Notre Dame traveled to Boston to face an Eagle team with a serviceable defense, but a laughably bad offense for a key match-up. Gee, this job is easy when you can simply recycle headlines. But this wasn't Brian Kelly's squad, it was Mike Brey's defending ACC champs trying to bounce back from a tough loss at Virgina by taking care of business over the Boston College Eagles. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish received the perfect medicine for what ailed them in the form of the hapless Eagles.
According to Ken Pomeroy, BC entered the night with the 300th rated offense in the country. They managed just 0.958 points per possession. The Eagles represented a perfect opportunity for the Irish to find their defensive groove and improve on their 198th ranked defensive efficiency. After a bit of a slow start, the Irish started to dig in about midway through the first half on Thursday, holding BC scoreless for a good 4 minute run to turn a 5 point deficit into a 6 point lead. Then, they held BC scoreless for another 4 minutes to grow their lead to 12. Overall, it was a 21-4 run that doomed the Eagles early. For the half, BC scored only 24 points, and if not for a few made 3's in the second half with the lead already at 20+ points, the Eagles would not have cracked 50 on the evening.
Let's be clear, this wasn't any sort of magical transformation. The Irish didn't suddenly transform in to Louisville, West Virginia, or Virginia and lock down this Eagle team. Boston College is simply bad at putting the ball in the basket with any consistency. To complicate matters, they had 15 turnovers to go along with their 17-51 (33%) performance from the field. I guess if you're Jim Christian, your team's 12-12 performance from the line seems to provide some evidence that they can put the ball in the basket. They just can't do it with the kind of efficiency that is going to win many (if any) games in the ACC.
Notre Dame, of course, walked in to Chestnut Hill with the 5th best offense in the land on Pomeroy's list, and a blistering shooting night should improve on that lofty rating. The Irish managed to shoot an incredible 75% eFG on the night, going 22-33 (61%) from inside the arc and 11-17 (65%) from deep. Look at these shooting numbers from three:
- V.J. Beachem : 3-6
- Demetrius Jackson : 4-5
- Steve Vasturia : 1-2
- Matt Ryan : 3-4
You almost wished they would have saved a few. It is great to see all those guys, especially DJ, start to find their stroke back. DJ was in attack mode the entire night. He was aggressive when he needed to be, and once he started to feel his shooting touch warm up, he even indulged himself in a gorgeous little heat check 3. He also was able to generate some nice looks a little closer
A lot of the great 3-point shooting was driven by much better spacing and ball movement the entire night. There were three possessions that really typified that movement:
How NOT to play a 1-3-1. Big man comes out way too high and leaves the weak side wing 19' out of position. pic.twitter.com/jDdBynDac7— JoeSchu (@JoeSchuOFD) January 8, 2016
Here's the last possession of the first half. BC inexplicably switches to a 1-3-1 for that last possession while ND wants to burn off the last 30 seconds. Christian out-thought himself coming out of the timeout with this particular defense and a very inexperienced Idy Diallo positioned in the center of the 1-3-1. Notre Dame, with 4 shooters around Zach Auguste, spreads the floor to burn the clock, but Diallo comes out way too high to react to Vasturia catching the ball 30+ feet from the rim. When he steps that far above the elbow, the weak side wing is forced to check to Zach Auguste underneath because the baseline man has to shade to Ryan. I know IU gave ND fits with the 1-3-1, but clearly they worked on it, because this 4 around 1 spread is the perfect way to attack it. Vasturia draws 3 defenders, Auguste and Ryan occupy the other 2, leaving Vasturia his pick of who to find on the weak side. The skip to V.J. is perfect, and you can see while the pass is in the air, V.J. doesn't have a defender within 19 feet of him. Splash that all day. When you get a good look at the end of the half, you rip it, even if there's still 15 seconds left.
The second great example of better spacing and ball movement delivered a Vasturia corner 3 that was reminiscent of the championship game highlight the ACC network ran during halftime.
DJ and Bonzie Colson run a little 2 man game on the right sideline that results in DJ throwing back to Big Baby. Colson sees help collapsing on him, moves the ball to V.J. who makes the extra pass to Steve Vasturia in the corner. The Irish also had another nostalgic 3 later in the second half with Matt Ryan playing the role formerly occupied by Pat Connaughton.
