If it’s safe to say that Notre Dame has exceeded expectations, is it also okay to say they haven’t done so by much?
Let’s look at the non-conference first. Dispensing with the Bryants and Seattles and focus on competent teams. What do we see?
- Notre Dame 89 Colorado 83
- Notre Dame 70 Northwestern 66
- Notre Dame 92 Iowa 78
- Villanova 74 Notre Dame 66
- Purdue 86 Notre Dame 81
Of these, Colorado is now 12-10, Northwestern is 18-4, Iowa 12-10, Villanova 20-2 and Purdue 17-5.
In conference play, what do we see?
- Notre Dame 78 Pitt 77
- Notre Dame 77 Louisville 70
- Notre Dame 75 Clemson 70
- Notre Dame 67 Miami 62
- Notre Dame 76 Virginia 71
- Florida State 83 Notre Dame 80
- Notre Dame 84 Syracuse 66
- Virginia 71 Notre Dame 54
- Georgia Tech 62 Notre Dame 60
Other than Syracuse, it’s not like Notre Dame is crushing people. And as time has gone on, the wins over Colorado and Iowa are worth less and less to the RPI.
On the other hand, the close losses to Villanova and Florida State speak well of Notre Dame’s competitiveness. And despite the generally close games in conference, Notre Dame has managed to win most of those as well, which also suggests a smart and disciplined team.
The Irish lost Saturday to Georgia Tech on a dramatic game-winning layup by Josh Okogie.
If you haven’t seen it yet you should definitely watch it. It will go down in Tech history as a classic play.
As for Notre Dame, it will go down as a bone in the throat. Notre Dame lost a lot from last season and weren't expected to do as well as they have this time around.
Mike Brey is an excellent coach though and he’s done a brilliant job with this group.
So yes, they’ve exceeded expectations, although as we said earlier. Notre Dame has won a lot of close games so good for them. Not many ACC teams are doing that.
The Irish welcome Duke to South Bend Monday and that’s likely to be a close game too.
And with a couple of recent losses, Notre Dame is going to be motivated - and they’ve had Duke’s number since joining the ACC.
So what to expect this time?
Well, there is a wild card.
Both Mike Brey and Jeff Capel learned their craft largely from Mike Krzyzewski although both have other mentors. In Brey’s case, he learned an enormous amount from Morgan Wooten who coached at DeMatha. He’s as good a coach as has ever been. Going from him to Mike Krzyzewski would be an incredible experience for a young coach.
And Capel of course is a lifer, learning from his dad, and the guys his dad worked for before becoming a head coach himself, from a young age.
But Brey has succeeded so far against Coach K. He won’t know what to expect from Capel quite as well.
So we’ll see how that theory works out and it’s possible that Coach K could be ready to go too.
Last time these teams played was in the ACC Tournament and Duke was thin and exhausted. Notre Dame won in overtime 84-79. Zach Auguste had 19 points and 22 rebounds.
But Auguste and point guard Demetrius Jackson are gone now, off to professional fortunes.
Notre Dame this season is on the smallish side and Colson, at 6-5, is their primary inside guy. He’s averaging a double-double with 15.5 ppg and 10.6 rpg.
The only other big guys are VJ Beacham, who gets 33.4 mpg and Martinas Geben, who plays about 15-16.
The rest of the rotation is Steve Vasturia, 6-6 senior, Matt Farrell, 6-1 junior, Temple Gibbs, 6-3 freshman, Rex Pflüger, 6-6 sophomore and Matt Ryan, a 6-7 sophomore.
Notre Dame has compensated for its lack of size with intelligence and precision. The Irish are only averaging 10 tpg. They’re shooting 81.4% as a team from the line. They’re shooting 40.1% from three point range and 46% overall.
It’s also an experienced team and while Duke is more talented, as we’ve argued since 1999, teams with less talent but more time together have a serious advantage over younger, more talented teams.
So Duke has its work cut out for it Monday night.
Yet it’s not impossible. The defense will have to be sharp and someone will have to deal with Colson, who presents a challenging mismatch as a 6-5 post player. Three point shooting is always a problem with Notre Dame and this year they really need it with limited options inside.
Perhaps the best way to look at Notre Dame is to consider what Virginia does to them consistently.
The offense gets bogged down and the shots don't come quickly. Playing Virginia is like running in molasses.
Duke won’t play that way but you can learn a lot from what the Wahoos do to the Irish.
As for Duke, there have been troubles and also bright spots. Every game now we see more and more of what Harry Giles can do. He’s not 100% yet but his confidence is growing and he might be a major factor against Notre Dame.
And Duke has several options inside, with Amile Jefferson, who is in a sense a bigger version of Colson, Marques Bolden and, as we saw against Wake Forest, Antonio Vrankovic.
But really this game will come down to the mid-sized players. Notre Dame has a lot of talent on the perimeter but so does Duke.
Last year Duke had Grayson Allen, who was solid but worn down, a tentative freshman named Luke Kennard and a hobbled Matt Jones.
This time, they’re all healthy and Duke also has Frank Jackson, giving Duke the athletic Jackson this year rather than the Irish.
If Duke can play smart, hang on to the ball, stay out of foul trouble, limit Notre Dame’s perimeter attack and exploit the mismatches, its a winnable game.
As Notre Dame has already proven though, they’re pretty good at close games.
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