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Room For Improvement

Nov 18, 2013, 7:44 AM EDT

Mike Franz, the official 2013-14 men’s basketball beat writer for the In The Paint blog, is currently a sophomore at Holy Cross College. Over the course of the year Mike will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and stories from inside the team circle. You can follow Mike (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.

A gloomy Sunday afternoon turned even darker when the Sycamores of Indiana State upset the 21st-ranked Irish by a score of 83-70. This was the first time Notre Dame has lost at home in November since 1998. This was a heartbreaking loss for Irish faithful – however, a small beacon of hope came in the first half when Eric Atkins hit a milestone in his career.

With 5:05 left in the first half, Eric Atkins drove the lane and connected for an “and one” opportunity. Confidently stepping to the line, he hit nothing but net and moved the Irish within 11 points of ISU. This old-fashion three point play solidified Atkins legacy at the University of Notre Dame as he became the 54th Notre Dame basketball player in history to join the 1,000 point club.

“I think it shows that I’ve been kind of consistent throughout my career here,” Atkins said. “I’ve just been working on my game during my four years. I’m happy about the accomplishment.”

Unfortunately for Atkins, the milestone could not have happened during a game where the Irish had come out with the win. Although the outcome of this game was not what the Irish wanted, I believe it is what the Irish needed.

Early in the season for college basketball programs, teams play opponents that do not necessarily have the most high caliber of talent. This sometimes leads to overconfidence going into the heart of your schedule and also it can mask some of the team’s imperfections and miscues.

Losing to the Sycamores will prove to be a blessing in disguise for the Irish looking ahead in this 2013-2014 season.

From what I saw, Notre Dame is still a good basketball program and they have the talent to even be a great program this year. All that needs to happen is work in these three aspects of the game:

1) Turnovers

2) Everyone Needs to Contribute

3) Defense! Defense! Defense!

First the team needs to limit their turnovers. In the game versus the Sycamores, the team turned the ball over 16 times. This in turn led to 21 points for the Indiana State Sycamores. Notre Dame needs to play smarter with the ball. Twenty-one points off turnovers is not good and the team knows that.

The veteran leaders will have to take control and impose their leadership on the entire roster. Last month Jerian Grant told me, “If you play this game under control and know what you’re doing, it makes the game easy.” That is all the team needs to do. Play under control and get good shots up. At the end of the day, you need to play this game with your head and the veteran leaders will be the driving force for this.

Secondly, Notre Dame has one of the top-ranked offenses in the NCAA according to ESPN. The driving force of the offense is Notre Dame’s “big three” (Atkins, Grant and Connaughton). These three played well on the offensive end of the ball with each scoring double-digits. However, no other player on the roster scored more than six points in the game and that needs to change. Notre Dame’s bench combined for 28 points in the previous contest against Stetson; today they combined for 15.

Atkins, Grant and Connaughton played 39, 37 and 38 minutes, respectively. These players should not be out on the court that long. In the back and forth games, like today’s, Notre Dame needs significant contribution from bench players in order to give their starters rest.

Lastly, Notre Dame needs to focus on defense. Giving up 83 points is way too much.

“We lacked defensive focus,” Connaughton said. “To give up 83 points, it’s going to be tough to win that way. We’ve just got to get better defensively and focus on getting the first rebound.”

I will give the Sycamores credit, they have a high-powered offense and have a lot of talent in forwards Justin Gant and Khristian Smith. Now this being said, they had numerous open three-pointers and that falls directly on the defense. It can hurt when teams go on a roll like the Sycamores seemed to do many times, but you can never give up.

“We’ve just got to be more poised,” Grant stated. “They hit a lot of shots and are a really good team. But we just have to focus defensively. When teams go on a run like that, we just can’t stop playing.”

The good thing about basketball is that it was only one loss. There is much basketball to play and Notre Dame will bounce back from this tough loss. My friend who plays for Holy Cross College Basketball told me, “The best way to look at this sport is to try to go 1-0 on the day.” Notre Dame needs to just take it one game at a time. If they do this, and work towards being the best team on the court each game, the Irish will be just fine this season.

Go Irish!

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