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Notre Dame still has gas left in tank despite struggles vs. Georgetown


WASHINGTON -- The reaction du jour from the debacle that was No. 20 Notre Dame's performance at No. 11 Georgetown on Monday night, a 59-41 loss in which the Irish had their lowest scoring output since 1983, is going to be to write off the Fighting Irish.

I don't mean writing off the season that they've had, because what Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey has been able to do with this group has been impressive. And I certainly don't mean writing off their NCAA Tournament bid, because as things stand today, Notre Dame has a better chance of climbing into one of the top four seeds than they do of playing their way out of the tournament.

But what this loss will do is sour the pundits -- and, frankly, anyone that watched the Irish shoot 33.3 percent from the floor and brick 14 of 17 3-pointers -- on a potential postseason run. Did you think Notre Dame looked like a team that could win a game or two in the Big East or the NCAA Tournament?

"The karma wasn't very good tonight," Brey said after the game. "It's a nice wake-up after an unbelievable run for us. This stretch in New York and D.C. I talked to them very levelheaded in the locker room about us needing some practice reps and getting an edge back. We look a little human."

"A little human" is one way to put it, and I'm sure in that "very levelheaded" speech Brey gave to his team in the locker room after the game, he was a bit more adamant about the fact that Notre Dame played as poorly as they have all season long on their east coast swing.

"We were really feeling ourselves," Jerian Grant, a sophomore guard that leads the Irish in scoring, said. "On a nine-game win streak, you're going to feel yourself. You're going to kind of amp it down a little bit and not play as hard because you think things are going to go your way."

Personally, I'm not ready to give up on this team.

Notre Dame's nine-game winning streak -- which began with a dominating win over Fab Melo-less Syracuse (the only blemish the Orange have sustained this season) and included wins at UConn, at home against Marquette and a sweep of West Virginia -- was predicated on two things: its ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter and the emergence of Jack Cooley as one of the best big men in the Big East.

The Irish shot a crisp 38.9 percent from 3-point land (70-180) during that nine-game winning streak. But against St. John's, Notre Dame was 4-31 from beyond the arc. That figure wasn't much better against the Hoyas, as Notre Dame hit just 3-17 from deep. The reason why the Irish shot so poorly differed. Against the Johnnies, Notre Dame got plenty of good looks from three; they simply missed. As the saying goes, you live by the three and you die by the three, and when those shots started to bounce off the rim, the Irish simply couldn't find a way to get them to drop.

But those things happen.

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It was a different story against Georgetown. The Hoyas didn't allow Notre Dame to get many good looks from beyond the arc. Georgetown is a vastly underrated defensive team. Its versatility is amazing. With guys like Otto Porter, Greg Whittington and Hollis Thompson on the roster, the Hoyas have a number of long and lanky athletes that are able to defend multiple positions on the floor. When Georgetown wasn't sitting back in an extended 2-3 zone, they were in a switching man-to-man, and with the ability of its bigs to prevent Eric Atkins and Grant from penetrating, it created all sorts of problems for the Irish.

It didn't help that the Hoyas refrained from helping off shooters when Notre Dame's back court did penetrate. Instead, they forced the guards to try to finish over 6-foot-10 Henry Sims instead of cutting off the penetration on the perimeter and allowing the Irish to tee-up catch-and-shoot jumpers. While that 3-17 performance is ugly, it is also a bit misleading. Almost half of those threes came late in the game when the outcome was all but decided. With nine minutes left, Notre Dame had only taken nine threes.

"I'm very impressed with them defensively. Their size and their quickness bothered us," Brey said. "I give a lot of credit to Georgetown and their defense. That may be the best defense we play against all season."

"We've been knocking down threes during this run, and at St. John's we didn't hit them and here we couldn't even get good looks," Grant added. "A big part of our offense is our ball screens, and when they switch it it's hard to really figure out what to do off it when they're man-to-man. They've got a lot of length. Syracuse has length, but Georgetown plays man-to-man. So its really hard to get the open looks."

The other issue was Cooley. During the nine-game winning streak, he averaged 15.8 ppg and 9.9 rpg while grabbing 4.4 offensive rebounds per contest. Against Georgetown, Cooley had just two points and didn't grab a single rebound in 25 minutes. As Brey put it, that was "by far his worst effort" of the season. Again, a lot of that credit has to go to Georgetown, as Sims did a terrific job of keeping Cooley from getting position.

"Its really shocking. I never thought that would happen," Cooley said of his performance. "It just kind of snuck up on me. I had a bad game. For some reason something just wasn't right. I couldn't get it going."

As poor as these two performances were for the Irish, it would be foolish to discount what they were able to do by winning nine straight. Did we overrate them as they feasted on what has proved to be a mediocre Big East conference? Probably.

But that doesn't change the fact that this is a group with two very talented backcourt players, a big man with the ability to put up big numbers and a slew of shooters on the perimeter that are capable of getting just as hot as they have been cold the last two games.

If you want to use these two games to write off the Irish, that's your prerogative. But remember, they are the only team to beat Syracuse this season, and while that win came without Fab Melo in the lineup, I don't think Melo alone is the reason that the Orange were down by as much as 20 in that game. Also remember that Notre Dame is the only team to beat Marquette since January 7, and that win came by 17 points as the Golden Eagles were in the process of legitimizing themselves as a Final Four contender.

Every team is entitled to off-nights. Every team is going to have a rough road-trip at some point during the season.

Discounting how well that team played for a solid month because of it just doesn't seem right.