The Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball squad absorbed a debilitating blow early Friday. During morning practice, Irish star and Naismith Award candidate Tim Abromaitis collapsed in the lane following a routine jump stop.
Head coach Mike Brey then found himself living out a worse-case scenario when he was informed that the injury was a serious ACL tear and that Abromaitis would miss the remainder of the 2011-12 season.
Brey had often been second-guessed for having Abromaitis sit out his sophomore season, especially after he had a stellar junior year.
Brey was also harpooned for letting Abromaitis play in two exhibition games his sophomore season, a gaffe which almost cost the Connecticut native his fifth year of eligibility. After petitioning the NCAA it was later ruled that Abromaitis would only have to sit out the first four games of this season.
Luckily, the Irish prevailed in these contests, although mostly against sub-par competition. Now many will be left to wonder if this injury would have ever occurred at all had Abromaitis had been playing and practicing on a regular schedule.
Even with Abromaitis in the lineup Notre Dame was thoroughly trounced by Missouri 87-58 in the CBE classic over the weekend. In the consolation game the Irish were edged 61-57 by a Georgia team who keyed on Abromaitis in the second half.
In what was perhaps his final college game, Abromaitis struggled through a 1-for-12 shooting stretch including 0-for-7 from three-point land and finished with just six points.
His presence, however, did seem to pave the way for younger players to step up. Like Jerian Grant who posted 20 points and freshman sensation Pat Connaughton who chipped in with 11.
But now without Abro, the Irish are left with precious few scoring options on the wing and even fewer reliable upperclassmen. Senior transfer Scott Martin who Brey once called "the best offensive player he has ever coached" has been a mild disappointment.
While guard/forward Alex Dragicevich may not yet be mature enough to carry the offensive void left by Abromaitis. Junior Joey Brooks is a scrappy and rugged defender, but has shown little in terms of consistent offense.
Sophomore Eric Atkins does have the potential to be the teams one true star now that Abromaitis is gone, but may not yet be able to pull the team up by their boot straps and drag them into the NCAA Tournament like former teammate Ben Hansbrough has done the last two seasons. It's going to be difficult to replace Abromaitis' minutes and production.
Despite Brey's success at Notre Dame, there has been a contingent that has wanted him gone. Usually sighting Notre Dame's failure in the NCAA Tournament as the Irish have only found themselves in the Sweet 16 once in Brey's 11 seasons.
It may be hard to blame injuries on the head coach, but in these circumstances some pundits will. Especially if the Irish don't reach the 20-win plateau or find themselves in the Big Dance.