The Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team only played one game last week, and it was a bad one. It’s an increasingly difficult season to cover for the Irish, with little postseason hope remaining, but this week I’m going to keep this column focused on good things - things that we can enjoy for now, or can give us hope for years to come. Let’s try our best.
Last Week’s Results
L vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 81-64
A barrage of three-pointers by Damari Monsanto and the Deacs buried a cold-shooting Irish team in South Bend. What did we learn (besides the obvious)?
Nate Laszewski’s Farewell Tour
In a game where the shooters the Irish rely on were cold and the guards failed to gain much penetration, the Irish big man stood tall and had a solid game, the kind we’ve seen from him plenty of times over his time in South Bend. Although he too was cold from distance (2 of 9), Laszewski asserted himself on the inside and racked up 18 points total.
He played a complete game in terms of effort, with seven rebounds and two steals to top off a productive and active display of leadership. In a season where it would be easy for a super-senior to check out and lose focus, Nate played hard and set an example for his teammates, as he always has.
Active Hands on Defense
One area where the Irish showed marked improvement in this game - and which improves their long-term prospects if it becomes a part of the team’s culture - was in generating havoc on defense. The Irish had six steals as a team and the Deacs had a total of 14 turnovers, compared to one steal and four turnovers on the other side.
Both of these are reversals of trends we saw earlier in the season for the Irish, who showed a more aggressive streak at many moments in this game. At numerous points throughout the season the Irish have appeared slow, reactive and generally out-hustled on defense, but showed a lot more fight against the Deacs on Saturday in spite of being outscored. If Notre Dame can retain and regain that spirit over the remainder of this season it will prove not to be a total loss.
Better on the Offensive Boards
In a similar trend to the steal-and-turnover department, Notre Dame showed a marked improvement on Saturday in generating offensive rebounds. The Irish outperformed Wake Forest on the offensive glass by the count of 10-4, with the boards spread throughout the roster.
While the Deacs’ hot shooting rendered their relative inability to gather offensive rebounds irrelevant in this game, this was another aspect where the Irish showed improvement over previous games in which they were generally unable to compete on the inside. Improvement in these hustle metrics is a sign of a team that is continuing to fight, an encouraging sign given the program’s current state of limbo.
None of these things are great, but they’re what we’ve got right now, and let’s hope they’re baby steps to a better future.