Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 45 of 55

46 APRIL 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY TODD D. BURLAGE W hen revisiting how the 2019-20 Notre Dame men's basketball season unfolded, the evaluation brings equal parts celebration and consternation. The low points were many for the Fighting Irish: • Late blown leads and an inability to finish and win down the stretch left a feeling of "what if" hanging over this season. • Seven defeats in the 11 Irish games decided by three points or fewer — including three losses by two points and three by one point — brought as much late-game excite- ment as it did post-game heartache. • Six defeats in six tries versus top-25 teams during the regular sea- son extended the program-record losing streak to 21 games against ranked foes, a string that dates back to Nov. 22, 2017 after a win over No. 6 Wichita State in the champion- ship game of the Maui Invitational. • And, without a championship in the ACC Tournament, the Irish seemed destined to miss the NCAA Tournament for a third straight sea- son, tying the longest Big Dance drought (2004-06) for Mike Brey dur- ing his 20-year career as Notre Dame head coach. While the lows were glaring, much was left to recognize this season: • After starting ACC play at 2-6 and facing the real danger of the sea- son spinning out of control as it did last year during a 3-15 conference run, Notre Dame responded with a four-game winning streak and fin- ished with eight wins in its final 12 league games to level its ACC record at 10-10. • The Irish were an efficient and entertaining team, leading the na- tion during the regular season with a 1.66 assist-to-turnover ratio, fewest turnovers per game (9.5) and fewest fouls per game (12.3). • And, after going from just 3-15 in ACC play last season to 10-10 this year, Notre Dame demonstrated one of the best one-year improvements of any team in the country. • Last season, the Irish finished 14-19 overall, lost eight homes games (four this year), went only 1-9 on the road (4-7 this year), and their total losses were the most since 1990-91 when Digger Phelps lost 20 games during his 20th and final season as Notre Dame head coach. "I like our team, I like our group," Brey said. "I know we've had some heartbreakers but we love play- ing together. They come in, they're coachable." The Irish entered ACC Tourna- ment play March 11 as the No. 7 seed, needing to win the 14-team event (Georgia Tech is sitting out the postseason) to secure an automatic NCAA Tournament bid, or likely pre- pare for its second NIT appearance in the last three seasons. PEEKING AHEAD While this season brought wild momentum swings both in game and game to game, a look ahead to 2020-21 provides a more linear, and Senior forward John Mooney led the nation with 25 double-doubles in the regular season, averaging 16.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per game en route to earning first-team All-ACC honors. PHOT0 COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA HigHs And Lows Heartbreak and resilience define Notre Dame's 2019-20 season

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