Jan 3, 2014, 4:16 PM EST
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.
Saturday marks the beginning of Notre Dame’s inaugural ACC campaign as the Irish face off against the powerhouse of Duke. So far this season, the Irish hold a 9-4 record and are currently holding the 12th spot in the ACC standings. These past two months have revealed a lot about the team, both positive and negative.
A progress report in school is defined as a report of work accomplished during a specified time period. So I thought: What if Notre Dame Basketball had a progress report? What would their grade be? Well I am going to give them an unofficial “progress report” and we will see how the team has fared so far in the 2013-2014 season. I will judge them in six different categories: offense, free throws, defense, foul trouble, bench depth and assists/turnovers.
Here we go:
It is evident that Notre Dame has no trouble scoring points in every game they play. Being ranked second (tied with North Carolina) in the Atlantic Coast Conference at 80.1 points per game can attest to this fact. Although they lost their leading scorer in Jerian Grant, a sleeping giant awoke this past game against Canisius in Eric Atkins. By scoring 30 points this past game, he was named the ACC Player of the Week (Notre Dame’s first ever in fact).
Playing with four guards certainly does make them more volatile to put up big numbers in the points department by shooting the three ball. However, the team has been able to score inside the paint with the help of Garrick Sherman, who is riding a streak of 10 games in a row of scoring double figures.
Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton also are forces to be reckoned with when it comes to scoring with 7.3 and 13.2 points respectively.
Only having one “big man” out there however can hurt the offense in the rebound department. This shows when you look at the ACC leaders in offensive rebounds. The leading team of Maryland has 13.9 offensive rebounds per game, while Notre Dame is 13th on the list with only 10.8 per game. Lucky for the Irish though, Duke is worse than them in this aspect of the game (10.4/game).
When it comes to scoring, I do not see any cause for concern with this team. They pass with flying colors. Yet, the lack of offensive rebounds pulls their grade down slightly.
Free Throws: A+
Free throws can be considered, for all intents and purposes, one of the most important aspects in the game of basketball. A single missed free throw can be the difference between winning and losing a game. Notre Dame thrives when put on the free throw line.
Shooting a little better than 76 percent from the line, every player on the roster knows how important a free throw can be.
Although they lost Jerian Grant, who was their main source of converted free throw attempts this season, many other players have stepped up as well. Veteran squad members Eric Atkins, who is shooting 70 percent from the line, and Garrick Sherman, who is shooting 75 percent, are among these players making these most crucial shots.
Although Steve Vasturia did miss the front end of a one-and-one opportunity at the end of the Ohio State game, that was just a freak game. The fact that Notre Dame turned the ball over twice in back-to-back possessions was the reason they lost that game, not Vasturia’s miss.
Notre Dame’s free throw shooting will turn out to help them win many games as they get deeper and deeper into their schedule.
Although the team is scoring a lot each game, that does not really matter if you are giving up just as many if not more points on defense. This year Notre Dame is not doing too hot on the defensive end of the ball.
By giving up 70.2 points per game on average, the Irish are the second worst in the ACC in that regard. I cannot put my finger on what is their main problem on defense, but I have narrowed it down to two choices.
One, they always appear to have problems getting matched up on defense when the opponent is running a quick-paced style of offense. This results in separation between the defense and the player with the basketball and many open three’s take place because of this. I noted this during the last game against Canisius, which is probably why Canisius made ten three-point shots.
Secondly, it could be because the team has taken on the label of weak inside the paint from ESPN analysts. Opponents seem as though that they can walk right through the Notre Dame defense and put up an easy lay up unscathed. This needs to change when they are put up against teams like Duke and North Carolina because they will have a field day underneath the bucket with alley-oops and easy buckets.
Being weak on the inside also correlates with getting defensive rebounds. The team is averaging 25.8 rebounds a game which is 10th best in the ACC. That amount sounds fine, but when you compare it to Virginia Tech, who has 61 more defensive rebounds, it turns out to be an unimpressive statistic. Less defensive rebounds means more second chance opportunities for the opponent, which the Irish have to limit going into conference play.
Notre Dame did show signs of promise and improvement when they put on a surprisingly impressive performance against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The team pulled down 27 rebounds on the defensive end of the ball and forced 11 turnovers. Despite the outcome of the game, they were in fact the first team this season to only lose to the Buckeyes by single digits.
