Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM DECEMBER 2022 41 MEN'S BASKETBALL BY PATRICK ENGEL D ane Goodwin couldn't believe it. Maybe didn't want to believe it. When told of Lipscomb's second-half shooting percentage in Notre Dame's 66-65 escape Nov. 18, the graduate stu- dent guard fresh off a winning three- pointer took a turn toward frustrated. "Geez," Goodwin muttered, glancing down at a stat sheet in front of him. That number was 76 percent. Seventy- six. And that was after Notre Dame finally clamped down and forced two misses in the final minute. Before those, Lipscomb shot 82.6 percent in the second half. It missed four shots in the first 19:22. And that is why Notre Dame needed every bit of its 70 percent mark on three-pointers in the second half to win. If this were a one-off where every ill- advised mid-range jumper or contested three-pointer went through the net, it would have elicited disbelief more than exasperation. But the ease with which Notre Dame's first five opponents have scored has been no fluke. It has not derailed the season. Notre Dame headed into its Nov. 25 game versus St. Bonaventure ranked fourth nationally in effective field goal per- centage, 20th in adjusted offensive ef- ficiency, 11th in two-point percentage and 19th in turnover rate, per KenPom. Graduate student forward Nate Lasze- wski was averaging 19.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game and looks like an All- ACC player. Goodwin was at 15.4 points per game. Freshman guard JJ Starling was averaging 14.0 points per game and hung a career-high 23 on Bowling Green in the Irish's 82-66 win Nov. 22. Freshman forward Ven-Allen Lubin (6.6 points per game) continues to grow. All told, the Irish offense is humming along and hard to guard. But — and it's a big "but" — there's that other thing. Like last year, defense was never going to be the strength for this group. But nobody saw it becoming this much of a struggle, at least to start. "Defense for us is going to be a work in process," Laszewski said. Frequent leaks on that end did not cost Notre Dame a win in any of those five games. The Irish ended a home slate against mid- and low-major opponents with a 5-0 record that included point to- tals of 88, 82, 82 and 79. That 66-pointer against Lipscomb still contained a half in which Notre Dame shot 52 percent overall. Their résumé is free of face-plant performances in "buy" games, which is more than six other ACC teams can say. What can't be disregarded, though, is the state of the Irish defense. Allowing a high shooting percentage in a game or a half is one thing. There will be off nights. But three second-half white- knucklers in five games against teams ranked 175th or worse at KenPom? That's a pattern Notre Dame needs to halt quickly. In five games, Notre Dame has: • Allowed 76 points to Radford and trailed by 9 in the second half, requiring a go-ahead shot in the final minute to win. • Allowed 81 points on 50.8 percent shooting to Youngstown State in an 88-81 victory. • Allowed 48.4 percent shooting and 45 points in the second half to Southern Indiana. • Needed Goodwin's three-pointer with 14 seconds left to beat Lipscomb after leading by 10 with 7:46 left. • Allowed Bowling Green to shoot 53.3 percent and score 40 points in the first half. The trend is glaring, because Notre Dame has the experience and offen- sive skill to do some damage in the ACC with simply a decent defense. None of it is lost on head coach Mike Brey or the players. The first half of the Bowling Green game led to a tough conversation. "I challenged them at halftime," Brey said. "I said, 'Fellas, come on, I'm tired of answering questions about us.'" Notre Dame has tried many fixes, be that 1-3-1 or 2-3 zone, switching 1 through 4 (and sometimes 5) on ball screens, icing screens and playing aggressive help de- fense. None of these tactics have produced results with staying power yet. The Fal- cons' game provided some hope, though. In the second half, the Irish frequently sent help in post defense and on drives into the lane. They allowed just 5 points in the final 10:54, including an 8-minute scoring drought. It was a sign of progress. "Our biggest problem right now is hugging guys on the weak side," Brey said. "We have to stay in the lane. We call them 'loads,' not help side. We have to load up. Make them skip [pass] it. Make them use a ball screen, make them throw it all the way over, and we'll deal with that. "A lot of that is our young guys hug- ging. That's a habit we have to help Ven and JJ with. Don't hug when you're loading. We still have to be better there." There is still time for Notre Dame to make strides in that area and find a de- fensive identity with staying power. No. 12 Michigan State visits Purcell Pavilion Nov. 30, but after that, the Irish won't face another team currently in KenPom's top 50 until Dec. 30 when they host Miami. The Irish offense makes them a threat to beat anyone. But not if the defense doesn't correct its early season struggles. ✦ Notre Dame's Defensive Issues Loom Below Surface Of 5-0 Start The Fighting Irish had some close calls to start the year because of some lapses on defense. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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