Notre Dame has never made it past the Big East tournament’s semifinals, but as they erased an early 17-4 deficit to knock off Marquette 73-65 on Thursday night, the Irish look like they may be able to make some noise in the tournament after all.
The biggest reason why? They are starting to get contributions from up-and-down their lineup.
Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley have struggled through two games in New York. Jerian Grant has played better, but even his 17 points, six boards, six assists, three steals and two blocks on Thursday was tainted with a 4-15 shooting performance.
That’s Mike Brey’s Big Three struggling, and yet here the Irish are, with a grudge match set with Louisville for the right to play for the Big East title.
Much of the credit has to fall on the shoulders of Patrick Connaughton, whose averaging 19.5 points while shooting 12-18 from three and seemingly making every big shot through two games. He’s been aided by big performances from Tom Knight (19 points, nine boards vs. Rutgers) and Garrick Sherman (16 points vs. Marquette).
Put it all together, and the Irish are weaseling their way back to looking like one of the Big East’s best.
That’s praise that doesn’t come easy for a team that has built a reputation for being great in the regular season and awful in March. Whether or not that changes this year is still to be determined, but if the past two days are any indication, the Irish aren’t going to need Herculean performances out of their three stars every night this month.
There is balance on the roster, and that’s big. Why? Because Atkins and Grant played 40 minutes tonight after combining for 72 minutes on Wednesday. And to rest their legs tomorrow, they’ll get to matchup with Louisville’s back court.
Taking some of the responsibility off of those two will take some of the load that they have to bear.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.