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
L vs. Duke Blue Devils, 43-57
W @ Miami Hurricanes, 68-64
W @ NC State Wolfpack, 69-57
The Irish started the week with a hideous home loss at the hands of the Dukies, ending a long winning streak inside Purcell Pavilion. However, they bounced back on only a day’s rest with a gutsy road win against ACC #2 Miami, then won a roller-coaster game in Raleigh to close out the road trip. What did we learn?
Blake Wesley’s Growing Pains - And Perseverance
No one has been more effusive than I in praise of Notre Dame’s star freshman, but even the most enthusiastic of Wesley boosters had to take note of his slump over the past couple weeks. Wesley appeared to be forcing the issue against Duke and Miami (in which he went 3-of-15 and 2-of-13, respectively), attempting to shoot his way out of the slump with unnatural shots, often from distance. This was a bad look for Wesley and a bad sign for Notre Dame’s chances to continue its winning ways, which depended in no small part on Wesley’s star power.
The good news is that Wesley put in a far better effort (7-of-13 for 14 points) on Saturday in Raleigh, which saw him focus more on scoring closer to the basket. For all of his dazzling ability Wesley is still a young player, and it’s no surprise to see him deal with some growing pains. Hopefully Mike Brey is coaching him to be patient, lean into his strengths and resist the temptation to press, and we will continue to see improved play from Wesley.
Paul Atkinson’s Consistency
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Wesley’s ups and downs, you have Paul Atkinson’s efforts from the last week. He put forth by far the team’s best effort against Duke, with 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocks on a night when the Irish shooters were ice-cold and he had to contend with uncommon size and muscle inside. He lit up Miami for 23 points, seemingly willing the Irish to a massive road win, and then put forth another excellent effort in Raleigh with 15 points and eleven rebounds.
The transfer portal is something college coaches across all sports are still trying to figure out, but it’s hard to think of a better poster child for it than Atkinson, who has gotten a chance to showcase his abilities on a much bigger stage while giving the Irish a dynamism down low they haven’t had in a long time. His consistency in recent weeks has given the Irish some much-needed offensive versatility, while his energy and intensity have been outstanding.
This Team Will Not Quit
After a humiliating home loss to open the week and with a tough road matchup coming up on short rest, it would have been easy - and perhaps even expected by more pessimistic fans - for that game to become the first step in another painful retreat from the ACC and NCAA tournament races. Instead, the Irish stood their ground and emerged from Coral Gables with a statement win, then kept rolling into the weekend. Give credit here not only to Brey’s coaching but to senior leadership from the likes of Atkinson, Prentiss Hubb and Dane Goodwin, who showed remarkable mettle in getting the team back on a winning track.
Having notched a crucial pair of wins to close out this week, the Irish are now staring at a golden opportunity over the next two, with a trio of eminently winnable matchups against the Louisville Cardinals, Clemson Tigers and Boston College Eagles leading up to another statement opportunity at the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. If Notre Dame can continue to show mental and physical toughness through this stretch, they will have a great chance to end their long NCAA tournament drought.