Three things for Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball returns! Following our pattern from the football season, we’re going to be taking a look each week at lessons learned from the previous week’s action.
Last Week’s Results
W vs. Michigan State Spartans, 70-52
L vs. Syracuse Orange, 62-61
We saw a lot of promise and some cause for concern this week as Notre Dame split their first two games against major-conference opponents, following up a statement win over Sparty with a disappointing, close home loss to Otto and Co. What did we learn?
In a narrative no doubt familiar to Irish fans, Notre Dame’s fate this season has hinged on its ability to shoot from the outside. Against Michigan State, the Irish were absolutely on fire, moving the ball effectively to create open looks and involving a wide range of shooters. Cormac Ryan led the way with a 6-of-7 effort from deep, with Trey Wertz and Dane Goodwin also putting in multiple threes on the night for a 42.3% effort. It was this shooting prowess that allowed the Irish to bury the Spartans early.
Syracuse, however, played an effective zone defense that cut off Notre Dame’s ball movement, limited looks elsewhere and forced the Irish into threes they didn’t want to take. The result was the same number of makes as the previous game (11) on a much larger number of shots (33 as opposed to 26) for a 33% clip, with the Irish going ice cold after a six-of-nine start from beyond the arc. The lack of a consistent interior presence made the Irish unable to score much elsewhere on the court and ultimately forced a close game they narrowly lost.
Paint Pain and Potential
With Paul Atkinson gone, Nate Lasewski more of an oversized 3 than a true big man and Ven-Allen Lubin still catching up, the Irish have struggled at many points this season to produce inside the paint. Notre Dame found success against Michigan State with driving guards, particularly Dane Goodwin and J.J. Starling, but struggled to generate much of anything against Syracuse. The lack of effective paint presence has been felt on defense as well, with the Irish allowing both the Spartans and the Orange to score inside at impressive clips.
Last year’s surprising postseason run was in no small part made by possible by the balance Notre Dame had with Atkinson leading the way in the interior. The Irish pinned a lot of their hopes in that department this year on Lubin, who has shown signs of becoming a solid presence but so far has not been able to provide the same level offensive threat and defensive stability. His progress will be key to watch as the Irish clash with stronger opponents moving forward.
One item of long-term significance for the Irish is the small rotation they have continued to utilize dating back to last season. Prior to the return of transfer guard Marcus Hammond on Saturday, the Irish were utilizing a six-man rotation, with Lubin the only player coming off the bench. Even now, the rotation is at seven. It’s a solid seven, but it also includes four fifth-year seniors in the starting lineup.
An experienced starting five is a great thing to have in college basketball and could serve the Irish extremely well this season, but this arrangement also raises a lot of questions. Leaving aside the immediate issue of what happens in the event of multiple injuries within the rotation, there is also a longer-term concern about talent development within Mike Brey’s program. The starting lineup consists almost entirely of members of the class of 2018, with the one exception a true freshman. Understanding that one outstanding recruit (Blake Wesley) has already come and gone from the program through no fault of Brey’s, why is that that seemingly no other players recruited to Notre Dame in that time have been able to make a similar impact on the floor? What will happen come fall 2023 when the current core is out of eligibility? Those questions are of course not of immediate importance, but they should spur Brey to find opportunities to insert other players in the lineup where possible.