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. Let me know what you think/what you noticed in the comments!
Last Week’s Results
W @ Louisville Cardinals, 82-70
Last week only gave us one game, as the Irish recovered from doing double duty over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. That one game was an encouraging one though, as the Irish weathered an early storm from Louisville and blew the doors open late in the second half to walk away winners. Let’s take a look at three trends to watch from this game.
Blake Wesley: Ready to be The Guy
If I had to single out the moment in this game where I know the Irish were going to win, I’d say it was an Irish possession that came with about 7 minutes remaining. The Irish were up four and Blake Wesley, seeming to sense blood in the water, took the ball up the court coast-to-coast, dusting his man on a perfect screen from Nate Laszewski, and easily speeding past the 6’-11” Malik Williams to score and draw a foul. Wesley had found his mark, knew he was going to score, and got the bucket. It was a moment for The Guy, and Wesley delivered.
It’s been a long time since the Irish had a player who had the skill and mentality to be that guy, but every game that goes by shows Wesley continuing to become him. If he continues his excellent play (Wesley led all scorers with 22 points and was 3-4 from three), he will prove to be exactly the difference-maker this program has been looking for.
Turnovers: A Tale of Two Halves
One of the key improvements the Irish have made over the course of their thus-far-impressive ACC run has been a reduction in turnovers (the Irish now average 10.5 per game, good for 22nd-best in the nation). The Irish stayed right on average against Louisville with eleven turnovers, but notably had eight in the first half and only three in the second. The Cardinals’s adeptness at turning those mistakes into points was a key factor in their eight-point halftime advantage, while the improvement of the Irish enabled their 19-point edge in the second half.
In this sense, Saturday’s game showed both where the Irish have been (the turnover-fueled dysfunction of the early part of the season) and where they could be if they continue to play disciplined basketball (cruising to road wins in conference play). If the Irish are to make the run they need to get into the NCAA tournament, maintaining this level of discipline will be critical.
Finding the Three-Point Stroke
Perhaps the most promising development in Louisville on Saturday was Notre Dame’s success from beyond the arc. The Irish made a headline-grabbing 15 three-pointers and even more impressively did so on only 23 attempts. Of key importance also were the contributions of the bench: Trey Wertz and Cormac Ryan were money, going a combined 5-6 from three to help the Irish stay on pace with starters resting.
Fans of Brey-era Irish basketball know that the three has been at the center of his most successful teams. This year’s team, with its guard-heavy rotation, was clearly built to replicate that, but the Irish struggled early mightily from distance early in the season. If the performance in Louisville is an indicator of things to come, Irish fans should be very excited about what else is to come from their team.