How can you tell someone went to Notre Dame?
They'll tell you
It's funny because it's true.
Enter the Irish. Mike Brey is getting well-deserved kudos for his coaching job so far this season, with ND racing out to a surprising 14-2 record. Seniors Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis set the pace for the Irish, each averaging 16 points per game and shooting better than 40% from long-range. Abromaitis also grabs more than seven boards per game and remains one of the Big East's toughest match-ups. Scott Martin and Tyrone Nash each add ten points per outing. The Irish have a lot of firepower, but MU catches a huge break with the expected absence of Carleton Scott, an athletic forward averaging 12 per game, due to injury.
After a rough game against Pitt (more on that in a second), Rosiak has a pretty good blog entry up about how Marquette prepares to face a new-look Notre Dame. Usually, we love Rosiak's stuff, but our analysis of the team contradicts his lead.
Aside from the undefeated Syracuse Orange, there probably isn’t a team in the Big East Conference playing better right now than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
In addition to their usual ability to put the ball in the basket, the Irish are also showing an attitude and fight on the defensive end of the floor – traits that began to show themselves down the stretch last season as Notre Dame got itself into the NCAA tournament despite playing a large chunk of time without injured star Luke Harangody.
We agree that the Irish are playing surprisingly well. Already this year the Irish have taken out Georgia, Cal, UW-Madison and Gonzaga. Plus, Notre Dame already stands at 3-1 in conference having defeated Georgetown, UConn and St. John's. Frankly, ND's only losses thus far are to a pair of Pomeroy top 10 teams on the road (Kentucky, Syracuse).
The reason to call out Rosiak is because, frankly, I'm having a hard time understanding how Notre Dame is beating teams consistently based on "attitude and fight" on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, their offense is the #10 offense in the country, but just like most years, their defense lags considerably. Better said, maybe, is that their defense is pretty inconsistent. For example, Notre Dame held UW-Madison to 0.90 ppp (points per possession) but then allowed Gonzaga to score 1.21 ppp. Where Notre Dame has been strong defensively is defensive rebounding (#8) in the country, as well as defensive free throw rate (FTR) (I'd give you their rank, but defensive FTR is practically insignificant). What hasn't been true is that defense is winning games for ND.
Luckily for Marquette, ND is only slightly better than average at defensive eFG%. That's good news, because if we know one thing, it's that Marquette can run an offense and get a good effective field goal percentage. Even the top-five Pitt Panthers failed to slow down MU's offensive juggernaut, and that aptitude will keep MU in every game this year.
Here's the bad news. The only games that ND lost? Kentucky held the Irish to 0.90 ppp and Syracuse held them to 0.93 ppp. Marquette couldn't even hold Mississippi Valley State under 0.90 points per possession.
Now, I'm going to rant for a few minutes about the Pitt game and Marquette's defense. You know what? Marquette's defense sucks. Whatever Buzz is doing defensively is. not. working. As we covered on twitter, the defensive performance against Pitt was the worst defensive performance in the last fifteen years. FIFTEEN YEARS! Maybe longer, but we don't know because the stats don't go back that far. That's pathetic.
But it's not as though the game against Pitt was just a scenario of them getting lucky. No. We will not accept that Pitt was "just hot". Not when teams are consistently burning Marquette. (UW - 1.19 ppp, Vandy - 1.12, WVU - 1.14, Rutgers - 1.06, Pitt - 1.41) There are systemic issues with the defensive philosophy. Of course, nobody knows what the defensive philosophy is besides "don't foul".
It's time to fix defense, Buzz. You recruit talent. Your offense is awesome. Marquette competes hard in every game. The games are almost always close. Marquette has a very good chance of beating almost any opponent based solely on offense, and that's great. But seriously, whatever you are doing defensively is not working. /end rant
Back to Notre Dame. Here's the clincher. This game is almost certainly going to be a close one dominated by offense. Considering the Warriors are at home and will have an athletic advantage against the Irish, perhaps MU will be able to contest shots and defend better than usual. The absence of Scott surely works to MU's advantage.
It's time for the home team to bring that home-court advantage. And if there's one thing we know, it's that MU is comfortable in close games.
Will there be stops at the end to bring home the win?