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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: Three Things from Another Winless Week

Only two more of these things

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

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team came up empty this week, yet again losing a pair of competitive games in one of the more miserably monotonous trends we’ve seen in a while. The winless week of action extended their ACC losing streak to 11 games, with only two to play. Let’s put what’s left of our brains to work trying to parse out some patterns from this ongoing meltdown.

Last Week’s Results

L vs. North Carolina Tar Heels, 63-59

L @ Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 66-58

A missed opportunity to put a nail in the coffin of one of the year’s biggest flop teams at home, followed by a ho-hum road defeat where the Irish were in the game throughout, but never really threatened in the second half. What did we learn?

Ice-Cold Shooters

In a pair of games where hot shooting would have made a huge difference for Notre Dame, the experienced shooters for the Irish fell completely cold from beyond the arc. Across the two games they played last week, the Irish were 7-of-23 and 5-of-20, respectively, from three-point land. Aside from Trey Wertz, who went 3-of-7 against UNC and 2-of-5 against Wake Forest, no shooter for the Irish who attempted three or more shots from distance had a hit rate of higher than 1/3.

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

Mike Brey’s teams have always been somewhat dependent on the three-point shot, but it’s been rare that we’ve seen a team that was both this dependent on it and this inconsistent. The inability to connect from downtown made the Irish prone to back-breaking offensive droughts that made leads disappear for them and hold for their opponents. Whatever comes next in the post-Brey era, one hopes it will include a more balanced offensive approach.

Block City

One great trend from this week? In a pair of mostly-solid defensive efforts, the Notre Dame was remarkably effective at protecting the rim. The Irish blocked three shots against North Carolina and seven against Wake Forest (three of which came from freshman Ven-Allen Lubin, who had his best all-around game of the season).

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

Probably the biggest struggle for the Irish on defense this season has been finding a way to replace the interior efforts of Paul Atkinson. While it is far too little and too late to save the season, it’s great to see some rim protection emerge - in particular among players who have eligibility remaining after this season.

Please Stay

This season represents the end of an era, not only due to Mike Brey’s departure but also that of the aforementioned 2018 recruiting class, whose long tenure at Notre Dame has encompassed plenty of good and bad moments and whose stars - Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin alongside transfers Trey Wertz and Cormac Ryan - have dominated the starting lineup this season and for most of the past few years in Brey’s small rotations. Even without the head man’s departure, one of the most important trends to watch this year would have been the emergence of the players who would step in to fill that class’s shoes.

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

The two main names to watch in that category were freshmen J.J. Starling and Ven-Allen Lubin, and last week we saw each of those guys provide a spark. Starling provided welcome energy and dynamism in about 19 minutes off the bench, putting up 10 points to spell the starting guards for the Irish. Against Wake Forest, Lubin was the star - his three blocks mentioned above were complemented by 19 points and eight rebounds in an effort that showed the skillset of a complete forward and kept a short-handed (both Starling and Marcus Hammond had to sit) Irish team competitive.

If both of these guys can continue to develop, they can make the transition into a new era of Notre Dame basketball a lot easier. So the only thing we need to be saying to them as fans in an offseason where the transfer portal could be awfully tempting is: please, please stay.