Here's PnR movement creating an open 3 for Ryan. More ball screens and less post catches please. pic.twitter.com/HoCOdTpIMS— JoeSchu (@JoeSchuOFD) January 8, 2016
Watch how Zach rolling hard to the rim brings defenders and Ryan simply steps in behind the pick-and-roll action to hunt a wide-open look. This is the ND offense we've all been dying to see. Look at how Ryan and V.J. Exchange on the strong side while Vasturia stays below the FT line on the weak side. When Zach rolls hard, everyone goes to him because there isn't a help defender in the paint. Help off of Matt Ryan at your own risk, he's going to fire every damn time. Gorgeous basketball.
Tonight was also a great night for those of us on the #FreeRex bandwagon. Freshman Rex Pflueger found his way into the rotation early and often in the first half. His stat line (0-1, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 foul) looks as disastrous as the mid-range jumper he missed on. However, this is a clear case of stats not telling the whole story. Rex's insertion corresponded with the defensive improvement in the first half, and while I don't have official +/- numbers, I guarantee he had a great impact. His defensive footwork drew praise from Cory Alexander, commentating for the ACC Network, and he did a great job moving the ball on the offensive end. The freshman has some moxie and knowledge, and doesn't need to score to be effective. Look at this connection with DJ:
I really like what Rex brings to the lineup, and at one point in the second half, Mike Brey trotted out the very intriguing line-up of DJ, Vasturia, Rex, Ryan, and Bonzie. Very nice!
Speaking of Bonzie Colson, the sophomore had a wonderful return to the place his namesake father coached several years. Bonzie went 8-9 from the field, with his lone miss coming on a dunk attempt on the break in the first half. Colson only grabbed 1 defensive rebound, but found 4 blocks and 3 offensive rebounds and a steal on the night. It was a very strong night for Colson who seems to be doing his best work right now as the lone big when he can catch a step off the post vs. a moving defense or clean up the garbage on the inside.
Zach Auguste had an up-and-down return to his home. The Massachusetts native put up yet another double-double, including 9 defensive boards. He struggled a bit in the first half, but seemed to finally find his groove in the second. His 4 turnovers still give cause for concern, and for him, 6-11 isn't a great shooting night, but it felt like he started to get himself back on track in the second half. He put up a gorgeous steal and dunk to fire up the squad as they broke BC's spirit in the second half.
On the other side, BC's Dennis Clifford and Eli Carter led the Eagles with 13 points each. Carter, however required 14 shots to get there and committed 4 turnovers, as did Clifford. Clifford was credited with 4-5 in the ESPN box score, but it sure felt like the 7 foot senior missed more than that. If you're a BC fan, there has to be legitimate concern about opening ACC play with 12+ losses. They've already lost to Duke and ND at home, and their next 10 games are: @Syracuse, @Pitt, Miami, @ND, FSU, @UNC, @UVa, @Louisville, UNC, Syracuse. Then they go to Clemson and Wake before getting VT at home in the only game with a > 40% KenPom win probability in their entire league schedule. Ouch.
From a four factors perspective, this game was more of a one-factor affair. Notre Dame shot 75% eFG, while BC shot 41% eFG. Unless you're turning your opponent over (nope, ND 14, BC 15) or destroying the offensive glass (nope, ND 7, BC 6), you're dead. The only factor BC was able to win was FTM/FGA (BC: 24%, ND: 9%). Some of that was driven by BC going a perfect 12-12, while ND was only 5-8 (63%). That had to be the biggest statistical oddity of the night. The Irish shot better from the arc than they did from the stripe. When you're 11-17 from 3, you're just not going to shoot a lot of FT's because you're working the ball around the perimeter for those open looks. Besides, when you outshoot your opponent by 34 percentage points, you're going to cruise most nights, and that's what drove the 28 point final margin.
So there you have it. From an optimist's perspective, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish split their first 2 ACC road games of the season, which is perfectly reasonable, particularly when one is to a top flight team. A cynic might point out the Eagles are the worst rated team in the league by 91 spots in the KenPom rankings. That makes this Saturday's match-up with the Pitt Panthers so critical. If this ND team wants to start building its own legacy and stop watching highlights of last year, beating the 13-1 Panthers at home would be a great place to start.