Noie: When will permacloud of pessimism lift for Notre Dame men's basketball?

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

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.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey has given his basketball team the “figure out how to get one league win” speech plenty during his 21 seasons. He’s admittedly “tired of using it.”

WHO: Notre Dame (3-8 overall; 0-5 ACC) vs. Boston College (3-9; 1-5)

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149)

WHEN: Saturday at 4 p.m.

TICKETS: None available. Outside of family member of players, fans are not permitted in the arena.

TV: ACC Network.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM/96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com/tnoieNDI

NOTRE DAME VS. BOSTON COLLEGE

NOTING: Guard Rich Kelly scored a season high 27 points and Jay Health added a career best 25 in Tuesday’s 84-62 home victory over Miami (Fla.). The Eagles made 18 3-pointers – nine in each half – and led by as many as 26. The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Eagles, who had lost eight of their previous nine. … Kelly led Quinnipiac in scoring (16.7) and assists (4.5) last season. … Boston College returned three starters off last year’s team that finished 13-19 overall, 7-13 and tied for 10th in the ACC. The Eagles were picked this preseason to finish 14th. … They haven’t finished .500 or better in ACC play since going 9-7 in 2010-11. … The Eagles are 0-3 on the road; the Irish are 2-3 at home. … Seventeen players have appeared in a game this season for Boston College, which has nine players averaging at least 14 minutes. Notre Dame has only 10 players on its active roster. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 23-11, including 14-5 at home and 13-1 as ACC colleagues. Boston College’s victory at Notre Dame in December 2019 snapped a 13-game Irish win streak. The Irish have won 15 of the last 16 in the series. … Boston College has been a repeat opponent since Notre Dame entered the ACC in 2013-14. … The teams meet Feb. 27 in Chestnut Hill, Mass. … Irish guard Cormac Ryan, a native of New York, currently calls Chestnut Hill home. … Irish power forward Nate Laszewski ranks second in the ACC in field goal percentage (.634). … Guard Prentiss Hubb leads the league in minutes (37.1). … Notre Dame and Boston College rank 14th and 15th (second to last and last) in the league in scoring defense (75.0, 78.0) and scoring margin (-4.64, -5.08). … The Irish are last in the league in turnover margin (-2.45); the Eagles are last in assist/turnover ratio (0.83). … Notre Dame has averaged 99.4 fans for its five home games.

QUOTING: “It’s just a combination of getting stops and playing our style of basketball. When we do it, we’re a really tremendous team. Sometimes we lose sight of it for whatever reason. That’s just something we’ll continue to work on as we grow.”

—Notre Dame guard/captain Cormac Ryan on cornering confidence.