"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Notre Dame Preview, 2022-23

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

December 11, 2022, South Bend, IN

Head Coach: Mike Brey (472-259 at Notre Dame, 571-310 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 64.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 60.0

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 32

Projected Starters: PG Trey Wertz (6'5" RS Sr), SG J.J. Starling (6'4" Fr), SF Cormac Ryan (6'5" RS Sr), PF Dane Goodwin (6'6" RS Sr), C Nate Laszewski (6'10" RS Sr)

Nate Laszewski allows Notre Dame to play five-out

Photo by Matt Cashore | USA Today Sports

After a fantastic run of 9 NCAA bids in 11 years, fans in South Bend were starting to wonder if Mike Brey had lost a step. The Irish hadn't had a tourney caliber team in four years and the "Fire Brey" chants started even before the 3-4 start to 2021-22. Then the Irish pulled one of the shockers of the season, knocking off Kentucky, and followed that up with a 15-5 ACC record, good enough for second place albeit in a depleted league, and made it back to the NCAA Tournament, where they beat Rutgers and Alabama and were two minutes from the Sweet 16 before a Texas Tech late comeback ended their season.

Brey's resurgence was largely down to freshman star Blake Wesley, who departed for the NBA. However while the back court of Wesley and Prentiss Hubb is gone, the entire front court of Cormac Ryan, Dane Goodwin, and Nate Laszewski are back. All three are high efficiency scoring options that connected on over 40% of their three point attempts. They are joined by another stud freshman, five-star J.J. Starling, who is more multi-dimensional than Wesley was as not just a scorer but a distributor as well. The biggest question mark is at the point, where Marcus Hammond will get the first crack. While he averaged 18.1 ppg last year, it was for Niagara so he'll have to adjust to high-major competition. If he doesn't work out, Starling may have to shift over because Brey's roster is heavy on wings and bigs but thin in the back court. Freshman forward Ven-Allen Lubin is pushing for a starting spot and would provide rebounding and defense. Sharpshooter Trey Wertz should also be in the rotation and could pick up slack if Hammond isn't ready.

Offensively, Brey's teams might be best described as meticulous. They have been top-100 in Assist Rate in 19 of his 22 seasons in South Bend. Add in that he hasn't had a team rank outside the top-60 in turnover rate since 1998 and the formula is pretty simple. His teams work the pass, grinding down the shot clock and finding the open shooter, and do so without making mistakes. Considering this team is made up of long players that can absolutely throw flames from deep with immense patience, they are a matchup nightmare. Consider this: Notre Dame ranked 16th nationally in three-point percentage last year largely because of the six players that took 60+ long-range attempts. The four returners shot a combined 43.4% from deep and the two that departed shot 30.8%. With that in mind, they should be even better from deep. That said, they aren't without weaknesses. When they do miss, they are terrible offensive rebounding team (#335 nationally was even worse than Marquette's #325) and they don't get to the line often. Then there is the defense. Brey has never had a top-40 defense and his teams average defensive rank was 113.6 over the past decade. A pair of defensive-minded assistants joined the staff last year and started mixing in some 2/3 zone as a changeup, but this is still a team that wins on the offensive end.

Looking at 2022-23, Notre Dame simply has too much firepower to not be in contention for an NCAA bid. They can't afford many injuries but if they stay healthy, they should be a top-half ACC team and in the mix to play in the tourney once again. How far they go will likely come down to Starling. They have a consistent, experienced rotation around him but last year it was the consistent scoring option of Wesley that put them over the top. While they are efficient, none of their returning players are the high usage types that you expect to carry a tourney caliber team. Starling needs to be that guy for Notre Dame to reach their potential. As far as Marquette goes, this will be one of the toughest games of non-con play. It's a true road game against an experienced team with NCAA aspirations. If Marquette can get this one, it would go a long way toward building an NCAA-worthy resume.

What We've Learned: The Irish have been a tough team to figure out. They struggled mightily with their buy game opponents, starting 5-0 by a relatively narrow average margin of 7.8 ppg. After being upset by St. Bonaventure, they returned home to throttle then-20th ranked Michigan State only to follow it up with a loss to a bad Syracuse team. This is a very thin team, playing only 6 players in most games, though the return of Marcus Hammond gives them a little more depth and they'll likely go 7 deep on Sunday. Their starters all average 32+ mpg. Notre Dame also hasn't faced a high-level team that plays at pace, with Tempo #270 St. Bonaventure the fastest team of their tougher competition, so Marquette's top-50 tempo could be a bit of a shock. Stylistically, this team is what we expected. Grind down the pace, don't turn it over, shoot a ton of threes. Defensively, they aren't very good, but they have been great limiting second chances and not fouling, which has allowed them to survive with a miniscule bench. If not for that MSU result, this would look like a game Marquette would handle relatively easily, despite the venue. But considering how Marquette has dealt with slow-paced games (1-3 when playing fewer than 70 possessions) and just how decisively Notre Dame defeated Michigan State, it likely comes down to which Irish team shows up.

Marquette Connection: When Proviso East star Glenn Rivers chose Marquette over Notre Dame, he became the first McDonald's All-American in school history. However it wasn't that choice that cemented his legacy in Marquette vs Notre Dame lore. Digger Phelps brought his #5-ranked Irish to the Mecca on January 10, 1981. Despite being heavy underdogs, Dean Marquardt couldn't miss for Marquette, going 6/6 from the floor. That performance kept Marquette in the game and Michael Wilson forced a late tie-up and jump ball with the score tied at 52. Notre Dame won that tip, but lost the ball out of bounds. With just one second on the clock, Wilson fired an inbound pass to a streaking Rivers, who took one step and fired up a desperation 30-foot heave that banked in and secured the 54-52 victory.

No comments: