No. 15 Notre Dame's 56-51 Big East upset win Monday night against No. 2 Pitt should not have been as shocking to Irish fans as it was to the hungry beasts roaring in the "Oakland Zoo" student section at the Petersen Center.
Against Pitt, this is becoming somewhat of a habit for the Irish, as the Notre Dame men have rendered the fearsome Panthers toothless in their last three contests.
However, this is Notre Dame's biggest win against a highly ranked opponent under head basketball coach Mike Brey.
Ben Hansbrough, who starred for the Irish, exclaimed, “This is probably the best win I've had, maybe ever. I couldn't be happier.”
Hansbrough led the Irish with 19 points—15 in the final 12-plus minutes, and eight points in the final 4:28 when the game was up for grabs. The scrappy fifth-year senior guard also contributed seven assists and four rebounds.
Senior captain Carleton Scott, who recently returned to the lineup after recovering from an injury, demonstrated again why the Irish won't go far this season without him.
Scott drilled in 16 points, including five three-pointers, and added nine impressive rebounds against Pitt's powerful front-line. He also connected on a key four-point play with just over seven minutes remaining that nudged the Irish lead to five.
“I'm feeling really good,” a fatigued Scott said after the game.
And joining the chorus, Irish middle-man, Ty Nash, chimed, "This is the biggest win of my career."
“It's the sixth league win,” Brey said after the game. “I'm very proud of our group. We certainly executed our game plan.”
Brey's 2002 team did beat No. 2 Texas on a neutral court, but this one is much more significant because it was against the conference's top team. Not only that, this was Notre Dame's first official road win of the season.
“This was the ultimate road challenge for us,” Brey confirmed.
And, obviously, they needed this.
The Irish are now 17-4 overall; 6-3 in the Big East.
Unfortunately, with the adrenaline overflowing, the Irish now must wait nine days until they play their next game, when they ride the bus over to Chicago for their match against DePaul.
Against the Panthers, Brey again employed his "burn," slow-down offense to keep a dangerous opponent at bay, and the strategy worked.
Brey's "burn" offense must be as frustrating to play against as it is to watch, but one can't argue with success.
Over the last six Big East games, Brey's "burn" offense actually generated slightly MORE points on average, per possession, than did his regular offense (1.23 PPP vs. 0.98 PPP). The key when employing it is limiting your opponents' shots and possessions, shoot at higher percentage than your foe, and make free throws.
Monday night, the Irish had 47 possessions (Pitt 49), they shot 48.7 percent (Pitt 40 percent) and the Irish made nine of 13 free throws (Pitt, nine of 16).
Obviously, Brey embraces a "whatever-it-takes-to-win" mentality, which often works for him and his squad.
However, Irish fans certainly hope that the Notre Dame basketball team also permanently embraces the "we-expect-to-win" mentality.
Monday night, the Irish proved that they are at least equals on the floor with any team they face.
They just have to keep believing it.
After wins over three top-ten teams and thriving during their first nine conference games, the Irish have an opportunity to really fatten their resume. The supposedly easier half of their conference schedule begins on February 3, in Chicago, with five of nine games against the bottom dwellers of the Big East.
Moreover, according to The Hoops Report, Notre Dame carries a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 5, and strength of schedule of 8. And, no team in the country has more wins against the Top 50 in the RPI than the Irish, who boast seven.
“We have put ourselves in great position,” Brey said.