Thursday, January 05, 2006

Quinntessential | by Mike

If you watched the Rose Bowl in its entirety last night, you missed one of the finest individual performances by an Irish basketball player in recent years. Unfortunately, Chris Quinn's heroics came in a losing effort, as No. 20 Pittsburgh defeated the Irish 100-97 in double overtime. During the 49 minutes in which Quinn fought against Pitt's tenacious clutch-and-grab defense, he poured in 37 points while dishing out 9 assists, pulling in 6 rebounds, and stealing the ball twice. Quinn was 13-23 from the field (including 6-9 from behind the arc) and 5-5 from the line.

While Quinn may not have had any single play as jaw-dropping as his double-clutch 3 against Syracuse two years ago (which gave Notre Dame its first win in the Carrier Dome in seven years), he was relentless in attacking Pitt's defense after the half, scoring 16 straight at one point.

The final eleven minutes of gametime were rife with drama. Following two Antonio Graves free throws, Pitt led by 9 (73-64) with a mere 47 seconds left. In the next 33 seconds, Quinn would hit two threes and set up Colin Falls for two more as the Irish tied the game 77-77 with 14 seconds left. When Levance Fields missed a 3 as time expired, the game headed to overtime.

Pitt rattled off the first six points of overtime and led by 7 with 1:08 left in the first OT. However, a Russell Carter layup, another Quinn 3, and a Quinn layup forced a second overtime period. Early in the second period, Quinn drove for a layup and hit Luke Zeller for a thunderous dunk to give Notre Dame a 3-point lead. This lead would prove to be the Irish's undoing. On the ensuing two possessions, the Irish went into clock-killing mode. The results were an awkward Zeller miss and a Quinn turnover when the Irish attempted to restart their offense in the waning seconds of the shot clock. Pitt scored the final six points to win 100-97, and Quinn fouled out with six seconds left.

When it became apparent that the Irish were going to run clock in the second overtime, I threw the remote across the room in disgust. The Irish had only had success against Pitt's physical defense when they were playing with a sense of urgency and had no choice but to take things to the Panthers. By waiting until the shot clock reached single digits to initiate the offense, I felt the Irish were conceding possessions to the Panthers. Given that we have always been a better offensive than defensive team under Mike Brey, the strategy infuriated me at the time.

A day later, I have been able to reconcile myself to the decision. There were sound reasons for slowing the game. After going well beyond regulation, tired legs were becoming an issue. Furthermore, the fouling necessary to bring the Irish back at the end of regulation and the first overtime had put Notre Dame in serious foul trouble. Falls, Kyle MacAlarney, and Rick Cornett had all fouled out. Quinn and Carter were playing with four fouls each.

Even though the slow-down offense may have been appropriate given the situation last night, I think the reason I had such a visceral reaction to it was because of all the other times the Irish have employed that strategy without the mitigating factors of foul trouble or exhaustion. The Michigan game this year was typical. With 2:03 left in the game, ND had the ball and a 2-point lead. The Irish then went into the slow-down offense, with Quinn holding the ball until the shot clock approached single digits. As usual, the offense was off-kilter when ND tried to restart it, and Quinn ended up missing a 3 with 1:34 left in the game. Notre Dame would not score again, and Michigan would win by 4.

The slow-down offense seems to be a poor fit for the personality and personnel of the Irish teams under Brey. Under Brey, Notre Dame has always had an easier time scoring than preventing other teams from scoring. Yet the Irish offense works best when they go inside-out with the ball or run screens for outside shooters. Notre Dame has not had the slashing perimeter players necessary to let the point guard hold the ball for the first 25 seconds of the shot clock, with no movement and no screens. The Irish offense cannot instantly come back to life in these situations. Thus the team ends up conceding possessions and relying on its defense to win games. Given the relative athleticism of ND and its Big East competitors, this has not proven to be a winning strategy.

If you did your job this poorly
you'd have been fired long ago
After the Notre Dame-Pitt game ended, I flipped over to the Rose Bowl. Keith Jackson immediately vindicated my decision to watch the basketball game. On the first play I saw, Vince Young pitched the ball to Selvin Young, who ran it in for a Longhorn touchdown. Not only did Jackson (last seen claiming D.J. Fitzpatrick was using a tee in the Stanford game) miss the fact that Vince Young's knee was down at the time of the lateral, he didn't even realize Vince Young had intended to lateral the ball to Selvin Young. Jackson claimed Vince Young had fumbled. When Texas missed the ensuing PAT, Jackson declared it was good. Even I, an avowed Jackson hater, was stunned at this display of mind-boggling incompetence. After departing to get something to eat, I returned just before the end of the third quarter. As the clock ran out on the third quarter and the two teams walked to their respective sidelines, Jackson claimed that one of the teams had called a timeout. How could anyone even remotely familiar with the game of football possibly make such a mistake? I'm sure Jackson made numerous other unpardonable blunders during the game, but I wouldn't know as I was forced to watch the rest of the game on mute. We've reached the point where any defense of Jackson is tantamount to declaring, "I don't know a damn thing about football."