Phew. Luckily for the Irish, their all-important ACC Tournament kicked off against one of the worst power conference teams in the history of college basketball (only a slight exaggeration). Notre Dame played, to be quite blunt, terribly in the second half and barely skated by the historically bad Pittsburgh Panthers, 67-64. The Irish shot less than 18%(!!!!) from the field in the second half and only emerged victorious because of their typically-stellar free throw shooting.
To their credit, Pittsburgh shot better in that half than they probably have at any point during their winless ACC season to crawl back in it. They had a couple of chances to tie the game up late but couldn’t quite hit the timely shot to complete their comeback effort.
No one shot well for the Irish, not even the usually super-efficient Martin Geben (4 points, 2-6 FG). Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell led the way with 19 and 18 respectively, but they combined to go just 9 of 25 from the floor and did most of their damage late from the stripe. Rex Pflueger came up with a big 13 points after scoring just 15 points in the last five games combined.
Worst of all was having to listen to the insufferable Dan Dakich through it all. ESPN has laid off the population of Iceland the last few years but somehow that guy still has a job.
It All Comes Down to This
For a team looking to make a statement to the NCAA tournament committee with their best player back in the lineup, this was a very, very, very, very bad statement to make. Still, I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t matter in the slightest. All they will care about is tonight’s game (7pm, ESPN) against Virginia Tech. The Hokies are easily in the tournament field, so picking up a neutral court victory against a tournament opponent could nearly put the Irish on the right side of the bubble. A loss, and Notre Dame is without question NIT-bound.
To be honest, when you really look at the resume, the Irish don’t have too many equivalent or better wins this season. They are hanging on by a thread thanks to that Maui championship game over Wichita State. To be even more honest, they would easily be in the field if the refs didn’t steal that home win over top-five-in-the-RPI UNC, a travesty that I will never let go of as long as I live.
Coming off one of the worst halves they have played all season, the Irish need to bring their best for forty minutes tonight. These are two very good offensive teams that are evenly-matched on paper. I’m looking/hoping for Geben to have a big bounce-back effort tonight against a team that likes to play pretty small, which could really open things up for the sputtering Irish offense. Ultimately, though, I’m just very, very nervous for this one. The pressure couldn’t be higher on these guys tonight, as the whole season comes down to this game with the entire college basketball world watching.