Acceptance that a season-long struggle has again ended short of the ultimate goal. Hope, though, that the following campaign can right the wrongs of the previous team's fall from grace.
For Notre Dame's men basketball team, the regular season warriors of the soon-to-be-defunct Big East Conference, "See You Next Year" should include an addendum:
"See you next year, but this time, be sure to pack light."
Notre Dame qualified for its fourth straight NCAA Tournament in 2013. It's participated in six of the last seven. It's made zero impact of note during that span.
The ledger of recent Irish NCAA losses seems implausible at best:
- Seeded 6th, they lost in the first round to #11 Winthrop
- Seeded 5th, they lost -- by 20 -- in the second round to #4 Washington State
- Seeded 6th, they lost in the first round to #11 Old Dominion
- Seeded 2nd, they lost in the second round to #10 Florida State, handily
- Seeded 7th, they lost in the first round to #10 Xavier, playing well, but blowing a late lead
- And this year, again seeded 7th, they again lost in the first round to the #10 seed, this time exiting without so much as a whimper.
"I really would think it's the next step for our program," said head coach Mike Brey of unrealized tournament success. "We've been so consistent in the regular season, and we haven't been able to do much here. That's what keeps me up at night and keeps me trying to figure out how we can be better at it.
"That's what's very extremely disappointing about tonight. Go back to the drawing board and try and figure it out."
The program's failure to qualify for the NCAA's Sweet 16 over the last 10 seasons (it advanced in 2003) isn't its greatest crime.
The failure to show up and compete more often than not, rarely exiting with a modicum of competitive grace, is.
If you missed Friday night's debacle in Dayton (and God bless your innate decision-making if you did), you need only know the following: at one point, Notre Dame trailed by 27 points.
Or maybe it''d be better to know this: with 11:35 remaining in the contest, Notre Dame had converted 15 field goal attempts into buckets…they were offset by 15 turnovers.
The Irish ranked No. 1 national in assist-to-turnover ratio entering NCAA play.
"That's the nature of this tournament," said game announcer Clark Kellogg. "It doesn't take away from the strength during the regular season, but that has no bearing on what goes on here, because its matchup driven. This is the absolute worst kind of matchup for Notre Dame to have."
Agreed. Any team with a pulse that shows up in mid-March has proven to be a terrible matchup for the Irish.
No part of Notre Dame's eight-man rotation rose to the occasion Friday night. Senior Tom Knight, a player that will return for a 5th-season next year, scored 14. So did his graduating classmate Jack Cooley, though five of those 14 were immaterial and in the final minute.
Junior captain Eric Atkins missed eight of his 10 shots. Pat Connaughton attempted just two. Jerian Grant committed five turnovers. In 18 minutes off the bench, highly touted freshman swingman Cam Biedscheid missed all of his shots. The team finished with nine assists.
Iowa State assisted on 19 of its 29 field goals, committed just six turnovers, hit nearly 50 percent of its shots, and held the Irish to a 4 of 17 effort from long range.
In short, nothing from the previous months of successful Irish basketball made its way to the NCAA Tournament floor Friday in Dayton.
Unfortunately, every aspect of oft-referenced, head-shaking March failures, did.
See you next year. Hopefully not only in body, but in spirit.