Commentary

The method to Notre Dame's revival

The Irish were in for a rebuilding year, but beating Syracuse changed their story

Updated: February 22, 2012, 1:38 PM ET
By John Gasaway | ESPN Insider
Alex DragicevichMatt Cashore/US PresswireAlex Dragicevich has been a spark for the Irish during Big East play.

The first glimpse that many people had of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this season was an 87-58 blowout loss against the Missouri Tigers in Kansas City just before Thanksgiving. Fighting Irish star Tim Abromaitis played in that game against the Tigers, but soon afterward he was lost for the season with a knee injury. The common assumption was that Mike Brey and his young team were in for a rebuilding year.

That assumption still looked accurate as recently as mid-January, when Notre Dame was just 3-3 in the Big East, even with a thrilling double-overtime win at Louisville to its credit. If anything, the .500 record painted a picture that was a little too rosy. The Irish were coming off back-to-back losses and trending in the wrong direction. Brey's team was beaten soundly at home by Connecticut 67-53, then fell on the road at Rutgers 65-58.

After that, the Syracuse Orange came to South Bend on Jan. 21. The Orange entered that game 20-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation, but Jim Boeheim's team left with a 67-58 loss, courtesy of the Irish. That game proved to be the turning point in Notre Dame's season.

The win against Syracuse tipped off what is now an 8-0 streak, one that has lifted ND into a second-place tie in the Big East standings with Marquette. Heading into tonight's game against West Virginia in South Bend, the Irish are nationally ranked and projected to be a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament by Joe Lunardi. If you saw all of this coming in mid-January, take a bow.

What happened? Why is Notre Dame so much better all of the sudden, and can the Irish keep it up? Here's my take: