Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball fans have seen signs of promise this season, along with some all-too familiar shortcomings. With ACC play set to begin right after Christmas, let’s take a look at what Irish hoops fans should be hoping for Santa Claus to drop off in the Purcell Pavilion.
Surges Turning into Stardom
One of the biggest struggles in recent years for the Irish has been finding consistent offensive production from its guards. In recent games, however, Blake Wesley and Dane Goodwin have shown signs of becoming that winning duo the Irish have been missing. Goodwin in particular has been a consistent producer, reaching double-digit scoring in every game this season, while Wesley has forced himself into the starting lineup with a series of strong outings.
What is needed at this point is for these two is to demonstrate consistency, carrying their high levels of play into the ACC gauntlet. If they can continue to score both from deep and in the lane, they not only continue to produce but also create opportunities for the likes of Prentiss Hubb and Cormac Ryan - both of whom are still struggling to find consistency - to get easier looks and find their strokes.
Do the Little Things Right
The Irish loss against the Indiana Hoosiers in the Crossroads Classic was mostly a close affair, with IU only pulling away in the closing minutes. There was one stat line, however, where the Irish were dreadfully behind that ended up making a huge difference: an assist/turnover ratio of 5/14.
To show the impact this kind of lack of discipline has: the Irish led by nine (24-15) at one point in the first half. From that point on, only a lone three-point make by Wesley interrupted a hideous chain of possessions consisting of six turnovers and missed jumpers galore, allowing the Hoosiers to go on a 15-3 run and go into halftime with a 30-27 lead, which they would never relinquish.
At the peak of the Mike Brey era, the Irish were among the most disciplined teams in the country - and they had to be to compete against teams with far more NBA-ready talent. They will need to find that discipline again if they are to make a run in ACC play and have a shot at a decent postseason.
Finding the 3-Point Stroke
Speaking of areas where past Brey teams excelled, let’s talk about three-point shooting. Past Irish teams excelled at it out of necessity, and were able to compete against larger and stronger competition in no small part because of their ability to do damage from deep. This year’s Irish, however, are shooting 32.4%, good for 241st in the country in a three-way tie with Evansville and UC Riverside.
The frustrating thing here is that the Irish have no shortage of players who we know can shoot from distance: Goodwin, Wesley, Hubb, Ryan and Nate Laszewski have all shown themselves capable of being dangerous beyond the arc either this year or in years past. Once again, the key here is consistency. So far, only Goodwin (43.8%) has shown himself to be a game-in game-out threat from three - the Irish will need to a better job of scheming their shooters open and execute more consistently to produce the perimeter points they need.
Let’s Be Giant-Killers
With a less-than-ideal non-conference record, the Irish have put themselves in a position where they will have to make a very impressive run through the ACC to be considered for a place in the NCAA tournament. And while the conference is weaker than in years past, that will still mean mounting a big upset or two along the way. The Irish will have to be road warriors and giant-killers if they want this year to be more than just another lost season.
The good news? The Irish showed by taking down the Kentucky Wildcats that they were capable of delivering wins like this. With the #2 Duke Blue Devils heading to South Bend on New Year’s Day, the Irish should look for that same energy and level of execution.