Don’t get me wrong, I love the Rocky movies. Punching a big slab of meat, running through the streets of Philly with Butkus, frolicking in the ocean with Apollo, the killer training montage in IV, “If youze can change”…it’s great stuff.
But no human could really absorb the haymakers that land against Rocky early in those fights. The guy just gets absolutely pummeled, looks like he’s out of it, and then roars back to win fights (except for that dominant Clubber Lang performance in III).
Virginia, Georgia Tech and Duke have played the first round versions of Apollo, Clubber, and Drago, and the Irish are staggering to the corner at 6-4 in the ACC after a 5-0 start. With a trip to Chapel Hill looming on Saturday, do the Irish come out swinging, like Rocky? Or do they wilt under the pressure of an ACC schedule that doesn’t allow you to catch your breath?
We’ve talked a lot about the fantastic start, but need to address the reasons for the 1-4 stretch in detail. It’s important to remember that this conference is an absolute gauntlet. Jon Rothstein certainly won’t let you forget it.
There really are no easy games. Before ACC play began, we talked extensively about the first 11 games of the schedule and how difficult it would be for the Irish to skate through it without taking some blows. You can read the article here from December 30, but I just want to remind everyone to not go jumping off bridges just yet…
“With the 11-game gauntlet coming up to start the ACC slate, fans need to remember that the Irish are going to lose some games. It’s a certainty. This league, from top to bottom, is as strong as it ever has been…6-5 in the first 11 would be quite an accomplishment, and I’m pretty sure Brey would sign up for that right now.”
I get it. The 5-0 start had everyone (including me) dreaming of a regular season ACC title and a 2 or 3 seed. Look at last year, though. While the slump was later in the regular season, the performances against FSU and Miami were pretty hard to watch. Then, less than a month later, the Irish were giving North Carolina a serious run for their money, ten minutes away from a Final Four.
Don’t jump off the bandwagon yet. This team has a lot of fight left in it.
With that said, let’s dig into what’s gone wrong for the Irish in the last two weeks. I’ve come up with ten observations of the problems (a lot of them), the positive (Beach), and what the Irish probably are going to look to do more of going forward.
1. Notre Dame needs someone other than Bonz to get on the glass
For the last few years, the Irish have had a secondary rebounder: Connaughton in his final two years and Bonz last year.
This year, not so much. I had hoped that Beach would use his 6’8 frame to get about five a game, or Rex would fully embrace the Connaughton role and crash the glass. Neither has happened.
In the last five games, the rebound margin is -10.3. In the four losses: FSU (-5), UVa (-16), GT (-8), Duke (-12).
Yikes. Bonz can’t do it all himself, fellas.
2. The defense that Brey was touting early in ACC play has disappeared
Sure, the Irish defense has been better at times this year, especially late during the five-game winning streak to open ACC play. In the four losses, there have been way too many easy buckets allowed in the paint. Look at these field goal percentages:
FSU (50%), UVa (46.3%), GT (48.1%), Duke (51.9%)
Allowing your opponents to shoot this well, in addition to not crashing the glass, is a combination that will not lead to many Ws in this conference.
3. The offense hasn’t been much better
Before the second half offensive outburst against Duke, these were the points scored by the Irish in their previous five halves: 26, 28, 31, 29, 25.
So what’s wrong? Three things:
1) Farrell and Vasturia are not finishing around the rim as well as they did earlier in the season. Many of their shots off drives have been blocked or significantly challenged at the rim.
2) The triple is not falling. Take out the 15-21 shooting bonanza at FSU, and Notre Dame is shooting 34.1% from deep in the last four games.
3) The Irish offense has looked way too stagnant during this stretch. Too many guys standing around waiting for Farrell or Vasturia to bail out the offense with a drive or a pull up three.
4. Is Stove tired again?
Stove’s late season swoon was well-documented in this blog last year. We speculated that Stove was either injured or just fatigued. Tom Noie cleared this up in a chat earlier this season after the Louisville win…
Comment From Head v Gut, Chicago
Vasturia went through an epic shooting slump at the end of last season. Any info on what may have contributed to that, and what he did to rectify those issues coming into this season?
South Bend Tribune:
Plenty. Vasturia admitted that he had worn down from the long season, and also admitted that he spent too much time just hovering on the perimeter waiting to shoot the 3, then forcing 3s. Look at what he’s done the last two games – perimeter shot not there? Drive it….get to the rim…attack…make the defense guard.
