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StLouHoo's Preview:

Fighting the Irish

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Hoos return to JPJ after a spirited but disappointing loss at Louisville, finding a surging Notre Dame waiting for their shot. UVA's Bubble prospects hinge on their ability to win games against the ACC's mid-tier teams. Will the Hoos protect the home court on Tuesday?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Tuesday, February 11th, 9:00 pm ET
Location:John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
TV:ESPN2

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:UVA -5.5, O/U 122, equates to ~64-58 UVA win.
Torvik:Ranks ND #55, predicts a 60-56 UVA win, 69% confidence
KenPom:Ranks ND #55, predicts a 61-57 UVA win, 64% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#3 Prentiss Hubb, 6'3" 175, SO
34.5 mpg, 11.8 ppg, 4.6 apg, 34.6 3P%
SG#10 TJ Gibbs, 6'3" 185, SR
34.5 mpg, 14.1 ppg, 3.4 apg, 41.9 3P%
SF#0 Rex Pflueger, 6'6" 218, SR
27.0 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 35.3 FG%
PF#33 John Mooney, 6'9" 245, SR
32.5 mpg, 16.5 ppg, 13.0 rpg, 45.6 FG%
C#11 Juwan Durham, 6'11" 223, SR
18.5 mpg, 7.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 55.6 FG%
Key Reserves
G/F#23 Dane Goodwin, 6'6" 200, SO
26.0 mpg, 11.5 ppg, 1.4 apg, 38.8 3P%
F#13 Nikola Djogo, 6'7" 222, SR
6.6 mpg, 0.9 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 15.0 FG%
F/C#14 Nate Laszewski, 6'10" 225, SO
20.2 mpg, 7.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 41.7 FG%

 

The ABC's of Notre Dame:

A) It's the Irish' best backcourt since Jerian Grant ran point. Five years ago the Irish ran out an elite guard tandem of Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson and rode them all the way to an ACC Tournament Title, the Elite Eight, and a near-upset of then-undefeated Kentucky with the Final Four on the line. This year's duo isn't on that level, but they're easily the best we've seen in South Bend since then. Sophomore point guard Prentiss Hubb has turned a corner this year as both an efficient shooter and a capable floor general (4.6:2.5 A:TO). Running alongside him, senior Gibbs has been scoring effectively at multiple levels, upping his scoring output to an elite 17.1 ppg in ACC play. They may be the best duo of pure guards we've seen yet in ACC play, tons of natural talent (both were Top 100 4-stars out of high school, both seriously recruited by Tony Bennett), plus good experience and coaching to make smart plays on both ends of the floor. The Irish turn the ball over at the lowest rate in the ACC, and smart guard play is the leading reason why.

B) They've gone 2-big. The one-big lineup has seemingly always been a staple of Mike Brey's, at least as long as he's been in the ACC. Four guards and small forwards surrounding one Zach Auguste / Martinas Geben type. That's changed radically over the last year with the breakouts of current seniors John Mooney and Juwan Durham. Mooney is a big body that can eat space in the middle on defense while stepping out to hit 3's on offense. Durham isn't a shooter, so offensively he's range-limited, but he's rangy and athletic on defense with 1.7 blocks a game in league play. The maturation of sophomore stretch-big Nate Laszewski has given Brey the post depth to rotate the three of them together for ~30 minutes a game (Djogo or Pfleuger will slide down into a more modern wing-4 look the other 10 minutes), allowing this Irish team to be much better in post defense than we're used to.

C) Their defense has been porous. I wasn't quite sure how to sugar coat this one, or how to dial in on one specific root cause, when really the Irish defense has been an all-around Achilles Heel for Notre Dame throughout conference play. The Irish have KenPom's second-worst defense in the ACC (only Miami's is worse). They struggle defending the 3-point line (worst in the league), they don't generate steals (14th), they allow offensive rebounds (3rd-highest rate), and they don't block shots (4th-lowest rate). Their lone silver lining is that they hardly ever foul, and their packed in zones do an average job defending the paint. But make no mistake this defense is why Notre Dame is only .500 in ACC play, and UVA needs to take advantage of that.

