Avalanche of Bad Breaks Lands Notre Dame in the NIT

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

This was the Golden Era of Irish Basketball. The run of success that started in 2015 would continue. Last year, the Irish were a mis-timed rolled ankle from hanging another ACC banner and deep NCAA run. This year, they returned the rightful ACC player of the year and were picked to make a successful run through the league.

It was supposed to be a year full of milestones and celebrations. The senior class of Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, and Martinas Geben — along with Matt Gregory and grad student Austin Torres — were going to go out on top. They would easily surpass the record for wins in an Irish uniform. They’d hug Mike Brey as he celebrated passing Digger Phelps on the all-time list. They’d make quick work of eclipsing Brey’s 400th win at Notre Dame and 500th overall for his career. The ACC Tournament was returning Brooklyn, a site that witnessed Irish success.

Sure, there were a few concerns. Where would the Irish get their shooting and generate spacing? How quickly could DJ Harvey enter the mix? How would the rotation sort out?

A t-shirt and lei fueled romp through Maui quickly erased those concerns. Notre Dame ran through Chaminade and LSU on the way to a showdown with Wichita State. Martinas Geben’s clutch FT’s secured the championship and all those concerns melted away. The Irish rocketed their way to 5th in the polls.

A week later, a very good Michigan State team, absolutely pantsed the Irish in the ACC/B10 Challenge. Writing off the poor performance was easy. The Spartans fed off a raucous home atmosphere and had just destroyed North Carolina. The Irish were suffering a little Maui hangover. Understandable.

A week later, however, cracks started to form. A three-point loss to lowly Ball State at home was cause for alarm. Eleven days later, an OT loss to a pathetic Indiana team in the cursed Crossroads Classic rang loud alarm bells. The Irish seemed to sleep walk through the late stages in Indy, losing both their offensive and defensive identities. Irish fans, accustomed to great late-game execution, saw an easy victory slip away due to carelessness by veteran players. Notre Dame fell from the top 25 after the Indy disaster. Months later, those two games would be the core of the narrative against placing ND in the NCAA Tournament.

The Irish opened ACC play with a comfortable home win over the always tricky Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Bonzie Colson led with 22 and 18 in 39 minutes of action. The win tied Mike Brey with Digger Phelps. All was right in the Irish basketball universe.

But then, it wasn’t.

On January 2nd, Notre Dame announced that Colson had fractured a bone in his foot, required surgery, and would miss a minimum of eight weeks. Not all the air came out of the balloon at once. There was the feel-good beat-down of NC State to give Brey the record. However, that game further complicated the season. Matt Farrell’s severely sprained ankle would sideline him for several games.

Even still, Notre Dame gutted out one of the toughest performances in program history. They went up to Syracuse and beat the NCAA Tournament competitor head-to-head on their own floor. Despite missing both Colson and Farrell, Rex Pflueger’s late tip sealed one of the more satisfying victories in recent memory.

Unfortunately, that would be the last time we’d see the Irish emerge victorious for an entire month. Notre Dame would get close. They beat North Carolina at home, but some of the most egregious officiating “mistakes” we’ve seen in our time in the ACC cost Notre Dame the home win. Again, it is easy to imagine that home win being enough to put ND in the NCAA field. Sadly, the ACC couldn’t afford their show pony to fall below .500 in the conference. The Irish took fellow tournament snub Louisville to the traditional 2OT game, but came up short.

The Louisville game stands out as especially painful. Not only did the Irish miss a chance to scrape their way to a .500 record in the ACC, but they lost DJ Harvey for the season. Harvey’s accelerated development was supposed to be the consolation prize for missing Colson.

Short handed and battling, Notre Dame lost another close one to Virginia Tech. It was the Hokies’ third best three-point shooting night of the season, but Notre Dame was within two points late. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: they did it without Farrell or Colson. Blowouts at Duke and NC State followed. The Irish had played well in the state of North Carolina through the previous three seasons. The sequential beat-downs stung even more. The losing streak reached seven.

On the home stretch, there were signs of life. Notre Dame managed to scratch out a 5-3 record in the late stages of the ACC season. Farrell’s return to health and an easy schedule set up a narrative that if Colson could get healthy, the Irish would have a shot. Like a fairy tale, Colson’s return against the lowly Pitt Panthers was spectacular. The Irish were back. A close loss to number one Virginia managed to feed they hype. Every pundit and talking head was discussing the Irish. Bonzie’s return was a feel-good story heading in to Brooklyn and the ACC Tournament.

