A little less than a week ago, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team went north to Syracuse and failed to ever get in to the game. Much of the story Wednesday night was the same, only the setting changed as the Irish were blown out in Coral Gables. Winning on the road is challenging in the ACC, and Jim Larranaga's Hurricanes were favored heading in to the contest, but you can certainly forgive Irish fans who miss last year's road dogs (dawgs?). Mike Brey's team struggled against a very beatable Miami team. Most importantly, Wednesday night provided potent ammunition for those doubting Notre Dame's ability to defend effectively during the "back 9" of the ACC schedule.
Granted, it was hard to completely follow the game during the NBA Draft promotion that ran incessantly thought the ESPN broadcast. However, even without any high-quality "expert analysis" it was obvious to all that Notre Dame is struggling to provide even mild resistance on the defensive end. Miami shot a blistering 62% eFG from the floor. With just a small amount of patience, the Hurricanes could work their way into a wide open three point attempt or lob dunk. Whether it was what passed for man-to-man or zone, it really didn't matter, Miami found a way to score the ball. On the other end, The Irish could hardly buy a basket. There were innumerable layups and open looks that wouldn't go down. For only the third time this season, Notre Dame shot less than 50% eFG. The vicious cycle began to churn and suck the Irish under. When shots stop falling, the defensive energy drops, and then the offense starts to press instead of flow, and things just go down the tubes. The nine point final margin wasn't at all indicative of how thoroughly Notre Dame was defeated by Miami.
Miami's Anthony Lawrence Jr. came off Larranaga's bench to torch the Irish with 4-4 shooting from behind the arc, scoring a game-high 18 points. Miami put five players in double figures and shot 62% eFG from the floor. Miami won the turnover battle 8-10. Not a winning formula.
On the Irish side, Mike Brey's team was paced by Bonzie Colson's 17 off the bench. Zach Auguste picked up his second "foul" quickly in the first half, forcing Colson in to the game quickly. V.J. Beachem scored 14, but required 13 shots to get there, going 2-7 from behind the arc. Beachem was frequently exposed on the defensive end by Miami's very athletic wings. Unlike the debacle in Syracuse, Demetrius Jackson was available for Notre Dame, but the junior point man also struggled mightily. DJ scored 6 points on 11 shots. Senior Zach Auguste picked up 12 points, but 10 of those were scored in the final 8 minutes, when the result was hardly in doubt.
Winning on the road is hard in the ACC, but with a performance that seemed to lack in urgency and enthusiasm, it appeared Notre Dame dropped a very winnable game at a time where wins will be at a premium. The inability to defend will continue to be an issue with the league-leading Tar Heels bringing their highly rated offense and defense in to South Bend. While many fans will lament the missed shots Wednesday. I believe the bigger concern was the regularity with which Miami found an open look. Unless the defending ACC Champions can find a way to provide some defensive resistance, the back 9 just got a lot tougher.