Mike Brey

Hey Notre Dame, it’s time to go full-blown Burn Offense

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On Friday of last week, Luke Winn pumped out his annual Early Warnings column, which is a piece where he uses the efficiency profiles of the teams that have reached the Elite 8 and the Final Four to project who could be in trouble when it comes to makes an extended NCAA tournament run.

And according to those projections, the team with the most to worry about was Notre Dame. Here’s what Winn wrote about the Irish:

The biggest red-flaggers are the Irish, who have the worst DE ranking of any Mike Brey team in the tempo-free era (which is saying a lot). Their closest comp is the ’09-10 Notre Dame squad that went 21-10 in Luke Harangody’s final season, and was upset by 11th-seeded Old Dominion in their opening game of the NCAA tournament. That version of the Irish ranked sixth in OE and 132nd in DE.

At the time, Notre Dame had lost two of their last three games, with the one win being a three-point victory over Rutgers at home where the Irish got the benefit of a friendly whistle on a charge call in the finals seconds.

On Monday, the Irish lost to Georgetown 63-47 in what could arguably be considered their worst defensive performance of the season. It’s no secret that Georgetown has had all kinds of issues on the offensive end of the floor this season. They are ranked 146th in the country in offensive efficiency, with Clemson, West Virginia and Texas Southern being the three teams sitting directly behind them. Four times this season, the Hoyas have failed to break the 50 point plateau.

But against Notre Dame on Monday night, Georgetown not only shot 53.3% from the field and 7-15 from three-point land, they managed to score 1.15 points-per-possession, a number they have reached only twice in a game this season, against Longwood and Western Carolina.

After the loss, the Irish fell to 3-3 in the Big East and 15-4 overall. They will likely fall out of the top 25, but the ranking they need to be more concerned about is 171st. That’s where they currently sit nationally in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. And, as Winn has pointed out, teams that are that bad on the defensive end of the floor rarely make a run in the NCAA tournament.

If they end up making the tournament.

So where do the Irish need to improve?

They could start by forcing more turnovers, where they ranked 328th nationally. Given their tendency to pack things in defensively and their lack of physical specimens — as good as guys like Pat Connaughton, Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant are, they aren’t the kind of athletic marvel that a Victor Oladipo is — this doesn’t come as a surprise. But it does become a problem when you don’t have a team that rebounds all that well. Think about this stat: Jack Cooley is probably the nation’s bet rebounder, yet the Irish rank 150th and 91st, respectively, in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.

If you don’t force turnovers and you aren’t great at cleaning the defensive glass, then you don’t end possessions efficiently at all.

At this point, I think it best for Brey to go full-blown Burn Offense with this group. The roster makeup is perfect for it, and by stalling and taking the energy out of the game, he can get opposing offenses out of rhythm.

He’s proven to be effective with it, and it may be his team’s only option at this point.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.