St. John’s, Georgetown, Louisville and Xavier felt worse than they should have.
With Notre Dame feeling good about their 6th year requests for Abromaitis and martin most of this team is expected back – with the exception of the now transferring Dragicevich. We here at OFD will look at next year’s team more in-depth later when we roll out loquacious preview after preview during the summer, but for now we’ll look at this past season with reserved satisfaction. A season in which we saw a team overcome great obstacles, a season in which young players stepped up to the challenge to lead, a season in which we saw yet another #1 team go down to the Fighting Irish.
Yeah, it was a good year after all.