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Notre Dame is heading back to respectability, but the rebuild is far from done

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State badly needs to take care of business in this one.

Notre Dame v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Mike Brey has had a topsy-turvy run at Notre Dame that you’d be hard-pressed to find at any other power-conference program—mainly because Brey has been in South Bend for going on 20 seasons. He’s taken the Irish to the NCAAs 12 times, which is to say he’s missed the dance on seven occasions, and his longest streak of tourney appearances is four.

That’s strange, but Notre Dame’s patience has always been rewarded: Brey might have an off year or three, but he gets the program back into the NCAAs every time (so far). Right now the Irish are in the midst of another of those tournament droughts and are in danger of missing their third consecutive NCAA tournament.

Brey has never been an ace recruiter, but he’s done well to identify players who fit well in what he wants to do—and he gets those guys to stick around for a while, putting that experience to his advantage. He’s had no trouble developing all-conference players without headlining recruiting classes, and offense usually is a strength.

Notre Dame Offense

2020 Irish Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Irish Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 106.3 (57) 50.3 (134) 13.6 (1) 27.9 (176) 26.4 (298)

The bottom rarely falls out on Brey, thanks primarily to consistent offensive production, which is another reason for his longevity. Only two of his Irish squads have finished outside the KenPom top-60, with last year’s team being one of them. And it was Brey’s worst offensive team by a wide margin—attrition just hit ‘em way too hard.

The Irish are bouncing back in 2020 because they’re shooting the ball at a decent clip once again. Brey’s offenses are always based on shooting efficiently and taking excellent care of the basketball, while not bothering to rely on offensive boards to fuel the show. Brey’s offenses also tend not to earn a lot of trips to the free throw line, though more often than not they are good free throw shooters.

That’s what you see from them this season. They are extremely perimeter-oriented (25th in 3FGA/FGA) and making 34.9% from outside, well up from 31.5% last season. They’re shooting a modest 48.6% on twos, but still that represents a significant improvement from 2019.

Have they improved enough as a whole to challenge for the NCAA tournament this season? That is the big question.

Starters

Prentiss Hubb (6’3, 175) — Hubb had to play a whole lot of minutes last season, before he was really ready for the responsibility, and it showed. That seems to have paid off, though, as he’s gone from shooting 26.2% from three as a freshman to 37.2% this year.

TJ Gibbs (6’3, 185) — His profile hasn’t changed much in 3+ seasons: he stinks inside the arc, and he’s dangerous beyond it. For his career, he’s hit 39.2% of his twos and 36.5% of his threes, so it’s plain enough what defenses would like to force him into doing.

Rex Pflueger (6’6, 218) — Pflueger has maintained a workload well below average throughout his career, and there’s no indication that he should be doing more, given that he’s only a career 33.3% three-point shooter, and not much better than Gibbs from two.

John Mooney (6’9, 245) — Mooney has been a double-double machine this season, and has hauled down at least 10 rebounds in 12 games. As it stands right now he’s one of the five best defensive rebounders in the country, and no slouch at the other end either. He does most of his scoring inside the arc, but is plenty good enough from the perimeter to force you to defend him out there.

Juwan Durham (6’11, 223) — Durham is good on the glass as well, and the team’s only significant shot-blocking threat (9th nationally in block rate).

Bench

Dane Goodwin (6’6, 200), Nate Laszewski (6’10, 225). Goodwin is a sophomore who looks like one of those guys who develops slowly into a lynchpin by the time he’s an upperclassman. He’s hitting 40% from three this year. Laszewski is more interested in threes than twos, though he’s only been an average outside shooter so far.

Notre Dame Defense

2020 Irish Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Irish Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Defense 94.5 (76) 45.5 (58) 18.7 (213) 28.3 (173) 17.5 (1)

Since Notre Dame emphasizes finding fits for its offense regardless of the impact defensively, the Irish tend to be more of a mixed bag here. And Brey has had some truly terrible defenses in his time—seven finishes at 100th or worse in defensive efficiency, three finishes below 150. This team isn’t quite that bad.

The hallmarks under Brey: soft interior defense, an unwillingness/inability to force turnovers, and, lately, average-or-worse defensive rebounding. They rarely put opponents on the free throw line, but that only goes so far considering everything else.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by six.