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. Boston College Eagles, 99-95
L @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 74-79
Notre Dame now sits in second place in the ACC standings after a mixed week. The Irish survived a furious upset bid at home by a BC squad playing out of their minds, but wasted a prime opportunity for a statement win by blowing a 12-point first-half advantage against a solid Wake team on the road. The loss was far from a death blow and Notre Dame’s postseason dreams are still very much alive, but it was in many ways a humbling week. What did we learn?
So About that Defense...
Notre Dame’s defense had shown remarkable improvement leading up to this week’s games, but last week saw them take a step in the wrong direction. Both BC and Wake found and exploited major holes in the Irish defense. While Notre Dame’s zone scheme had been successful in limiting the three-point shot, the Eagles lit the Irish up from beyond the arc (43.5% on 23 attempts). Wake, meanwhile, took advantage of a limited Paul Atkinson and a tentative-due-to-injury Nate Laszewski to abuse the Irish in the paint. In addition to the points they gave up inside, the Irish were also badly out-rebounded (43-27 with Wake forest grabbing sixteen offensive boards), making for a miserable day down low.
Although it was more shocking to watch, Wednesday night’s results are actually easier to shrug off as a one-time blip on the radar. Sometimes the other team (even a bad one) is just on fire and you have to deal with it - that happens in college basketball. On the other hand, Saturday’s loss exposed a systemic problem that has popped up throughout this season - teams with strength inside that can challenge Notre Dame’s lack of depth down low have been able to impose their will on the Irish.
Return of the Turnover Bug
In addition to the defensive struggles in the paint, another trend that resurfaced in Saturday’s game was a penchant for momentum-killing turnovers, with the Irish racking up 13 over the course of the game. In a game characterized by offensive runs that went back and forth, the Irish offered the Deacs far too many free possessions, allowing them to recover when they had fallen behind and consolidate their lead near the end of the game.
You can in part credit the higher caliber of the opponent for the number of turnovers in this game. Wake Forest’s defense was physical and swarming and combined with their impressive performance on the boards to give themselves a remarkable number of extra chances on offense. And it was those second chances that ultimately allowed Wake to prevail despite the Irish shooting far better (47.1% vs. 41.4%).
Irish Shooters Continue to Roll
Speaking of that shooting, let’s talk about the best thing we saw all week: Notre Dame’s consistently strong (and clutch) shooting. On Wednesday night, the Irish gave up one massive shot after another and consistently responded with huge ones of their own, as the two teams traded haymakers like they were in the final round of a Rocky boxing match. Although the opponent wasn’t the strongest, it was nonetheless impressive to watch the Irish weather the onslaught and strike back time and again.
Even in a loss on Saturday, the Irish continued to shoot the ball well, hitting a 45.2% clip. MVP of the week honors go to Blake Wesley, who was outstanding in both games to the tune of 18 and 24 points, nailing some big-time shots in the closing minutes of the second half against BC and hitting six of eleven from distance in Winston-Salem. Secondary honors go to Dane Goodwin for his excellent performance on Wednesday (23 points on 12-of-22), and Prentiss Hubb for his lights-out efforts in the final minutes of OT. Consistent and clutch shooting covers a multitude of sins and is often the biggest difference-maker in postseason college basketball, so Irish fans still have plenty to be excited about.