Notre Dame Needs A Boost, But Is Headed To An Unfriendly Spot For One
In need of a win and some good vibes, Notre Dame is headed to a place and facing an opponent where those are rarely the end result.
No. 18 Virginia and its defense are the opposite of the antidote for Notre Dame’s hot-and-cold offense that too often devolves into strings of contested long jumpers and passes into traffic. The Cavaliers and their pack-line principles force offenses to play as if they’re one-handed. Notre Dame has succumbed each of the last five times, dating back to 2018.
“We’ve had no answer for them,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “They’re really an unbelievable program.”
He’s not feeling entirely hopeless, though. Not even after his team was 2 of 19 from the field in the second half of Sunday’s 77-63 loss to then-No. 19 Virginia Tech. Not after Virginia held Notre Dame (3-7, 0-4 ACC) to 57 points in a Dec. 30 defeat of the Irish.
In that prior meeting, Brey found a couple things he liked. Notre Dame averaged 1.18 points per possession, committed just three turnovers and scored 33 points in the second half. Junior forward Nate Laszewski and fifth-year senior forward Juwan Durham combined for 24 points in the final 20 minutes. Notre Dame played through Durham in the post and Laszewski (28 total points, 4 of 7 on three-pointers) in pick-and-pops.
Durham had 19 points, the second-most of his Notre Dame career, and drew four fouls. He passed out of the post with much more effectiveness than his one assist indicated.
“Maybe one of his best ACC games he’s ever played,” Brey said. “That helped us. I’d love to see us throw it into the post and see if we can get into a rhythm offensively. That’s hard to do against Virginia, but we were in a rhythm in the second half of our game in South Bend.”
This is all true, all well and good, but the game script was a familiar one because the opening half was a lot like the closing one of Sunday’s loss. Stilted offense. Porous defense. A yucky 0.83 points per possession. The next time Notre Dame generates open shots for most of a 40-minute game will be the first against a high-major team this year.
Brey might feel good about the latter part of the prior game against the Cavaliers, but there’s still the task of running good offense for more than half the game. Notre Dame has been stuck trying to all year, a type of inconsistency often found in teams at the bottom of league standings. Perhaps aside from budding star Laszewski, it’s hard to know what any given player is going to do on a certain night.
Defense has been even more difficult. Last time out against Virginia, diminutive but hiccup-quick junior point guard Kihei Clark was the bugaboo. He sliced through Notre Dame’s defense, whether it was man or zone, and resided in the paint all evening. He distributed and scored, ending with 19 points, five assists and no turnovers. His efforts helped Virginia produce 18 unguarded jump-shot attempts.
“What we couldn’t do is keep Clark out of the lane at key times,” Brey said. “He’s such a winner. We have to be better there.”
Notre Dame (3-7, 0-4 ACC) at No. 18 Virginia (7-2, 3-0)
When: Wednesday, Jan. 13, 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, Va.
TV: ACC Network
Radio: Notre Dame basketball radio network
Series history: Virginia leads 15-2
KenPom prediction: Virginia 67, Notre Dame 57
• Clark is averaging 10.7 points and 3.3 assists per game while shooting 52.3 percent from the field.
• It felt like Notre Dame skirted danger last time with its defense on Cavaliers’ leading scorer and career 43.7 percent three-point shooter Sam Hauser. The senior wing was 3 of 8 from deep, but missed a few open ones. The volume is of particular concern. Anytime he is allowed to take eight of them, there’s a risk he hits five or six. Notre Dame lost him a few times.
• Laszewski scored 17 points at Virginia Tech, right at his season average, but took only one three-pointer. The Hokies’ switch-everything defense limited the pick-and-pop chances, but Virginia’s pack-line style of play afforded him seven three-point attempts in the prior meeting.
• The best way to beat Virginia’s defense is to score in transition before it is set. Notre Dame tried to push the ball in the first game, but only found four true transition opportunities and scored five points on those, per Synergy Sports data.
• For transition chances to arise, Notre Dame needs to force more misses and turnovers. Virginia’s offense limits both, though. The Cavaliers are shooting 49.2 percent this year and have the sixth-lowest turnover rate in the country. Notre Dame, meanwhile, is bottom-15 nationally in forcing turnovers.
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