I was thinking of this recap as I frustratedly clicked off my TV Wednesday afternoon. The first word that came to mind was "microcosm."
microcosm: noun a community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristic qualities or features of something much larger.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one who felt the Irish defeat at the hands of the Demon Deacons felt like a mini-version of the season:
There will be plenty of time to look at the season as a whole, but let's just break down the first (and now only) game played by Notre Dame in the ACC tournament.
Let us first be completely honest with ourselves, this was a pillow-fight between the 102nd and 110th ranked teams in Ken Pomeroy's Ratings. Mike Brey's team brought in their 203rd rated defensive game and put it on full display for all in Greensboro to see. In a tournament game, Wake Forest managed to outscore their season average by 11 points and managed to shoot a staggering 70% eFG vs. the Notre Dame defense. The Irish led the turnover battle with 9 fewer than the Deacons but still got beat by 12. You could feel the eyes of Irish fans everywhere rolling as the ESPN crew of McDonough and Bilas discussed Brad Stevens money ball approaches to statistical analysis and 3 additional stops providing a significant lift to defensive efficiency numbers. I'm sure I wasn't the only one shouting at my TV, "How about one?" The Irish gave up 81 points on 65 possessions, resulting in a 125% efficiency rating for the Wake offense. Just for perspective, on the conference season, Wake averaged 102%, good for 12th in the league. Notre Dame got down early, and senior PG Eric Atkins found foul trouble in the first half. Winning games in tournament basketball requires a defensive intensity that the Irish never found on Wednesday.
Notre Dame couldn't defend without fouling, and when they didn't foul, the Deamon Deacons were knocking down shots. Just looking at the box score, you'd have thought the Irish did OK by only giving up 6 offensive boards to Wake, but when you compare that to only 14 defensive boards by Notre Dame, you see the Demon Deacons with a 5 point advantage in offensive rebounding percentage.
It isn't difficult to see how these stats align with a lopsided final score.
When we kicked off the season, we noted that Mike Brey's side would have to be ruthlessly efficient on the offensive end in order to cover for some potential rebounding deficiencies. That just wasn't the case on Wednesday. The Irish shot a lowly 45% eFG and made only 6 of 20 three point attempts. It was extremely tempting to look at this game and think the Irish couldn't hit a shot and were "just cold," but when you look at Notre Dame in ACC play, the 106.2 offensive efficiency rating for this game is dead on the Irish 106.0 average in conference play, 8th best in the ACC. Sure, the Irish could have shot their way in to this game, but like much of the year, it was their lack of effectiveness on the defensive end that closed down the season. You wish you could point to a single flaw in the Irish defensive scheme, but if Devin Thomas wasn't torching interior defenders with his 19 points on the inside, guards Coron Williams and Miles Overton were lighting up the perimeter with a combined 6-8 from behind the 3 point line.
With no post season opportunities, Mike Brey was resolved to simply shut this frustrating season down and thus end the careers of Eric Atkins, Tom Knight, and Garrick Sherman. It was a sad ending, particularly for Atkins, who moved into a tie with Matt Carroll for the most games played for the Irish at 133. As Jerian Grant cast a long shadow over the Greensboro Coliseum floor, the point guard for one of the winningest 4-year stretches in Irish baskeball history went out in an entirely disappointing manner. As a fan, it was difficult to see his run end this way.
With ESPN's frequent cuts to Grant in the stands and repeated references to his academic separation from the University of Notre Dame, it became easy to think that if Jerian were simply ready to get in the game, this game (and season) would have been saved. For me, however, it isn't that simple. In particular, Wake's bigs played with a physicality and intensity that the Irish couldn't match on the interior. While Grant brings a lot to the table, watching Thomas and Arnaud-William Adala Moto out-hustle and out-muscle the Irish front line is the root cause of this team's frustrations. You could see the number of deflections and loose balls that went Wake's way. Without a new level of defensive intensity and interior grit, I'm not sure Grant makes the difference that was implied by the Bilas and McDonough.
And so ends the 2013-2014 Notre Dame men's basketball season. In the coming weeks, we'll try to put a bow on one of the most frustrating seasons in recent memory. I'll be breaking down the stats for the year and try to putting them in perspective. The good news is: we start with a clean slate this fall, and our lead man, Alstein, has some great news to look forward to here and here.
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