Noie: Who were the best in Big East hoops when it came time to play Notre Dame?

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

What about the other guys?

Having called home two of college basketball’s premier conferences — 18 years (1995-2013) in the Big East and the last seven-plus in the Atlantic Coast Conference — Notre Dame has seen its share of high-level hoops. And hoopers.

The Irish have had first-round NBA draft picks (Pat Garrity, Troy Murphy, Ryan Humphrey, Jerian Grant), have had league players of the year (Garrity, Murphy twice, Ben Hansbrough), have had the league coach of the year (Mike Brey three times) and have had guys make all-league squads (way too many to mention). But what about some of the talent that’s come through Purcell Pavilion and sat on the other bench over the last 20-plus seasons?

Following is a rundown of the top 10 players from other teams during Notre Dame’s days in the Big East. For many Irish fans, and likely coaches, these guys couldn’t exhaust their eligibility soon enough. They were that good, and that difficult to defend.


 Gerry McNamara, G, Syracuse (2002-06)

If there’s a unanimous pick for first team all-opponent against Notre Dame, McNamara is it. The first pick. The captain. The ringleader. A Notre Dame football fan growing up in Scranton, Pa., McNamara often saved his best for the Irish basketball team — and saved it for South Bend.

McNamara played seven games against Notre Dame, and won six. That includes all four in South Bend. In those seven games, McNamara averaged 20.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Each time he faced the Irish, it seemed the 6-foot-2, 182-pounder would take his game up another notch or two or three.

He’d make one of the game’s biggest plays or shots or be involved in one of the key moments. He was an absolute Irish soul crusher. And winner. Over his last four games against Notre Dame, McNamara averaged 22.2 points and four assists. Brey was glad to finally see him go. Trouble is, the Irish coaching staff and fan base are reminded every year of how McNamara used to light them up since he’s an assistant coach on Jim Boeheim’s staff at Syracuse.

• Mike Sweetney, PF, Georgetown (2000-03)

A future Top 10 NBA draft pick, Sweetney put the “beast” in the Big East. Notre Dame never had an answer for the 6-foot-8, 295-pounder who moved with soft and quick and agile feet in the low post. The guy was a machine.

Like the time he went for 35 points, 20 rebounds and six assists in the epic four-overtime Irish win in Washington. Or the following February when he scored 38 points with 15 rebounds and three assists in an Irish double-overtime win in South Bend. He was as close to unguardable as it got. The Irish scouting report likely stressed for Sweetney get his — and he did — just don’t let any other Hoyas beat them.

Sweetney played six games against the Irish and averaged 24.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He would’ve caused more matchup nightmares for the Irish had he not jumped to the NBA after his junior year.

• Andre Barrett, PG, Seton Hall (2000-04)

It didn’t matter that the four-year starter was undersized at 5-10, 172 pounds, Barrett always seemed to get to wherever he wanted to go. A lot of times, that was to the rim. He was the definition of play-maker, getting shots for himself and for teammates in myriad ways. He’s one of the unsung standouts in the old Big East.

Barrett played seven career games against the Irish, and scored at least 17 points in five of them. He went for over 20 four times. His matchups against Irish counterpart Chris Thomas were worth the price of admission. It often was like one-on-one on the playground. Two guards going at it making big plays.

Close your eyes and you can still hear the P.A. announcer at the cavernous Izod Center in the Meadowlands calling Barrett’s name after another bucket. He averaged 16.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 7.0 assists and went 4-3 in his college career against Notre Dame. He went on to play with six NBA teams.

• MarShon Brooks, SF, Providence (2007-11)

Nothing about what Brooks did in his first three games against Notre Dame says he should be anywhere near this list. He was a DNP-CD (did not play, coach’s decision) the first time the Irish and Friars met during his career on Jan. 31, 2008. Next game out, he scored eight points. The time after that, a dozen. No big deal, right. He was a good player, but that was it.

All that changed, and his first-team spot was forever cemented the evening of Feb. 23, 2011 in Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Players in every realm of sports often talk about falling into a zone where they feel they can do anything, and then usually do. Brooks’ zone was ridiculous that night.

He took 28 shots from all over the floor. He made 20. He made six 3s. He got to the foul line. Every time the ball left his hand, it seemed it was going through the net. It often did. The Friar offense for much of the second half was Michael Jordan-esque — give Brooks the ball and everyone get out of the way.

When it was over, Brooks had scored an Irish opponent and Big East record 52 points. He needed to get to 54. Hansbrough went for 32 and Tim Abromaitis added 28 in a 94-93 Irish win.

