March 15, 2000
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Irish coach Matt Doherty can usually sense when something is not right with his team.
During Monday’s practice, he got that unsettling feeling. He recognized that he and his team had yet to overcome the disappointment of not making the NCAA tournament.
“Monday was a tough day for me because you get to evaluate who made the tournament,” Doherty said. “You start to compare your schedule and your wins.”
Doherty can only hope that almost three full days is enough to recover from the shock. On Wednesday night, his squad is set to face a young and talented Michigan team in the first round of the NIT.
“They are an athletic team who is very fast,” Doherty said.
Michigan boasts having the Big Ten Rookie of the Year in LaVell Blanchard. He averages around 14 points and 8 rebounds a game.
“Just being in the tournament is an honor,” Blanchard said. “There are a lot of teams that didn’t get selected. Luckily, we can continue on.”
It is just that type of excitement, which worries Doherty. He watched his team dwell on the tournament matter and it concerns him. Doherty believes that his team is in the midst of a so-called “hangover.”
“It is a hard thing because Michigan is excited to be in the NIT because they were not on the bubble,” Doherty said. “That’s a tough psychological thing to overcome. We really have to challenge ourselves.”
It is the first time that Notre Dame has played in a postseason tournament since 1997. The game might be a little quieter than usual with the absence of the Notre Dame student body. Notre Dame students are in the midst of spring break, which could really hurt the Irish. The large student body is part of what makes the Joyce Center such a tough place to play.
“It will be interesting to see the kind of crowd that shows up and how energized they are,” Doherty said. “I hope they do turn out and do support us. I am sure that they will.”
To the surprise of no one, the Associated Press named Troy Murphy to its first team All-America. The sophomore led the Big East in scoring and rebounding at the same time. It marked the first time in the history of the conference for a player to do that. Murphy is the first All-American for the Irish since Adrian Dantley in the 1975-76 season.
“He is the guy,” Doherty said. “He is the guy that scores for you and rebounds for you. He is the focal point of the other team’s defense. As a result, it frees everyone else up for shots.”
Doherty hopes Murphy and his team can put the past behind them. He realizes that there is only one way left to make sure the NCAA realize they made a mistake. It is to win the NIT and do so decisively.