Like a lot of Irish hoops fans, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Notre Dame has been participating in a tournament so far this year, and aside from the game Wednesday vs. Coppin St, four of ND's first five are part of the Nasmith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament for 2014. Designed as a showcase for Northeastern basketball programs, and sponsored by the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, it includes the MAAC's own Manhattan Jaspers, along with Binghamton, Navy, Northeastern University, Massachusetts, Providence, Northeastern University, and fellow ACC member Florida State. While the Irish have punished their first 2 tournament opponents at home, they face a much tougher test this weekend in back-to-back games held at the Mohegan Sun Casino Resort in Connecticut vs. UMass Saturday and Providence Sunday.
This post is designed to give you a brief statistical rundown and scouting report for the weekend’s opponent, and we’ll wrap it up with a quick peek at ND’s numbers vs. their first 3 opponents.
University of Massachusetts
UMass finished 26th in the final RPI rankings last season and is currently rated 71st by Ken Pomeroy. The Minutemen sit at 3-0 with wins over 151st rated Siena by 8 at home, 147th rated Boston College by 9 in the Garden, 122nd rated Manhattan by 9 in overtime at home.
Derek Kellog's team has shown an efficient offense at an adjusted 105.4 rating and a solid D at 96.9. They play a fairly fast pace at 71.4 poss/gm (average is 68.2 and ND's games so far have been 66.5). They've been below average in securing defensive rebounds, giving up a 33.3% OREB rate. It remains to be seen if this is the first game Brey sends a few guys to the offensive glass, or if he continues to prefer to get guys back to prevent transition. With the insane shooting percentages ND has been hitting at home, if those continue, there's very little value in crashing your offensive backboard.
Offensively, the Minutemen are very mediocre when it comes to taking care of the ball. They take almost half as many 3's as an average team, and shoot only 29% from behind the arc. ND will have to be much less worried about giving up perimeter shots, and much more interested in stopping cutters. UMass has an excellent 63.8 A/FGM percentage (average is 53.1, ND is 56.7). They've also been prolific at getting to the line with a ridiculously high 81.4 FTA/FGA percentage, good for 3rd in the country. Luckily, ND has been good at defending without fouling so far. It will be interesting to see if ND gives up their 19.3 average FTA/FGA percentage or something closer to UMass's big number.
Looking at the top five Minutemen, in terms of minutes played, they are smaller at ND in the 1-3 positions, but Maxie Esho at 6'8" will have a size advantage over Pat Connaughton. Zach Auguste is likely to see a virtual identical match in 6'10" Cady Lalanne. It will be interesting to see if Auguste can keep the career high trend going against Lalanne, who is a very skilled rebounder and capable shot blocker.
Providence finished last year 46th in the RPI and currently sit 58th in Ken Pomeroy's ratings. Ed Cooley's squad have notched two victories so far this year with a four point win over #136 Albany at home, followed by a common opponent in Binghamton. The Friars beat the Bearcats by 21 points at home. They'll also face common opponent, Navy, Thursday night at home.
Providence has a fairly efficient offense at 106.6, playing at an average pace. Interestingly, the Friars are well below average shooting the ball (42.7 eFG) and turn it over greater than 20% of their offensive possessions. Cooley's men drive their efficiency by relentlessly pursuing offensive rebounds. Their 41% OREB rate is tremendous, and they maintain that rebounding edge on the defensive end as well, letting only 17.8% of defensive rebounding opportunities fall to opponents. This will be Notre Dame's most challenging rebounding test of 2014-15 so far. Like UMass, Providence relies very little on 3 point shooting, and do not excel from behind the arc. Unlike UMass, they're getting to the line at a very average FTA/FGA rate, and they've struggled to convert (62.5% FT) from the stripe when they get there.
Looking at the top five Friars by minutes, you see a long team, with seven-footer Carson Desrosiers on the front line with 6'9" Tyler Harris and 6'6" LaDontae Henton. Henton seems to be their go to guy with a high utilization rate (28.5%) but only a 96.1 ORtg. Among their top 5 guys, only Harris and 5'11" freshman Kyron Cartwright have ORtg's above 100. For comparison, ND's top five minutes guys all have ORtg's over 114. Derosiers, as expected, blocks a lot of shots and is a very solid rebounder. In particular, Zach Auguste and Martinas Gebben look like they're in for a challenging weekend. Providence also has several guys with double-digit TORates, so we'll have to see if ND can once again turn defense in to offense against Ed Cooley's team.
Notre Dame So Far
We finished last year 142nd in the RPI. Mike Brey's team is currently 3-0 and rated 56th (up from 71) in the KenPom ratings. Big wins at home over Binghamton, Navy, and Coppin State have the Irish and their fans off to a flying start. The quality of these opponents haven't taught us much yet, but what we can surmise so far is pretty darn good. Notre Dame's shooting at home has been fantastic, with the 9th best eFG percentage in the country at 66.5%. The Irish are 13th in taking care of the ball, slightly above average pursuing offensive boards, and following traditional patterns of low FTA/FGA numbers.
Defensively, Brey's team is bucking last year's trend and are currently 33rd in the country in holding down opponent eFG to 38.0% effective shooting. They're also turning people over at above average rates and securing the defensive boards among the top 75 in the country. They're stealing the ball on 15.8% of opponent possessions, and this new defensive wrinkle has them sitting 14th in the country for that stat. They're doing it all without fouling with a paltry 19.3% FTA/FGA rate. What is great to see is how the Irish offense continues to benefit from the defense's ability to generate live-ball turnovers that convert in to high percentage offense.
All the offensive efficiency shows up in the advanced player stats so far. Every ND player, except Eric Katenda and freshman wall-on Matt Gregory, carry an ORtg (measure of offensive efficiency) greater than 109. Coming off his ridiculous performance vs. Coppin St, V.J. Beachem's 166.1 is good for 33rd in the entire county. Connaughton's good shooting numbers and low TO rate have him sitting at an impressive 148.7. Among the top 5 "main guys" in Brey's system, only Demetrius Jackson and Jerian Grant have double digit TORates, and each make up for it with impressive assist rates. Grant's 37.7% ARate is good for 81st in the country.
Here's Brey coaching up his men on transition D - an important skill to have ready for ACC play.
What to Watch For
Zach Auguste has been spectacular through three games. Saturday and Sunday represent big challenges for the junior big man. He'll be facing much more physically gifted opponents who play a much more physical style than he's seen thus far. Keep your eye on his ability to defend, rebound and stay out of foul trouble. His body language and attitude will be important to observe if/when the Irish hit their first spot of adversity this year.
Can the defense continue to turn people over and generate a steady stream of transition offense? This is a sharp rise in the level of competition, and these opponents don't turn it over anywhere near what ND has seen so far. Is it the defense, the opponent, or a mix of both?
What does the rotation look like with this back-to-back schedule? So far, no one has played more than 75% of the minutes, but that means very little in 40 point blow-outs. How much will the Jackson, Grant, Connaughton trio be called upon to play consecutive nights of big minutes? With Austin Burgett returning to the lineup, will he and/or Bonzie Colson play critical roles? How will Geben handle his first taste of competition?
One has to assume that Brey is going to look to Beachem to step in to a bigger role and build on Wednesday's performance. Where will his minutes come from?
So far the Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team have passed their first three tests with flying colors. The questions the opponents are capable of asking will be much tougher in Connecticut this weekend. Let's see how they do.