A sub-par performance in the sleepy opening day matchup with Pitt again took the air out of the Irish balloon. Notre Dame started to slip from projected brackets. A stirring comeback Wednesday night against Virginia Tech seemed to right the ship. It took ten minutes of brilliant basketball, and an epic Hokie collapse to keep the season alive. The damage, however, was done. Many believed ND now had to beat Duke to punch their ticket. The great play from the last ten minutes from the VT game carried into the first 30 of the Duke game. Notre Dame played fairly well. Sadly, the combination of a wise Duke game plan and inevitable Irish fatigue caught up to Mike Brey and his team. The Duke game got away from them in the second half. The blowout loss fully turned the narrative. Even with Bonzie back, the field might not have a place for Notre Dame.

Sunday confirmed Irish fans worst fears. The NCAA had an opportunity to reward a school who values education and maintains academic integrity. The NCAA could endorse a team led by seniors who got better during their time on campus and leave with valuable degrees. Instead, they put Syracuse in the field. There’s no logic to it. There’s no defense for it. Sitting here cataloging the reasons it is stupid won’t make any of us feel any better.

Where does that leave us?

Even if the Irish can get off the mat and find a way to secure a title as the 69th best team in the country, was it a successful season?

I’m not sure. I’ve long said that my bar for a good/bad season is a bid. Having lived through 1992, it seems like the right spot for the bar. That didn’t happen this year, so it can’t go down as a good season. When you don’t have success, fans always look for someone to blame. You want to identify the thing that happened. Who screwed up? Who is to blame?

You could try to parse that all you want this year, but you’ll never get a satisfying answer. Sometimes life is hard and unfair. That will be the underlying postscript to this Irish season. Other than some nice play in Maui and a great Pflueger tip-in, the season was devoid of good breaks. Some of that, like IU and Ball State was self-inflicted. Most of it was just bad luck. The Irish were on a great run of health over the past few years. Outside Eric Katenda’s horrible injury, Notre Dame had avoided the sort of bad breaks that marked this season.

It isn’t quite fair to this wonderful senior class to look ahead to the impact on future seasons. They’ve elected to pursue the title as the best of the NCAA snubs in the NIT. They’ve decided to be part of the rules experiment. Most importantly, they’ve decided to band together and wear an Irish jersey for a few more weeks. They’ll empty the tank a few more times. That definitely deserves our respect and support. In the end, this was a unique bunch that fought and scrapped when it seemed every single break was determined to go against them.

By |2018-05-09T22:25:25+00:00March 13th, 2018|18S Reads, Basketball|15 Comments

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
7 Comment threads
8 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
9 Comment authors
Underthrown Shoelacend09hls12Publius2010dpetMikeyB Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Andy Roberts

I always thought the 06 team that at one point was 1-8 in the league with a positive scoring differential would stand forever as the unluckiest team I’d ever seen. You might remember that team as the one that became what had to be the first in history to lose a game in which they had a 25-2 run, at Uconn. (A season that fittingly ended with a ludicrous off balance fadeaway 3 by Michigan to beat us in the NIT.)

I think these guys might have them beat. The combination of on court bad breaks, the ridiculous injury bug, and the committee capping it all by putting us directly behind a team we beat on the road without our best players, finished ahead of, and outperformed in the league tournament? To say nothing of the fact that it’s the same team that received a ridiculously undeserved bid 2 years ago for a far flimsier excuse to ignore their poor performance? Yeah, I think they earn the ‘title’.


And despite all of that we still should have gotten in. It was reported we were the last team out – which happened when Davidson won their conference tourney and earned a bid. But teams like Oklahoma and Arizona St seem like weaker teams. So we got a little credit for the Bonzie injury but not much it seems especially since Syracuse got in. (I don’t know much about St. Bonaventure or UCLA’s resumes).


Oklahoma getting in is a travesty. At least when we went an entire month without winning a game, we were missing our two best players.


And now I’m really nervous that were about to have back-to-back seasons without an NCAA appearance. I figured this would be the year that capped off the fantastic run lately, with 2018-2019 being an understandable step back to reload with 6 new faces. Now, we’re looking at potentially 2 straight years of no bid, and that thought makes me so sad. Injuries are dumb and annoying.


It will be all about how ready the freshman are. I won’t count Brey out of anything.


