Softening Schedule, Meeting With Boston College, No Place For Notre Dame Basketball To Let Its Guard Down
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Softening Schedule No Place For Notre Dame Basketball To Let Its Guard Down

Nearly two months into its season, Notre Dame has finally hit the softer part of its schedule.

The first 11 games offered only a couple reprieves on paper and none in reality. The Irish have played nine teams inside the KenPom top 45, losing to eight. The two exceptions, mid-major Detroit Mercy and Division I newbie Bellarmine, are ranked in the 200s but still pushed Notre Dame for the better part of 40 minutes.

Even though the next three games are against teams outside KenPom’s top 60, setting up a favorable chance to end a streak of four straight losses, Notre Dame is not in a position to overlook anyone or think about sure wins. The Irish are 3-8 and 0-5 in the ACC, alone in last place. Nothing will come easily when playing who they have played. Nothing should come easily given how they have played.

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball junior guard Cormac Ryan
Cormac Ryan and Notre Dame are favorites in a conference game for the first time this season. (ACC)

“We’re not the most confident group, so they’re going to be very hard,” coach Mike Brey said after Wednesday’s 80-68 loss to Virginia.

Yes, Brey sees this next stretch as a chance to get right with more realistically winnable games. And Notre Dame is favored in a conference game for the first time this year when it hosts Boston College Saturday (4 p.m. ET, ACCN).

At the same time, the opponents think the same way about the chance to play Notre Dame given its own struggles. Boston College (3-9, 1-5 ACC) may be KenPom’s No. 88 team (one spot behind Notre Dame), but they will arrive at Purcell Pavilion with a strut after dusting Miami 84-62 Tuesday.

“We’re fighting to get one, and Saturday will be really hard to get,” Brey said. “Boston College is probably more confident than us.”

Boston College led the injury-ravaged Hurricanes 44-34 at halftime and cruised along at 1.29 points per possession. It went 18-for-35 on 3-pointers and committed only eight turnovers. Guards Rich Kelly and Jay Heath combined for 12 of the 3s.

In a way, the Eagles were due for an explosion. They take 46.5 of their field goal attempts from behind the arc, the 25th-highest rate in the country.

Teams with high 3-point volumes are often a worrisome matchup. Rarely is that bulk built by chucking contested 3s at will. A majority of them are going to be makeable looks. There is always the concern half of them could go in the basket on any given day. Accuracy on 3-pointers is more a function of the quality of shooters than it is a defense.

Boston College has topped 30 3-point attempts in a game five times this year. Only once in those games has it shot higher than 36 percent. On the season, Boston College is shooting 34.8 percent from deep, which ranks 122nd nationally.

Notre Dame’s opponents are making 38.8 percent of their 3-pointers, a troublesome number, but the Irish’s defense has fared better in limiting volume – 36.8 percent of the shots against them are 3s, slightly below the national average of 37.6.

To earn its first ACC win, though, Notre Dame has to do much more than prevent 3-pointers. It needs to generate good looks on offense for more than half a game. Rebounding, particularly on defense, has to be better. Careless passes and drives into crowds that have fueled halves with inflated turnover rates need to become more infrequent.

“It’s just trusting our work and our teammates, continuing to trust ourselves and the work we put in,” guard Cormac Ryan said. “I think we know what we’re capable of, it’s just a matter of executing.”

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Notre Dame (3-8, 0-5 ACC) vs. Boston College (3-9, 1-5)

When: Saturday, Jan. 16, 4 p.m. ET

Where: Purcell Pavilion

TV: ACC Network

Radio: Notre Dame basketball radio network

Series history: Notre Dame leads 23-11

Line: Notre Dame -4.5

KenPom prediction: Notre Dame 78, Boston College 75

Other notes:

•Notre Dame’s last convincing win came against Boston College on March 11 in the 2020 ACC tournament, an 80-58 stomping in which the Irish averaged 1.11 points per possession and made 10 3-pointers. The season was canceled the next day. Notre Dame has won its three games this season by a combined 20 points.

•Notre Dame (fourth) and Boston College (15th) have played two of the 15 most difficult schedules in the country, per KenPom’s strength of schedule metric.

•Heath is Boston College’s leading scorer (13.5 points per game and also averages a team-best, though he is shooting just 38.7 percent on field goals. Junior guard Wynston Tabbs is just behind him, at 13.3 points per game, but he did not play against Miami due to injury. He is a 40.7 percent 3-point shooter.

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