The season started in South Bend with much promise, but after a horrendous start in the Big East, there could actually be some Irish faithful looking forward to football season.
Going into Saturday's prime time matchup with Connecticut, the Fighting Irish had won 45 straight games in South Bend, a streak snapped by Jim Calhoun's No. 3 ranked Huskies. Monday hoped to be a start of a new streak for Notre Dame, but instead they lost again, this time to Marquette.
For a team with so much hype, and with stars like foward Luke Harangody and guard Kyle McAlarney, the Irish have played like Charlie Weis's team, rather than Mike Brey's. Big names and little production has left the Irish just 3-5 in conference play and a poor record against ranked opponents, winning just two games.
Sure, their schedule has been brutal during their current 4-game losing streak, facing Louisville, Syracuse, Connecticut and Marquette. But for a team with so many tournament aspirations, a win during the stretch is almost needed. Yes, the Big East is a rock-em sock-em league where everyone beats each other up, but Notre Dame needs quality wins to stand out, and clearly they have not capitalized on their opportunities.
"One thing you can't lose sight of is we've taken four punches from really good teams. But you have chances for big wins still on the schedule, and you don't need to get them all. You need to get a couple. But on days like this it looks like you could never get any."
-Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, ESPN
It doesn't get any easy for God's favorite team, as the Irish get the dubious task of going on a hostile three game road trip to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and UCLA. If their play does not improve, they easily could drop all three and sink to 3-7 in the Big East. The road trip is just their third of the season, and in five games away from the Golden Dome, Notre Dame is just 2-3. Don't let the wins fool you however, as the Irish won in Los Angeles against West Coast Conference foe Loyola Marymount, and opened up Big East play with a win at lowly DePaul.
How does Notre Dame improve? By giving Harangody support inside. The gritty sophomore is averaging over 13 boards per game, but is the only rebounding presence on his team. Big man Zach Hillesland is second on the team in rebounds, averaging just under six per, yet is only contributing 5.8 points per affair. If the Irish want to salvage their season and make a run deep into the tourney, Hillesland will need to produce.
The talent is there with Harangody and McAlarney, but until they get some support from other guys on the court, the Irish are pure vanilla in a conference full of flavors like UConn, Pitt, Georgetown, Syracuse, and so on.