Posted by BrianBoru at 3/19/2009 3:19 PM EDT

Close your eyes and try to forget for a moment that it was the NIT. Pretend Notre Dame just defeated Duke in the NCAA Tournament. Are you excited yet? Well, you're not alone. Upon channel surfing to ESPN2 for the game, I quickly took note of the listless South Bend crowd seemingly waiting for football season.

Watching the Irish eke out a victory against the scrappy Lobos of New Mexico was alternatively satisfying and troubling. It was nice seeing the seniors play with passion and intensity while refusing to allow their season to end. But where was this passion earlier this season?

Enigmatic junior point guard, Tory Jackson, exhibited evidence that he possesses abundant talent. Jackson, similar to Allen Iverson in the way he sacrifices his body, probed the lane all evening managing 16 points and six rebounds to go along with three assists and the game-winning layup with 2.2 seconds remaining. When Jackson plays like he did tonight, he provides the Irish with a dimension that makes them very difficult to handle. Cat quick and durable, Jackson can be both terrific and erratic in the same contest.

However, startlingly, the Irish seemed disinterested in playing defense. Instead of committing to stopping the Lobos, Mike Brey's charges took a vacation from the defensive end of the floor for much of the second half. Continuing to hoist three-point shots, Notre Dame allowed New Mexico to battle back and take a lead late in the game.

Incidentally, Luke Harangody posted his typical All-American numbers -- 26 points and 11 rebounds. Harangody displayed deft footwork in the paint as well as precision passing in the lane. He also showed off a few monster dunks during the game. But he needs to stop whining at the refs after every foul called against him or non-foul he believes he should have received.

Missing from a team replete with good kids is a fiery in-your-face leader who will imbue his teammates with a collective passion for winning. Harangody's fantastic, but he's not that guy. And when your head coach has fewer technical fouls than he has collared shirts, you better not look to him to fire you up.

It's a shame, too, because this team should have been competing in the NCAA Tournament this year. They should not have lost seven consecutive games. The Irish returned four seniors and three juniors, all of whom played significant minutes last season -- a season in which they finished 24-7 and 14-4 in Big East play.

Alas, this season they live to play another night. Even if it is in the NIT.