Home loss to North Dakota State doesn’t help Notre Dame’s meager resume

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With the preseason favorites to win the Summit League visiting South Bend, tonight’s game against North Dakota State was no gimme for Notre Dame. And that’s exactly how it played out, as Marshall Bjorklund and his experienced teammates proved to be too much for the Fighting Irish to handle. Bjorklund scored 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting and as a team North Dakota State shot 50.9% from the field as they won 73-69.

Bjorklund may be a new name for some fans, but the fact of the matter is that he’s one of the better big men around. He entered Wednesday’s game shooting 69.7% from the field with all of his field goal attempts coming inside of the arc, and that percentage should go up based upon his performance at Notre Dame. The Irish didn’t have an answer for the senior until he fouled out, attempting the switch from man-to-man (Garrick Sherman got the assignment for much of the night) and zone to no avail.

Joining Bjorklund in double figures were Lawrence Alexander (16 points, 14 rebounds) and Taylor Braun (13 points). To say the least, it wasn’t difficult to see why Saul Phillips’ team is expected by many to win the Summit League and make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009.

In addition to their defensive issues Notre Dame also struggled offensively, as they shot 34.6% from the field with leading scorer Jerian Grant (nine points) missing all five of his attempts (9-for-11 FT). While Notre Dame’s performed well offensively this season, entering the game ranked 16th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, they’ve done so with their seven wins coming against teams with a combined record of 18-44. Against Indiana State and North Dakota State Notre Dame failed to shoot at least 40% in either game (they shot 51.5% at Iowa).

With the offensive options at Mike Brey’s disposal it may be safe to say that they’ll figure things out on that end of the floor, especially when it comes to Pat Connaughton attempting 20 shots while Grant and Eric Atkins combine for 12 field goal attempts. That will likely work itself out and it isn’t as if Connaughton isn’t a capable scorer, but in order for the Irish to be at their best they need Grant and Atkins to have a greater impact than they did on Wednesday night.

For North Dakota State this is a good for both themselves and the Summit League, while for Notre Dame Saturday’s game against Indiana takes on added importance. Their “best” win to date was a five-point win over Delaware, and with the now three defeats on their resume the Irish are in need of a resume-building win. Sure they’re once again in a very strong league, but no team wants to enter conference play without a non-conference victory of note.

Indiana and Ohio State (December 21) represent opportunities for Notre Dame, and due to their start to the season those contests have become even more important.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.

Tyler Ulis injured as No. 1 Kentucky beats South Florida

Tyler Ulis, Ky Howard
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MIAMI (AP) Jamal Murray had 21 points and No. 1 Kentucky scored the final 15 points of the first half on the way to beating South Florida 84-63 in the HoopHall Miami Invitational on Friday.

Skal Labissiere added 17 points for the Wildcats (6-0), who led by as many as 31. Charles Matthews scored 11 points and Isaiah Briscoe finished with seven assists for Kentucky, now a winner of 37 consecutive regular-season games and 39 in a row against unranked opponents.

Chris Perry scored 14 points for USF (1-5), which has lost 18 consecutive games against teams ranked in the Top 25. Jaleel Cousins added 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, and Jahmal McMurray scored 11 points for the Bulls.

Kentucky played the second half without starting guard Tyler Ulis, who departed with a right elbow injury after getting hurt while fighting for a ball loose on the floor.

Kentucky announced after the game that the injury was a hyperextension of the elbow and that he will be day-to-day.

The Bulls were within 27-21 with 6 minutes left in the first half after McMurray banked in a 3-pointer only a few feet away from where John Calipari was standing, and the look of anguish on the Kentucky coach’s face was clear.

It didn’t last long.

The Wildcats scored on seven of their next nine possessions and the game was over by halftime, Kentucky going into the break with a 42-21 lead.

It was a reunion for plenty of people on both benches. Calipari squared off with his former assistant Orlando Antigua, now in his second year leading USF. Antigua’s staff includes another former Calipari assistant in Rod Strickland, plus former Kentucky basketball staff members Mike Malone and Dominic Lombardi.

So the staffs have plenty of familiarity. On the court, there was plenty of disparity. Kentucky finished with a commanding 23-6 edge in points off turnovers and finished with 16 assists to the Bulls’ six.