• Carmelo Anthony, PF, Syracuse (2002-03)

Like with Brooks, nothing about Anthony’s overall body of work screams first team lock. Except for this — during the last 20-plus years, Notre Dame has played against exactly two guys who already had that NBA look. They didn’t have to score any points or do much of anything else. They were pros long before they were pros. One of them was former Duke power forward Zion Williamson, the first pick in the 2019 NBA draft. The other was Anthony.

He was the ultimate walking bucket. You could see during his first (and only) year of college that he’d be an NBA star. Anthony played only two games against Notre Dame, but went for 26 points, nine rebounds and four assists in one, 21, 10 and one in the other. Syracuse won both games.

Even then, the future first ballot Hall of Famer was on a different level.


• Troy Bell, SG, Boston College (1999-2003)

A two-time Big East player of the year (he shared the award in 2001 with Murphy), Bell left school the all-time leading scorer with 2,632. At 6-1, 180, he was the mini version of Anthony — just a guy who’d go get buckets. A lot of them.

Thanks to a quirk in the Big East schedule, Boston College didn’t play Notre Dame in the 2001-02 regular season. That was a relief. In three career games against the Irish, Bell averaged 23.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Notre Dame won all three, but all three by single digits. Last time he faced Notre Dame on Jan. 25, 2003, Bell went for 31 points, seven rebounds and five assists. He was everything you’d want in a college player.

• Quincy Douby, SG, Rutgers (2003-06)

What made playing at the infamous RAC so difficult? The kid with in-the-gym range had a lot to do with it. Press up on Douby, and the 6-3, 175-pounder with spaghetti-like arms would just rise up and shoot over defenders. Chase him off the 3-point line and he’d just keep backing up further toward the oversized “R” at the RAC’s center court. In four games against Notre Dame, which included two wins for a Rutgers program that wasn’t all that good, Douby averaged 21.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. The last game he played against Notre Dame before turning pro, and becoming a first-round NBA draft pick of Sacramento, Douby scored as many points as the Irish won by – 27.

• Ben Gordon, SG, Connecticut (2001-04)

Riding the elevator to the lobby of the Huskies’ team hotel by Bradley International Airport one Saturday afternoon in February 2004, Gordon was given some advice by a newspaper reporter from South Bend (this one). How about taking it easy that afternoon on the Irish?

Gordon smiled. He then scored only five points with three rebounds and two assists in a 61-50 Connecticut win. That was the only time Gordon took it easy on Notre Dame. He stepped into the college basketball spotlight as a true freshman when he came off the bench for a then-career high 19 points with a rebound and six assists in 29 minutes of a Big East tournament victory.

Subtract that sub-par effort that afternoon in 2004 at XL Center, and Gordon scored 25, 22 and 29 points in his final three games against Notre Dame. He averaged 20 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists in five career games. Notre Dame never did have an answer for someone who left school a year early and was the third pick in the NBA draft.

• Kyle Kuric, SF, Louisville (2008-12)

Apologies to Irish development and recruiting coordinator Scott Martin, who knows what’s coming when Kuric’s name is mentioned. First time he played against the Irish on Jan. 12, 2009, his stat line was a whole lot of zeroes. Later that year, he was a DNP-CD. Third time, he had five points and a rebound.

His final four games, Kuric was a one-man wrecking crew. He scored 28, 14, 17 and 12. He grabbed at least six rebounds three times, including one game with 10. He averaged 2.0 assists. In six career games, he averaged 12.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists. He never was one of those pure talents high on an opposing team’s scout, yet always found ways to impact games.

The 6-4 Kuric is best remembered for getting out on the break just before halftime of the Feb. 9, 2011 game, getting a pass from Peyton Siva, taking one dribble and two long steps and then basically jumping over the 6-8 Martin for a right-handed tomahawk dunk. It’s one of the all-time wait-did-that-just-happen moments. So again, sorry Scott.

• Darius Johnson-Odom, PG, Marquette (2009-12)

The guy they called DJO had a permanent scowl about him that said he was going to steal the ball, steal your lunch money and rob you of your soul. Then he often did. Marquette had a toughness about it that emanated from Johnson-Odom, who averaged 15.5 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in four games against Notre Dame. He was as good as he looked mean, and he looked really mean.

Also considered: Chane Behanan (Louisville), Josh Boone (Connecticut), Randy Foye (Villanova), Ryan Gomes (Providence), Marcus Hatten (St. John’s), Carl Krauser (Pittsburgh), Darius Lane (Seton Hall), Ontario Lett (Pittsburgh), Craig Smith (Boston College) Hakim Warrick (Syracuse).

Former Syracuse guard and constant Notre Dame nemesis Gerry McNamara went undefeated at Purcell Pavilion during his four college seasons.
Former Providence guard MarShon Brooks erupted for a Big East record 52 points in a 2011 game against Notre Dame.
Louisville’s Kyle Kuric dunks over Notre Dame’s Scott Martin in a 2011 game.