A second straight trip to the NCAA tournament fading fast from Irish view

Tom Noie
ND Insider
Dec 30, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Nate Laszewski (14) grabs a rebound in front of Miami Hurricanes guard Isaiah Wong (2) guard Nijel Pack (24) and forward Norchad Omier (15) in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

SOUTH BEND – If the Notre Dame men’s basketball team loses a critical conference contest at home against a ranked team at the same time the football program is winning a bowl game a thousand miles away, does it count? 

Unfortunately, yes. 

It happened and man, is Notre Dame basketball in a deep hole. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s dautning. The Irish know it. They also know that they might not have enough teamwork and tools to climb completely out of it in time to get this season back to where they all believed it go. 

March for any college basketball program good enough to be included means the NCAA tournament. March for this Notre Dame basketball team might mean something totally different, but fittingly familiar. 

“We’re digging, man; we’re digging out of it,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “We turn that ball over (17) times, you’re going to be free for spring break. Let me put it that way. You’re going to be able to go to Florida.” 

Want to think spring break? Thursday and Friday around these parts felt like spring. Notre Dame is one step closer to an early spring after a 76-65 loss to No. 14 Miami dropped it to 8-6 overall, 0-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. 

The Irish are searching. They’re scrambling. Most troubling of all is they know. They know the scoreboard. The know the league standings. They know that going 15-5 in the league last year was barely good enough to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. Going 15-5 this year means winning 15 of the last 17 league games. 

“We’ve got plenty of chances,” said super senior guard Dane Goodwin. “Plenty of good teams in this league where we can turn it around and hopefully get some wins.” 

Hopefully? Notre Dame’s not going 15-2. Two and 15? After Friday, anything is possible. 

Hope is all this team has left. Amazing.

Having smart guys can be a blessing and a curse for a college basketball team. Right now, it’s too much of the latter and not enough of the former. The smart guys aren’t playing like smart guys. Smart guys don’t turn the ball over a season-high 17 times. Smart guys don’t get a game to one possession and then let the visitors race off with the next nine unanswered points. 

Smart guys don’t let home league games get away. 

But smart guys also are smart enough to know what starting 0-3 in league play means. It means it’s going to take an effort the likes of which haven’t been seen around these parts – no matter how much the head coach insists they have – just to get back to the NCAA tournament. All those plans this team made back in the summer, then talked about in preseason? 

They went up in flames before the New Year’s 2023 ball dropped. 

A new year needs a resolution, right? Notre Dame’s is simple – win a league game. Doesn’t matter if it’s at home, and that’s good because they next one at Purcell Pavilion doesn’t arrive until Jan. 10. Doesn’t matter if it’s on the road – and the next two are starting Tuesday Boston College (ugh!). Notre Dame needs a win to collectively feel good about itself. To rediscover a confidence that was there in the Nov. 30 victory over Michigan State but has since gone missing. 

Dec 30, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Dane Goodwin (23) goes up for a shot as Miami Hurricanes guard Isaiah Wong (2) and forward AJ Casey (0) defend in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

When will the veterans deliver like veterans?

Stop reading (no, please, don’t) if you’ve heard this one before – likely, this month and likely as recently as a 10 days ago - but it was the veteran guys who again let this game get away. 

Like Trey Wertz, who committed a game-high five turnovers and had a plus/minus rating of (-14). Like Cormac Ryan, who took 10 shots and made two. Like Nate Laszewski, who spent a key second-half stretch on the bench for any number of possible reasons. Like Goodwin, who was more ghost that good. 

“We’re very disappointed we haven’t been more consistent,” Brey said. “We just haven’t been able to do that. I don’t know if I’m helping them enough.” 

It's not just Brey being unable to push the right consistency buttons. It's the old guys not being able to suck it up and tough it out and say to one another, we’re winning this one. Don’t know how. But we’re winning it. It’s fine that Ven-Allen Lubin and J.J. Starling play like freshmen (both did Friday) if the old guys are there to pick them up and say, that’s OK young fella, we’ve got this. 

They don’t have it. 

“We got punched; we battled,” Brey said twice. “And then we really got punched, and there was really nothing left.” 

Unacceptable. From these players. From this coaching staff. From this program.

They folded. Everyone.

That was evident Friday with 11:15 remaining. Having trailed by as many as nine, Notre Dame got back within two following a rare four-point play (a 3-pointer and a foul) from super senior guard Marcus Hammond. Down two, at home, in a gotta-have game, you figured the table was set for a hungry group of veteran Irish to eat. Feast. Play. Win. 

Instead, it was the other guys who sensed the magnitude of the moment. Miami scored once, twice, three times, then a fourth as Notre Dame came up empty on five straight possessions back from a timeout. Just over three minutes later, Miami was up 11 and rolling. Notre Dame was reeling. The Irish deficit climbed to 14. 

“You just gotta dig down, do the dirty work and pull it out,” Goodwin said. “We had plenty of chances to be in that game and ultiamtely turn it around, but couldn’t get it done. 

“We’ve got to dig down, we’ve got to work.” 

Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga said it best about what happened when this one got close. 

“The game of basketball is about players making plays,” he said. “Our guys really did a great job of making the correct play.” 

The Irish? Who knows what game they were playing. Or watching. They gift-wrapped this one after getting close. Kind of like, yeah, we’re good.  But not that good.

Brey praised the Hurricanes afterward for being mentally tough. The message? His guys just aren’t. 

“You can’t inject confidence,” Brey said. 

Way back before it started, this season held so much intrigue about this program. How good could it be? Where could it all go? As a New Year arrives, the only intrigue remaining is this – how bad will this get? There’s no indication it’s going to get good anytime soon. Not from this group. 

Notre Dame has never rebounded from an 0-3 start in ACC play – or in any conference play – to make it to the NCAA tournament at season’s end. The Irish are 0-3 in the league – with two losses at home – for the first time since opening the wacky COVID year of 2020-21 0-5 in league play. 

With the next two on the road, 0-5 is closing. Quickly. 

Early Friday evening, the Notre Dame football season ended. Couple hours earlier, so too in all reality did the Notre Dame men’s basketball team’s chances of getting back to the NCAA tournament. 

Nothing left to do but let it all play out. See where it goes and then see how it all ends, likely earlier than anticipated. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.

MIAMI (Fla.) 76, NOTRE DAME 65

MIAMI (13-1): Omier 8-11 2-4 18, Miller 4-9 4-8 12, Pack 8-13 0-0 21, Poplar 2-5 0-0 4, Wong 4-11 7-7 15, Joseph 1-6 0-0 2, Beverly 1-1 0-0 2, Casey 0-0 0-0 0, Walker 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 29-57 13-20 76.

NOTRE DAME (8-6): Laszewski 3-8 1-1 9, Goodwin 7-11 0-0 14, Ryan 2-10 2-2 8, Starling 1-6 0-0 2, Wertz 6-9 0-0 15, Hammond 4-8 2-2 12, Lubin 2-4 1-2 5, Campbell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-56 6-7 65.

Halftime: Notre Dame 34-33. 3-Point Goals: Miami 5-17 (Pack 5-8, Miller 0-1, Poplar 0-1, Joseph 0-3, Wong 0-4), Notre Dame 9-24 (Wertz 3-5, Hammond 2-5, Laszewski 2-5, Ryan 2-8, Goodwin 0-1). Rebounds: Miami 31 (Miller 8), Notre Dame 28 (Laszewski, Ryan 9). Assists: Miami 10 (Beverly 4), Notre Dame 11 (Ryan 5). Total Fouls: Miami 11, Notre Dame 15. A: 6,105 (9,149).