Returning to play a home game for the first time in 17 days is no guarantee.
Shuffling the starting lineup or the substitution pattern or the halftime routine or whatever else might need tweaking also is no sure fix.
Playing a team near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference after a gauntlet of five league games against four ranked teams assures absolutely nothing.
Listening to the head coach give his same recycled speech about figuring out how to win one league game? Also not a real good recipe for success.
There’s currently a crisis of confidence within the Notre Dame men’s basketball program after four straight losses and setbacks in six of their last seven. The Irish have one win since Dec. 12. That was a fill-in game against a team (Bellarmine) that just jumped to Division I. Notre Dame was average — 3-3 — in what was touted as a sledgehammer of a non-conference schedule. But it’s been league play that’s thrown an early knockout at the Irish, with little sign of regaining solid footing anytime soon.
It has to happen, doesn’t it? Or does it?
Notre Dame (3-8; 0-5 ACC) returns home Saturday to face Boston College (3-9; 1-5), after two road league losses to ranked teams. It let a seven-point halftime lead slip away Sunday to No. 20 Virginia Tech after making only two baskets in the second half. Three days later and 148 miles up Interstate 64, Notre Dame trailed No. 18 Virginia by as many as 24 points before finally figuring out that it had to fight. The Irish twice got back within 10 before losing by a dozen.
“Those two teams that beat us are better than us,” coach Mike Brey offered afterward. “We can’t beat them yet. I’ve been very matter-of-fact with our guys.”
So here are two more facts that matter — this isn’t a very good Notre Dame team right now, for myriad reasons, though it should be further along than where it currently sits as one of only two ACC teams winless in league play. It’s too experienced. It’s too talented. It’s too everything to be 0-for in the ACC.
A challenging non-conference that included games against Michigan State, Ohio State, Kentucky and Purdue was supposed to prime these guys come ACC time. Instead, the Irish have headed the other direction. Each passing league game — and league loss — seems to sap their collective spirit. Consecutive double-digit league losses have left the Irish wondering and the fan base worrying.
Win a league game? That’s the second step for this team. The first is to actually believe that they can go and get one. Against a ranked team on the road. Against an unranked team at home. Against anyone. Win easily or steal one. It doesn’t matter. Just get one. Any one.
A veteran Irish team isn’t there yet, because, well, they’re not all there.
“We’re not real confident,” Brey said. “You can’t inject that in somebody. We’re searching confidence-wise.”
That’s why answers as to how to make this all right aren’t coming easily. Getting more confident isn’t going to happen just because the Irish are playing at home. Or playing a league team in a series that’s been decidedly one-sided for so many seasons. Or switching up the lineup or the rotation. Getting confident is only going to happen if the Irish look in the mirror, then look around the room at one another and decide that this all stops now. Then play with that edge for 40 minutes.
“Just trusting our work and our teammates, continuing to trust in ourselves and the work we put in,” guard Cormac Ryan said when asked about how this team can find some confidence. “We all know what we’re capable of. It’s just a matter of going out and executing.”
So go do it. Unleash a first half on Boston College similar to what Notre Dame did five weeks ago — sure seems a lot longer — in Rupp Arena. Pass the ball and shoot the ball with confidence. Score 48 points in the first half like Notre Dame did at Kentucky. Drop an offensive avalanche on the other guys. Carry it into the second half and keep piling it on. Don’t give the other team any chance to feel good about itself.
That’s been a season-long issue for these Irish. Anytime they look good for one stretch, they look bad for another, sometimes in the same half. It’s shooting and scoring one game, defense and rebounding the next.
There’s something missing with this team that allows anyone to think/believe/insist anything’s going to change. The flaws are too numerous to negate. It’s something a few league wins might mask, but for how long? Everything we were told that this team might be and could be and should be this season, we’ve seen no ACC evidence.
It’s left Brey scrambling to hold everything — and everyone — together. During the last media timeout the other night at Virginia, he practically begged this group to keep from falling apart. It’s going to turn, he pleaded, though nobody can exactly say when.
“I’ve been in this position many times in coaching when you are flat on the mat and you’re trying to come off,” Brey said. “When you do come off, those are some of the great memories of my tenure at Notre Dame, when you’re jammed up, and we are.
“We are flat on the mat.”
There’s no choice but to come off it Saturday against Boston College. In a season of weird where only the next game matters, this is the only one that does. There’s no choice but to get whatever this season has been/is/will be back on track. There’s no choice for this veteran core to finally play like a veteran core. Grow up and get going.
If not, then what? Brey seems to be running out of ways and words to keep everyone on the same page. So the permacloud of pessimism around the program persists.
“We’re going to come back and try and figure out how to get one league win,” Brey said. “I’ve used this speech over and over again. Quite frankly, I’m a little tired of using it.”
Only one way to fix that. Find some confidence. Find one win.