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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: Three Things We Learned in Three Rough Weeks

2023 looks like an uphill climb

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Sparse early-December action and my own preoccupations with finishing graduate school allowed me to shirk my duties for some time, but with a heavy heart I must continue observing three things for Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball in a season that has quickly turned pear-shaped. This wouldn’t be the first Brey-coached Irish squad to turn things around with a dominant run through conference play and sneak into the tourney, but right now it doesn’t look good and we have to talk about why.

Last Three Weeks’ Results

W vs. Boston Terriers, 81-75

L vs. Marquette Golden Eagles, 79-64

L vs. Georgia Bulldogs, 77-62

L vs. Florida State Seminoles, 73-72

One painful W followed by three even-more-painful L’s. What did we learn?

Murder in the Paint

Even on hot-shooting nights, this team is going to have a hard time winning games if it continues to get abused by its opponents’ frontcourts in the manner we have seen so far this year. Behold, if ye dare, the numbers put up by opponents’ starting centers and forwards in the last three games:

  • Marquette: 16 points for F Oso Ighodaro, 14 points for F Olivier-Maxence Prosper
  • Georgia: 15 points for F Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe, 18 points for C Braelen Bridges (these two were an incredible 15-of-15 from the floor, with no threes and Bridges not even taking a single free throw)
  • Florida State: 18 points for F Cameron Corhen
NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

No doubt Mike Brey and co. are looking for ways to stop the bleeding here, but it appears more and more apparent that any team with a competent offensive player over 6’6” is going to gash the Irish in the paint, and in turn create opportunities for the rest of the offense. It’s hard to see how the Irish make a postseason run of any kind without a dramatic improvement in this area of the game.

Too Many Second Chances

Beyond giving up far too many points on the inside, the Irish have also been badly out performed on the offensive glass. Marquette in particular racked up 15 offensive boards to Notre Dame’s 9, while Georgia and Florida State each held the Irish to only 5 while racking up 8 and 7, respectively.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

For a team that was already struggling to defend the paint, allowing extra possessions on offensive rebounds was an aggravating factor that put more and more pressure on Irish shooters to stay hot just to manage the gap. While it is tempting for a team that depends on the three as much as Notre Dame to let guards leak out and try to move fast on offense following a stop, the Irish have to commit to staying home and collecting the ball as a team, as their forwards have demonstrated they cannot be relied upon to collect rebounds by themselves.

No Urgency

In the Marquette and Georgia losses, the Irish racked up 10 and 15 turnovers, respectively. while collecting 3 and 14. Against Florida State they held it to 7, but only collected 5. Across all three games, Notre Dame was -10 in the turnover margin. The Irish collected a total of 10 steals across those three games, with 7 coming against the turnover-prone Bulldogs. What all this translates to is an Irish team that is simply getting beaten on hustle plays - outmuscled, outrun, out-contested.

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

Last year’s Irish team had a similar start to this one, but found a sense of urgency that allowed them to prevail in tightly contested ACC games. In the one game where we saw the Irish look truly dominant this season, against the Michigan State Spartans, they showed a similar intensity. The Irish will have to find that again if they are turn this season around, and it will be the ultimate test of whether Mike Brey still has it as a coach to see whether he can bring it out of his team again.