Last year I watched live the end of the Notre Dame basketball season as the Irish fell with a bid to the Final Four on the line in Philly at the hands of the North Carolina Tar Heels 88-74. Though the Irish played hard and were in the game until about midway through the second half, you sensed all along it was an uphill struggle.
One did not get that feeling tonight though, as the Irish coughed up a second half lead and fell to Duke in the ACC Championship.
Five years ago, I may have taken this loss much worse as the Irish were rarely in games this big this late in a season. On the other hand, I may have even taken some consolation in that they took Duke to the wire.
Tonight it was mixed emotions.
This was clearly a missed opportunity and legitimate chance at a championship that Notre Dame failed to close out. There was no sense that Duke was a much better team tonight. Rather, they made a couple of big plays at the end to yank this game away from the Irish.
That said, I think Notre Dame is a force in the ACC for the foreseeable future. That in some ways (small ways) make this loss more tolerable.
More importantly, where do the Irish go from here? I heard earlier in the week prognosticators listing the Irish as a likely five seed. Tonight, Jay Bilas had them as a three or four, but stated they are probably more likely a four (I did think this was humorous as he felt Duke could be a #1 if they won the ACC–you wonder where he would have had the Irish had they won?). Joe Lunardi (ESPN) currently has the Irish going to Milwaukee as a number four where they will play Akron. Jerry Palm (CBS) has them also in Milwaukee but as a number five.
Regardless of where the Irish land, it is important that they quickly flush the good and bad from Brooklyn this past weekend. This is where my bad sandwich (feel free to substitute your own entrée) analogy comes in. They need to treat this loss like the hoagie a traveler regretfully purchased at a gas station. The hoagie tastes awful, goes down awful, and leaves a horrible odor in its wake. That said it isn’t going to kill you. Forget Duke.
At some point, Mike Brey is going to make a Final Four run during his tenure at Notre Dame. For that to happen this season, the Irish must reboot quickly but that is a quality that this battled tested roster has demonstrated with regularity.