TV / Internet : ESPN2 / If you can watch this link, you're already watching ESPN2 anyhow, so what's the point?
ADMITTING THERE'S A PROBLEM
OK Ladies, at this point there's no sense in being delicate about this: you've got a problem. Now don't panic: in a minute, we're going to go to great effort to help you through it, so stay with us here. But the first thing we have to do is lay the problem out in the open and admit it's even there. I mean, we had no idea for the first few weeks of the season when you were playing teams like Oral Roberts, but it reared up quickly enough once you tipped off against Chattanooga:
You're afraid of leaving home.
I mean, I get it. For you, Thompson-Boling Arena is a nice, warm den, filled with your closest friends and an unlimited NASCAR Chicken Bucket just hanging above the court. It's a great place to call home. But at some point, you have to leave the nest. It's okay to come back, but there's a whole world out there and you can't spend your life insulated from it.
But so far, the "suck it up, buttercup" approach hasn't worked. Your opening jitters against UT-Chatt were followed up quickly by a similar performance against Texas. Lipscomb seemed alright, but let's be honest about that one: it was almost a home game itself, what with a head coach with a great relationship with your own staff and players who are likely fans of you. The Rutgers game seems okay at the surface, but the 76-possession pace resulting in a 55 point tally isn't the mark of a confident team: you were basically methed-up rabbits volume-shooting your way past a Rutgers team that has its own case of arithmophobia.
By the time conference road games came around, you were basically in a shell. It was a nice shell that kept other teams from scoring much, but scores of 57 @Vandy, 60 @Arkansas, and 54 @Auburn are all symptoms of the same condition - a condition that is clearly not improving over time.
SO HERE'S WHAT WE'RE GOING TO DO
Let's be honest: this isn't going to fix itself overnight. There isn't a magic pill for you. So we're going to take this in baby steps.
- The Notre Dame game is now a home game. That's right: you're actually going to be playing in Knoxville tonight. That should provide some level of comfort.
- Enjoy your flight from McGhee Tyson to McGhee Tyson. It may be a home game, but we're going to great trouble to simulate the road experience. You'll board the charter as usual and land as usual. The pilot is really good, so you won't even notice the gradual turn back to the same airport. So long as you keep your heads buried in your smartphones when you land, you won't even notice.
- The best in-bus videos you'll ever see. We've recorded all the views from the bus routes you would normally take in South Bend, and we'll display them in the windows in super-high-def. It'll feel just like you're riding in Illinois, but you'll be going to your familiar confines. Just trust us and enjoy the realism.
- TBA is going to look a lot like Purcell Pavilion. I mean, a lot like Notre Dame's court. We're sparing no expense here: the court will be painted with their logo, the seats will be blue, and even the chicken bucket will be redressed. Also, you're going to be in the (modified) visitor's locker room to complete the effect. But again, it'll just be like home. Really.
- The crowd has agreed to act like a Notre Dame crowd. Look, they're here to help. They're actually cheering for you, but are going to do Notre Dame cheers to help with the appearance. The band is even going to play Notre Dame songs. They've worked hard at this. There will be a few orange shirts in the crowd, though, so if you feel overwhelmed a bit, just find a few of them and let them be your anchor.
- Your "opponent" will masquerade as the Irish. This may be our best work, and I think you'll be impressed. It'll actually feel like you're lining up against Brianna Turner and Taya Reimer in the paint, and they'll probably rebound just like the two standouts. The "team" we've brought for you has worked really hard at mimicking Notre Dame's shooting, and only "Mychal Johnson" can be expected to shoot under 50% eFG% tonight. They'll pass like a team that gets 19 assists every 40 minutes, and gets 1.11 PPP. They'll even feel like a team with an O-Reb% of 40.1%, so you'll have to stay sharp on the glass.
- Muffet McGraw even agreed to show up to "coach" the "Irish". It was the only way we could make things feel truly authentic. She'll bring her superlative game management and control to the floor, and you'll swear she's trying to beat you. But she knows how much this means to you, and she's here to help. Honest.
AND NOW FOR YOUR PART
- Just ... do the things you do well. This is about making progress, not conquering Mt. Everest the day after you buy hiking boots. Don't push beyond your abilities (Simmons is no longer here anyhow).
- Rebound. Harrison, Graves, and Burdick are a fantastic rebounding trio. Let them do their thing, on both ends of the floor.
- Those corner threes. Keep them coming. It was great to see you take those on the road against Missouri and Auburn. Keep doing that; it'll be a part of your rehab.
- Mind the refs. Look, the one thing we couldn't arrange was the officiating. The NCAA just wouldn't allow us to wreck their rotation, and it's a Big Monday game on ESPN2, which means you're almost certainly getting at least one of Mattingly, Enterline, and Kantner. (Sorry, Izzy.) Just ... look, you know how they love their whistles.
Now stop reading here and go play ball. The rest is just for your fans, who will be pulling hard for your rapid recovery.
PREDICTION: Chris took 74-61 Notre Dame, which was about exactly what I wanted to take. Just for fun, I'll roll with 75-65 Irish. Different enough to allow for a few comments by the end of the game.
MORE TIME FOR MOORE: 14 minutes. If it sounds like a lot for this game, see the bit about officials above. Do you honestly think Harrison is going to be allowed to play like herself tonight? Speaking of...
HAPPY ACTION FOUL TIME: I'll guess that Izzy will get her first foul at 17:30 of the first half. Chris went with 18:47. He also hedged with 13:19 in case none of those three refs are present, so I'll guess 8:15 in that case. (Hint: it won't matter because the conditional won't exist.)