Next season will be the return of 3 point Jesus. Brey can put 5 shooters on the floor with Gibbs, Mooney and 3 frosh (Carmody, Goodwin, Lasz). Harvey is the wild card as a wing/small 4.

IMO the guys who played more minutes and had larger roles this season because of the injuries make next season less of a rebuilding season. With that in mind, Harvey was the killer injury. He was probably worth one more win this season which gets them in.


It’s absurd that we didn’t get in! If you ignore the injuries our resume is pretty close, so if you take into account that a preseason 1st team AA missed 15 of the 21 ACC games in which we went 10-11, and the ACC is at worst the 3rd best conference, then you should be able to reasonably assume that we win at least 2 more conference games with Bonzie taking all those minutes away from Burns, Torres and Mooney. The committee used the Ball St ( fluky December home game during finals week) and Indiana games ( Indiana is 66th in Sagarin so losing that rivalry game on a neutral site isn’t terrible, not good but not terrible)as an excuse to not let us in because they didn’t want us in. Am I the only one that finds the whole “Davidson took our spot” thing a little fishy? Have they ever revealed a first team out before? Bottom line is they said they would account for Boznie but they really didn’t and they said they would use advanced metrics and they clearly didn’t do that for Notre Dame or anyone else, as Xavier (12th in Sagarin, 14th in KenPom) as a 1 is absurd and of course they gift North Carolina, with 10 losses including a home loss in December to Wofford, which apparently they don’t get penalized for, a 2 seed in Xavier’s region which is by far the weakest. Meanwhile they screw #1 overall seed Virginia, because they don’t want them in the Final 4 because they play what a lot consider a boring style.

Syracuse getting in over us is absurd! Oklahoma has no business being in but they are because TV wants Trae Young in. Arizona St, below .500 in a bad conference, then lose the first conference tournament game to a bad Colorado team, got in based on beating an overrated Xavier team in December, and winning at Kansas when Kansas was playing like crap. The committee is filled with stubborn ADs who probably don’t watch many games and worship the outdated RPI, and don’t look at things in context or use any common sense. They can operate that way because there is absolutely no accountability!

Lastly, the committee had concrete evidence of with and without Bonzie. Without Bonzie and Matt we lost at home to NCAA at large ( and I actually think they are good and can do damage) Va Tech by 5. We play them in the ACC Tournament on a neutral site with Bonzie and Matt and beat them by 6. That along with having the ball down 2 in the last minute at #1 Virginia, should’ve been enough to show them what we can do with Bonzie and put us in. They didn;t though because they didn’t want to.


I’ll be the voice of dissent, I suppose: unless you think KenPom should be the be-all-and-end-all, ND’s resume in terms of actual wins and losses is distinctly worse than a handful of teams that did not make the tournament (Oklahoma State, St. Mary’s – who is ahead of ND in KenPom, Louisville, etc.). While I realize our resume *would* have been a tournament team had Bonzie not gotten hurt, like, so what? You should be based on what happened in reality, not what would have happened in an alternative universe.

That said, it’s reasonable to take into account a returning injured player for what they might to prospectively. However, and as good and fun as Bonzie is, he is not so good that we would have been a legitimate title contender. If I thought we were getting robbed of a shot at a Final Four, that’d be one thing, but without that I think it would have been wildly unfair to a number of teams that had better seasons than ND to include ND and not them.

That said, Syracuse should not be in the tournament.

Andy Roberts

I know this is the case with me and I’m pretty sure it is with a lot of others: I was at peace with the NIT. You could defensibly put us behind a handful of other teams that didn’t make the tournament, and that would’ve been fine. You can’t defensibly put us behind Syracuse, and I think that’s what got people mad.

Underthrown Shoelace
Underthrown Shoelace

Thank you for the cathartic post.

Top 3 most painful losses:
1. IU (Coughed up a huge lead in the 2nd half and just needed 1 out of 2 Torres FTs to win)
2. North Carolina (Questionable calls, gut-wrenching game winner rims out)
3. Louisville (Typical Louisville game that we usually win)

I would have felt much better if we would have been snubbed for a St Marys or MTSU (plucky mid majors with good records but not many quality wins), even an Okie State who had some top tier wins wouldn’t have stung.

But not the Cuse….not the team who was worse on the court in January…not the team who had worse efficiency numbers….not the team who had better but inflated RPI numbers while lacking better wins…not the smug Orangemen who are a Carmelo season away from not being an elite program.