Monday, February 14, 2011

Elite Notre Dame Basketball?

So, I'm primarily a Notre Dame football fan. And when it comes to basketball, I'm a Hoosier at heart, having briefly started an IU basketball blog before I realized that maintaining two blogs is too much work.

That said, I couldn't let this season pass without posting about the Notre Dame basketball team.

I've been a Notre Dame basketball fan for a long time. I grew up cheering for Georgetown, and my undergraduate experience made me into a die-hard IU basketball fan. However, my grandmother (God rest her soul) used to take me to Notre Dame basketball games growing up. She was a season ticket holder to Notre Dame football and men's and women's basketball. I always enjoyed attending games and rooting for the Irish, but they were always a good team, never great.

Apparently, all of that is beginning to change.

This year's Irish are currently ranked 7th in the nation, and from what I've seen, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this Irish make a deep run into the tournament. Indeed, with a couple of breaks, they could win it all.

I've attended several games at Purcell Pavilion, and I've watched almost every game since mid-season. This team is a veteran team that doesn't make many mistakes. They don't turn the ball over much, are superb at moving the ball around, and will outhustle opponents.

Ben Hansbrough has grown into a legitimate Player of the Year candidate, but he's not a solo star. What makes Ben impressive is his unselfish style of play, which elevates the rest of his team. When he needs to, he can put the team on his back and will them to victory. However, he doesn't often need to.

The Irish are a team that can't afford injuries to their key players. They've been developing some additional depth, particularly inside with the recent development of Jack Cooley and outside with the growth of Scott Martin. However, what makes this Irish team dangerous is the combination of Hansbrough, Abromaitis, Scott and Nash.

Those four players all have their particular strengths, but the combination of all four of them on the court creates match-up nightmares for opponents. Tyrone Nash is a 6'8" forward that plays strong in the post, but has the ball-handling skills to run the point when needed. Carleton Scott is a 6'8" forward that plays with great length and is a defensive force that will hurt you inside or out on offense. Abromaitis is another 6'8" forward that is a great pure shooter. Put Hansbrough's versatility to shoot the ball or drive the basket, and that foursome is fearsome. With freshman Eric Atkins emerging as a superb ball handler and passer as a true freshman, and you have a complete team concept that is tough to beat.

Indeed, when Carleton Scott went down, the Irish struggled on the road, losing to Syracuse, Marquette and St. John's during that stretch. This is the kind of team that, with Scott in the lineup, probably wins every one of those games.

The Irish can play at whatever speed they choose, from the slow-it-down burn offense they choose to employ against teams that want to run up and down the court to the high-flying offense they can employ when they have a clear advantage in athleticism.

What that means is that this year's Irish is not a team I'd want to meet come tournament time. Experience is huge come tournament time, and in the era of one-and-dones, the Irish lineup is practically ancient. They know each other well, and they run the offensive and defensive schemes with an efficiency that makes it tough to overcome.

There is still quite a bit of basketball to be played, but don't be surprised if this year's Irish do something special.

Regardless of how the season ends, I know that it will be difficult for any future Irish teams to supplant their place in my heart. To me, they exemplify everything that Notre Dame stands for - doing things the right way, and doing them better than anyone else.