Because of their HUGE improvements in the Ohio State game, they turned their failing grade for defense into a passing one.
Foul Trouble: A+
Just like a missed free throw can be the difference between winning and losing a game, the same is true with getting into foul trouble. Notre Dame must be using some of that “Irish luck” because the team has not really been in foul trouble all season. Only four players have fouled out all season long, which is rather impressive with the new hand-check rules being implemented this season.
The four that have fouled out are Sherman against Miami (Ohio), Austin Burgett against both Indiana State and Santa Clara and Eric Atkins against Ohio State. Burgett has seemed to have been the only player on the roster who has made getting into foul trouble a regular occurrence this season. That is, in large part, due to just getting used to the new rules of the game about not having your hand on the opposing player in order to create leverage and separation between you and the opponent.
Other than him, I could not tell you who else is having trouble committing fouls on the regular. This is a good question to have however.
Not committing fouls correlates with smart, heads-up basketball for the Irish. And not getting into foul trouble will greatly give the team an advantage when getting down to the “home stretch” of games.
Bench Depth: B-
Notre Dame basketball is usually not synonymous with having great bench depth on their roster. The loss of Jerian Grant, though, has opened up countless opportunities for the players on the team’s bench to see serious playing time.
When given the opportunity against Canisius, the bench players shined. Scoring their season high of 26 combined points, players like Zach Auguste, V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia finally got to show what they can offer the team as far as a production standpoint.
With this being said, it was done against a slightly above average basketball program. That is why I am a little weary about giving them such a great grade. I want to wait and see how they play when put in the environment of a big game and all the pressure is on them to make a big play.
Because if you remember, the last time an Irish bench player was put in that situation this season was Steve Vasturia against Ohio State. Eric Atkins fouled out late in the second half and Vasturia had to play a couple minutes against the Buckeyes. At the end of the game, he was faced with a one and one opportunity and if he made both it would have put the Irish up by three. However, his first one rimmed out and was rebounded by the Buckeyes.
I am not saying they are choke artists in any regards. I just need to see them perform at the high quality I know they can in a big game environment. And this Saturday is the perfect opportunity.
The reason why I have these two categories paired up is because Notre Dame’s assist-to-turnover ratio is one of the best in the country. Ranking seventh nationally with a ratio of 1.7, the team certainly knows how to take care of the basketball.
The team has an ACC best 17.8 assists per game. This shows that the Irish are an unselfish group of young men, who facilitate the ball well in order to get the best looks at the basket they can. Eric Atkins is the driving force for assists with an average of 4.5 per game.
Turnovers is also a stat that more often than not favors the boys in blue and gold. They have committed less than ten turnovers in six games. The reason why the turnover category is not always a strong point is because of the Ohio State game, where the Irish uncharacteristically gave up back-to-back turnovers which ultimately lost the game for them. And it seems that when the team does turn the ball over, it is because of, what appears to be, the most boneheaded pass you could think of.
Nevertheless, the numbers do not lie. Notre Dame’s assist-to-turnover ratio is one that cannot be overlooked by me or any other basketball analyst for that matter. The Irish earn a good grade for this one.
So for a final midterm grade I took the median of all the grades so the Notre Dame men’s basketball team earned an….
The team has shown great promise for success, even with the loss of Grant for the remainder of the 2013-2014 season. Although they need to seriously work on their defensive scheme and rebounding the basketball on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, every player on the roster shows that the have the potential and the talent to contribute in a positive fashion to the team.
Now all the Irish need to do is finish strong because although they finished one half of their season, they still have another more difficult half to play. In every sport, you need to finish strong in order to have a push for the postseason (March Madness) and that is what Notre Dame is going to do.
And it all kicks off tomorrow at 4 p.m. (ET) when the Irish face off against the Duke Blue Devils in Purcell Pavilion. The team has not squared off against Duke since 2002 when the Blue Devils beat the Irish in the second round (third round in today’s schedule) of the NCAA Tournament. Duke is 19-2 when facing the Irish. Notre Dame will do everything in their power from allowing Duke to get their 20th win against the team tomorrow.
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