 

Their Season To Date

Notre Dame is 15-8 on the year and 6-6 in the ACC. Their OOC losses were a blowout at Maryland in the B1G Challenge and a 2-point heartbreaker to IU in Indianapolis. In league play, they've been close in both their wins and losses, losing at ranked FSU by just 1 and to Syracuse by just 2. They're on a four game winning streak at the moment, first beating the bottom-feeding trio of Wake, GT, and Pitt (all in South Bend) by 8-10 points each, before heading to Clemson on Sunday night where they needed a second-half comeback to squeak by an Aamir Simms-less Tigers by 4.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Win the Glass. Despite the 2-big look discussed above, Notre Dame has been disappointing rebounding this year. In league play they rank 8th in offensive rebounding rate, and just 13th in defensive rebounding. Mooney and Durham are individually strong here (Mooney ranks 2nd and 1st in the ACC in OR% and DR%, respectively, while Durham is 12th and 20th). But as far as total-team effort goes, Notre Dame's guards and wings leave something to be desired. When the Hoos are on defense, our bigs must absolutely keep Mooney and Durham off the glass, boxouts will be the most critical job for Caffaro, Diakite, and Huff, especially since they're arguably stronger, more physical players than Jay and Mamadi. Offensively, there's opportunities when those two are catching breathers on the bench, and maybe also from the 3-spot (Braxton) to snag second-chance balls.

2) Handle the Zone. Last week UVA was cruising against Clemson early. Then Brad Brownell through out a zone defense and UVA crumbled. It was very disappointing to watch as a UVA fan. The Hoos played well against Louisville's man defense, but the Irish are going to hit UVA with a variety of zone looks from the opening tip and dare UVA to figure it out. I'd be lying if I said I had a ton of confidence in this. UVA offenses have often picked apart Brey's zones with high IQ team play, but this year's iteration has just struggled to gel against all types of zone looks. Virginia needs to be ready to quickly diagnose the zone formation and then move the ball through the paint to generate good looks both at the rim and from three.

3) Disrupt Their Guard Scoring. Notre Dame's offense is a "pick your poison" attack. They move the ball well, don't turn it over, shoot well from three, and pound the paint effectively. Three days after struggling against Louisville's three-level attack, UVA has to face one nearly as potent. After Malik Williams and Steven Enoch combined for 26 points on just 14 shots against UVA's post defenders Saturday, it's easy to say we have to sell out to prevent Mooney and Durham from doing the same in JPJ. But As much as Enoch and Williams did damage against the Hoos, UVA lost that game from the perimeter, 41% 3-point shooting, most of it early, totally reshaped how we play defense. The Hoos have to prevent the Irish guards from finding an early rhythm, staying in their shooters' grills from the opening tip. John Mooney is going to score, but give Caffaro, Huff, and Diakite a chance to at least test him 1-on-1 early while we heat-check their guards, and save the double-team post-traps for special occasions later in the game.

 

 

Predictions:

If you look solely at the ACC standings, you see Notre Dame at just .500, mostly against the league's bottom and middle. Heck, just two weeks ago they were sitting at 2-6 in the league. But don't let that trick you, the computers recognize Notre Dame as basically our peer, only 4 spots behind us in KenPom, 6 in Torvik, and actually a spot better than us in NET. Due to their recent streak, they sit only one game behind us in the ACC standings and are very much still alive for the ACCT's coveted double-bye and a spot in the NCAAT. This would be a Quadrant 1 game for them, and they know it's a potential resume-maker. Outside of their season-opening loss at a full-strength UNC, their five ACC losses have come by hair-thin margins of 1, 5, 3, 2, and 1 points (two of those against front-runners Louisville and FSU).

This is a tough game to pick because on one end of the floor it's strength-vs-strength (ACC's #3 offense vs #1 defense), and on the other it's weakness-vs-weakness (ACC's #14 offense vs #14 defense). What's going to give here?

Expect this to be a tight one. You beat the Pack Line with ball movement, forcing multiple help-and-recover rotations per possession to create an open man. Notre Dame's league-leading Assist/FG ratio and league-lowest turnover rate bode well for the Irish's prospects for finding the open man. They should be able to score against UVA better than a lot of teams did, maybe almost as well as Louisville did.

That means UVA is going to have to score some points to do this. You'd like to think that (a) because we caught fire against Louisville and (b) ND's defense is statistically a liability, this should be pretty doable. But we caught fire against Louisville's man defense, as mentioned in Key #1 I'm tentative about our ability to do the same against complicated zone looks. Some good shooting off kickouts and a few well-timed second-chance putbacks will go a long way.

Tony Bennett is 8-1 against Mike Brey since the Irish joined the ACC, the lone loss in the 2017 ACC Tournament. Expect Brey's club to make an impassioned attempt at getting him his first win at JPJ. Hoos will have to dig deep for this one.

Hoos Win 58-57