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

Pretty or not, the Irish got it done

NCAA Basketball: Virginia 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. NC State Wolfpack, 73-65

W vs. Virginia Cavaliers, 69-65

The Irish built out another winning streak in ACC play, stretching the mark to four while remaining undefeated at home and holding strong at third in the conference standings. What did we learn?

Winning Ugly

In each game this week, the Irish won in relatively ugly fashion against an underdog opponent, first by playing the struggling Wolfpack close well into the second half and then by allowing a down-but-dangerous Virginia team to make a late run and nearly force OT in South Bend.

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

There are numerous causes for these cold spells in the middle of otherwise solid efforts - sudden rashes of turnovers and missed free throws, defensive vulnerabilities in the paint, etc. That said, it’s important to note that these kinds of competitive games are ones the Irish would have lost in recent years. This team is far from perfect, but they are finding ways to win against determined competition and gradually separating themselves from the rest of the conference.

Nate’s House

Nate Laszewski earns MVP of the week honors for his efforts in Notre Dame’s two home victories this week. Laz notched 18 points against NC State and 16 against UVA, picked up a block in each game and shot 70% from three over the two games. His effort against NC State was particularly outstanding, as he racked up eleven rebounds and at one point scored eight straight to give the Irish a commanding lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After becoming a team leader in the 2020-21 season, Laszewski was quiet in the early going this year for the Irish, as Blake Wesley and Dane Goodwin emerged as the team’s scoring leaders and he shared the frontcourt with Paul Atkinson. But as this unit has cohered and learned to play together, he has started coming on stronger and stronger. If he can continue to put forth solid efforts, the ceiling will again rise for this Irish team.

Ball Movement Opens Up Offensive Versatility

The Irish have greatly improved their ball movement on offense in conference play, reducing turnovers and racking up assists (14 against North Carolina State, 16 against Virginia). This has enabled the Irish to more effectively make adjustments when a team tries to take one part of their game away.

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

A great example of what I mean here came late in the first half and early in the second against Virginia. The Irish shooters had fallen cold, and Virginia had cut the lead to only three. Responding to the Hoos creeping out on defense, the Irish guards looked for cutters on the inside, generating eight consecutive points in the paint and pushing the lead back out to seven at halftime. In the early part of the second half, the Hoos adjusted again, disrupting Notre Dame’s big men on the interior with physical play. The Irish responded effectively by moving the ball around the perimeter and finding now-open shooters from three, with Goodwin and Laszewski combining to extend the Irish lead to as many as 15. Winning this kind of chess match is what wins high-level college basketball games, and Notre Dame’s unselfish play is enabling it more and more.