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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: Three Things We Learned About the Irish Last Week

Signs of life early in conference play

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Following our pattern from the football season, this basketball season we’re going to be taking a look at the start of each week at lessons learned from the previous week’s action for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. This, of course, involves multiple games and will therefore be more of a look at overall trends than a focus on one game. Let me know what you think/what you noticed in the comments!

Last Week’s Results

W vs. North Carolina Tar Heels, 78-73

W @ Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 72-68 (OT)

What Did We Learn?

This was an encouraging pair of games for the Irish, who carry a five-game win streak going into a couple more winnable conference games against the Clemson Tigers and Virginia Tech Hokies, plus an interesting MLK Day tilt with the Howard Bison, in the week to come. Let’s take a look at some of those encouraging signs.

A Winning Guard Pairing

Out of Notre Dame’s early-season competition at the guard position, a consistent and occasionally dominant lead pairing has emerged, consisting of Blake Wesley and Dane Goodwin. Wesley and Goodwin scored 40 and 31 points, respectively, in Notre Dame’s two wins last week, and Wesley in particular carried the Irish against Georgia Tech in a first half where not much else was going right offensively. Between his star power and Goodwin’s consistency, the Irish have found a plausible combination to lead their offense to a good run of conference play.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Prentiss Hubb and Cormac Ryan both remain hungry and have made impacts in their newer, smaller roles, and the Irish will continue to need their contributions as they go with a guard-heavy rotation (Saturday night’s starting lineup featured all four alongside Nate Laszewski), but the reliability demonstrated by Wesley and Goodwin gives the Irish more options should they require more muscle down the road in ACC play. This is a big development at a position where the Irish have long been searching for consistency.

The Frontcourt Shuffle

Maybe Paul Atkinson and Nate Laszewski need to get on the same sleep schedule. At home against North Carolina, the former found his old form with an outstanding 20-point effort (including 6-of-7 from three), while Atkinson managed only two points. On the road against Georgia Tech, Atkinson came off the bench and dominated (16 points, most of which came in the first half and helped keep the Irish in the game early), while Laszewski was held without points until a clutch three in overtime.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

What became clear in these games is that the Irish have a pair of powerful frontcourt players who each bring a unique skill set - Laszewski’s three-point shooting, Atkinson’s natural athleticism and physicality down low (on defense as well as offense - Atkinson had three blocks last week) - but have yet to find a way to get them both going at the same time. Mike Brey and co. need to keep finding ways to get both these guys the ball in situations favorable to them, because if this team is firing on all cylinders they will be tough to beat.

The Three Continues to Be the Difference

Living and dying by the three has been a constant theme of the Mike Brey era, and accuracy from distance was one of the areas we identified earlier this year as needing improvement for the Irish. If this team is going to recover from its rocky start and make a decent ACC and postseason run, effective three-point shooting will have to be a part of that.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The last week’s games saw mixed results in this regard. The Irish shot 37% across two games, an improvement from their overall mark this year but still far from where you’d like to see that number. However, the Irish effort against North Carolina was very impressive - 42%, paced by Laszewski and Cormac Ryan off the bench - and the Irish shooters came up big when needed most against Georgia Tech, sealing the game with a pair of late threes. If the Irish can continue improving from distance, you will see them continue to win.

What have you seen so far from the Irish? Leave your answers in the comments below. Go Irish!