The last time I wrote about Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball, Micah Shrewsberry’s first team had put forth an effort so putrid that it was genuinely unclear if they would ever win a conference game. Two weeks later, that worry has been put to rest, but this team still remains a frustrating enigma. A couple unlikely wins and solid efforts against good ACC opponents have accompanied some losses that remind Irish fans very much of the squad whose season seemed to be over when they were blown out by the Citadel. We are left with a truly confounding start to the season that has provided little clarity about what we can expect for the remainder. Let’s try to make sense of what we’ve seen so far.
Notre Dame 76, Virginia Cavaliers 54
Barely a week after their loss to the Citadel, the Irish absolutely slaughtered a solid ‘Hoos team to kick off conference play. Four of Notre Dame’s starters cleared double digits in scoring and the team shot a red-hot 47.8% from three, and things looked like they may not be so bad after all.
NC State Wolfpack 54, Notre Dame 52
Notre Dame returned to Earth with a close home loss to a worse opponent, though still a decent one, in NC State. Defensive play remained solid enough to win, but the Irish could not get in rhythm on offense (13 turnovers, 40.4% shooting).
Duke Blue Devils 67, Notre Dame 59
A nationally ranked Duke team trailed for much of the game in South Bend, but eventually pulled away as the Irish could not keep pace with Mark Mitchell’s scoring. A valiant effort, however, that should have been a sign of better things to come,
Notre Dame 75, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 68
Braeden Shrewsberry’s breakout game, as the freshman finished with 25 points. Despite the fact that the Irish didn’t shoot particularly well (39.3% from the field), they were able to keep pace with the Jackets by racking up offensive rebounds and cashing in at the free throw line (19-21).
Florida State Seminoles 67, Notre Dame 58
Notre Dame’s offense again fell ice cold apart from Markus Burton, who finished with 20 points. The Irish played from behind all night and never quit, narrowing the lead to 61-58 in the final minutes, but were unable to finish the job.
Boston College Eagles 63, Notre Dame 59
The worst effort since the Citadel game, this was a very winnable game that the Irish threw away by again falling ice cold from the field (Markus Burton was again the exception, finishing with 19 points).
A couple stray notes from this series of games, and things to watch for as the Irish look to find their footing under their new coach:
- The Irish are consistently playing at a high level on defense, against every level of competition. While they aren’t always turnover machines, Notre Dame’s defenders know how to close and protect the basket, forcing bad shots and collecting rebounds. I want to highlight this as a reason for optimism because this is a critical part of the foundation for successful college basketball, especially when you are looking to pull off upsets.
- On the flip side, Notre Dame is absolutely allergic to finding a rhythm on offense. This is in large part a product of shot selection as the young guards for the Irish frequently take ill-advised, long-distance shots and have trouble creating scoring opportunities through passing and movement without the ball.
- The closest thing to a consistent producer for this Irish team is Burton, who has put up double-digit points in nearly every game. There is clear potential among other players for the Irish as Shrewsberry, J.R. Konieczny, and Carey Booth have all flashed at various points. Coach Shrewsberry will have to do everything he can to help this young team gel if he wants to see more consistent output and start winning some games for the Irish.
There is still a long stretch of ACC play left, with plenty of chances for this team to grow and set the foundation for a stronger future in their new era. Let’s hope they take that opportunity in stride.