Color me fired up to get up to the Bend for the game this weekend. Haven't been up to the JACC yet this year for a game, so I hope it's a great crowd. Sounds like campus is already rocking for College Gameday's debut on the ND campus.
Big big game. I don't want to throw out the must win talk this early in the year, but I do think it would get a little scary if we lose tomorrow night (especially with Marquette coming in on Monday). We're sitting at 3-3 right now tied for 8th in the league, and I don't want to be in a situation where we fall further down the conference standings. The last thing I want to see is an Irish team facing a bunch of must win games down the stretch and in the Big East Tournament (which hasn't typically been our strong suit). Here's your standings in the Big East for now:
Marquette (11) 5-0 16-2
Louisville (9) 5-0 14-3
Connecticut (3) 6-1 17-1
Pittsburgh (4) 5-1 17-1
Syracuse (8) 5-2 17-3
Providence 5-2 13-6
West Virginia 3-2 14-4
Notre Dame (19) 3-3 12-5
Georgetown (12) 3-3 12-5
Cincinnati 3-4 13-7
Villanova (20) 2-3 14-4
South Florida 2-4 7-11
St. John's 1-5 10-8
Seton Hall 0-6 9-9
Rutgers 0-6 9-10
DePaul 0-6 8-11
By my count, there are probably 10 teams competing for NCAA bids right now: Pitt, Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette, UConn, Georgetown, ND, West Virginia, Villanova, and Providence. I'd probably put us somewhere in the middle of that pack, but I don't want to see us fall toward the back of the pack any time soon. It's obviously early and we are in the middle of our scheduling gauntlet, but I'd like to avoid any "bubble talk" freak outs by the ND Nation types who are prone to overreaction.
I feel good about this game coming up though. UConn is one of those teams that we have seemed to match up with well lately. Every time I watch them, it just seems like they have shaky chemistry and too many parts that don't match. And they don't have anyone who can exploit our two biggest defensive weaknesses: a dominant low post scorer or a bunch of guys who can light it up from 3. UConn obviously has guys who will cause problems for us (Adrien and Price will get their points), but their strengths don't cause as much concern for me for some reason.
The other thing is that we're finally back in the friendly confines at home. It feels like forever since we had our last home game, and you can just tell that a frenzy has been building all week over this game. It just feel like one of those games where we are going to come out of the gate like gangbusters and UConn won't be ready for it. It happens all the time in college basketball. We really really NEED this game, and they are coming off a bunch of solid wins and already are sitting at 6-1 in the league. Very similar to our game last week in Syracuse. The Cuse had been coming off a bad loss at Gtown, and they absolutely needed that win against us. We ran into a buzzsaw. I have a feeling that we might do the same thing to UConn. I think we jumped all over them last year early in the game (we were leading like 28-10 or something like that), they made their run, and then we pulled away. It seems like this game is setting up for a similar outcome.
We are a different team at home, and it has been proven time and time again to be the case. The one guy who ALWAYS seems to play with a different level of intensity at home is Tory Jackson. Mark it down, he'll have a big game tomorrow night. Maybe not a ton of points, but it will be one of those 7 point, 11 assist, 7 rebounds type games where he grabs a few huge boards in traffic and comes up with a couple big steals to really ignite the crowd. Tory Jackson is Mr. Electricity at home. On the road is a little different story, but I expect a nice game out of him. Same goes for Ayers.
McAlarney went off for 32 last year at home against UConn. If UConn doesn't come out and guard him, he'll go off again this year. I think UConn tends to underestimate us, so I do think we can jump on them again and get an early lead. That would be huge for our confidence.
And you KNOW that Harangody is going to be bring everything he's got tomorrow night with all the trash talk from Hasheem Thabeet in the offseason. As long as Harangody plays within himself, he can put up big numbers again on Thabeet.
I don't know, I could be wrong about this game, but UConn seems like the perfect matchup for a must-win statement game for the Irish. They are coming in as the #5 team in the country, but they always seem vulnerable to an upset. A win over UConn would be a high-profile win to quiet down the critics. I think the Irish will get in done, move to 4-3, and set up a big showdown with Marquette to hopefully give them their first loss in the conference. Back to back wins over Gtown and Marquette would put us at 5-3 with all kinds of momentum heading into the second half of conference play. At that point, we can start to revive the talk of a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Looking forward to it. Hope to be celebrating at The Backer afterward.