As shorthanded Notre Dame staggered through a discouraging 88-66 loss at fourth-ranked Duke on Monday night, the Irish’s latest setback raised an important question.
Have injuries already torpedoed their once-promising season? Or is there still a chance they can get healthy in time to salvage an NCAA tournament bid?
Notre Dame appeared capable of contending for a top-four finish in the ACC this season before its best player fractured his left foot in practice four weeks ago. Senior forward Bonzie Colson is not scheduled to return until at least the final week of ACC play and the All-American candidate would only rush back if the Irish were still playing for something.
There’s nobody on Notre Dame’s roster capable of replacing Colson’s interior scoring and rebounding, but the Irish were optimistic they could do enough to survive until the ACC’s second leading scorer and third leading rebounder returned. Then Notre Dame also lost its second best player, senior point guard Matt Farrell, to an ankle bone bruise and top freshman D.J. Harvey to a knee injury.
Injuries to three of Notre Dame’s six leading scorers not surprisingly have placed too much burden on sophomore T.J. Gibbs and left the Irish without any other proven shot creators. They’ve dropped six straight games, though each of the first five were by single-digit margins and even Monday’s Duke loss was a six-point game eight minutes into the second half.
The losing streak leaves Notre Dame at 13-9 overall and 3-6 in ACC play, certainly on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble if the season ended today. The Irish have time to add to a resume that includes victories over Wichita State, NC State and Syracuse, but their margin for error is starting to dwindle, especially with five road games remaining.
The bad news for Notre Dame is that there’s no way the undermanned roster that took the floor on Monday night wins enough games to make an NCAA tournament push. The good news is that the Irish could soon be closer to full strength.
While neither Farrell nor Harvey are back to 100 percent, there’s a good chance both will be healthy enough to try to play on Saturday at NC State. Farrell’s return would ease the pressure on Gibbs as both a scorer and facilitator and Harvey would provide some much-needed depth at wing.
It’s too soon to say with any certainty how many wins Notre Dame needs to get the NCAA tournament selection committee take a hard look at its resume, but reaching 19 or 20 wins by the end of the ACC tournament ought to at least have the Irish in the conversation. That won’t be easy of course with five more ACC road games remaining including visits to North Carolina and Virginia.
But for now there’s hope, and Notre Dame can cling to that.
Injuries may have derailed the Irish, but they haven’t waylaid them for good just yet.
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