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.