It sure looks like Stove may be a little fatigued again. Almost every miss on Monday against Duke was woefully short. His numbers in the last five games: FG: 15-50 (30.0%), 3FG: 8-26 (30.8%). With a Monday game, Brey has a nice opportunity to get Stove four days of rest, which he indicated was necessary in his presser. I expect a very solid performance Saturday in Chapel Hill.
5. Imagine if ND didn’t have Beach during this stretch
Al Lesar of the South Bend Tribune really lit into Beach after he really struggled against Virginia, with 3 points on 1-10 shooting. This coming after he broke out of his slump with 30 in the win over Syracuse. Sure, it’s frustrating when Beach has a game like he did against Virginia, but in this five-game stretch, he clearly has been Notre Dame’s best player.
23 points against Georgia Tech. 20 points against Duke. He’s doing what he needs to do to help the Irish win on the offensive end. He’s struggled on the defensive end (falling asleep on the inbounds pass to Matt Jones was not a good look) and hasn’t consistently rebounded the ball. However, Beach’s main role is to score…and he’s doing that.
6. What’s going on at the charity stripe?
Earlier in the season when the Irish were approaching 86% from the line, there were tweets saying that they could set the NCAA record for FT shooting in a season. Because of the recent foul shooting woes, Notre Dame has relinquished the top spot from the line to Valpo.
In the last five games, ND is 72.4% from the stripe. Bonz, uncharacteristically, is 15-24 (62.5%) in that stretch. Farrell and Gibbs have missed some big ones. I figured they would regress toward the mean a little bit, but the free throws have hurt them during this slide.
To be fair, they are shooting 77.8% without Torres, in the last five games. The four consecutive second-half misses by Torres against Duke were killers. I’m shocked someone hasn’t got that hideous hitch out of his stroke.
7. If only the Irish could get all four of their studs to be on at the same time…
For the season, ND’s four main contributors all average at least 14 points per game (I rounded up Farrell’s 13.9…sue me). But for 8 of 10 games in ACC play, at least one of the four studs have been in single digits.
Pitt – Beach (6 pts)
L’Ville – Beach (2 pts)
Clemson – None
Miami – Bonz (8 pts)
VT – Beach (4 pts)
FSU – Bonz (9 pts)
Cuse – None
UVa – Beach (3 pts) / Farrell (8 pts)
GT – Stove (5 pts)
Duke – Stove (7 pts)
Just think if they can get all four guys going on the same night…
8. Marty has really regressed
To say Marty is in the doghouse may be an understatement. His minutes have plummeted, and his play of late was summarized by a sequence late in the first half against Duke.
Marty had just come back into the game when Brey needed someone to get some rebounds. On Duke’s first possession after his re-entry, Marty promptly allowed his man to get an offensive rebound, leading to a bucket.
Duke also took it right at him, as Amile Jefferson (not an offensive juggernaut) was scoring with ease early. The fire just doesn’t seem to be there for whatever reason.
9. Time for a change in the starting lineup
Brey more than hinted that Marty is going to start Saturday on the bench against North Carolina. He indicated in his post-game presser that he wants to get the offense off to a better flow, which means he likely won’t give Torres the nod (even though UNC has monsters inside). While either Rex or Pflueger will likely get the nod, if I were Brey, I would give Matt Ryan a serious look in the starting lineup.
Before you call me crazy, Ryan didn’t forget how to play basketball. Plus, who was in the starting lineup in last year’s win at Duke? You guessed it, Matt Ryan.
10. So how are the next eight games going to play out, genius?
This team is too good to go into free-fall mode, and I fully expect a solid performance at UNC on Saturday. They may not win, and that’s okay. As long as they get their mojo back on the offensive end, and actually show some toughness on defense and on the glass, I’ll be happy.
The Irish MUST take care of business in their final four home games. They simply cannot afford a loss to GT, WF, and BC. A win over FSU next Saturday could get them on a nice roll to close the season, especially with winnable road games at BC and NC State before closing the regular season at Louisville.
Is 12-6 in reach? Absolutely, and that may be enough to finish in the Top 4 to get the coveted double bye in the ACC Tournament.
Finally, don’t be surprised to see Brey bring out the green uniforms on Saturday. The last time they were worn was in the loss to Villanova.