No. 21 Notre Dame entered the year with plenty of hype as they make their jump from the Big East to the ACC, but it took less than two weeks for the luster to wear off of their season.
The Irish got smoked at home by in-state rival Indiana State, losing 83-70. The Sycamores caught fire midway through the first half, jumping out to a lead that was as big as 16 at one point. Notre Dame made their run, using a 15-4 run to start the second half and take a 45-44 lead, but Indiana State answered with 10 straight points to reclaim control of the game. Mike Brey’s boys didn’t threaten the rest of the way.
Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, Notre Dame’s vaunted backcourt duo, finished with 35 points and 10 assists combined, but don’t let those numbers fool you: they did not have their best game. A lot of that production came late when the Irish were already buried in a massive hole. Notre Dame’s offense relies heavily on their ability to create off of the dribble, and Indiana State did an excellent job of cutting off driving lanes. It also helps that the Irish finished the day 7-for-26 from three, a number of which were good looks.
The bigger issue for the Irish may be on the defensive end of the floor. Indiana State is a good basketball team, don’t get me wrong, but they still had their way with the Irish. It helps when you hit 11 triples, but Notre Dame just couldn’t string together enough quality defensive possessions in the second half to complete a comeback.
And that was against Indiana State. What happens when the Irish go up against Duke or Syracuse? If they’re having trouble with Khristian Smith and Justin Gant, what will Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood do to this team?
Notre Dame has never been known as a defensive powerhouse, but they need to get better is they are going to have a shot at finishing in the top four in the ACC. This is a good basketball team. Their top 25 ranking in the preseason was deserved. But there is plenty of work left to do.
There was one positive sign for the Irish: Austin Burgett. The sophomore stretch four looks like he will be a nice weapon for the Irish this season. He’s 6-foot-9, long and athletic. He not only can step and hit a three, but he’s an effort guy. He blocks shots, he attacks the offensive glass, he plays some defense. The sophomore has a bright future.