Notre Dame Defeats Illinois 76-74 in ACC/BigTen Challenge

I promised myself I wouldn’t do it. One of the fun things about writing about sports is projecting and predicting. We try to extrapolate future successes and failures out of single data points. We look for the patterns and indicators of future triumphs and tragedies. I’m not actually sure why we do it. Perhaps it is the allure of predicting the unpredictable. Here’s my advice to you this Notre Dame basketball season: Don’t.

Don’t take a single possession, four-minute block, or game and inflate it into something more. This team is what it is. They’re young. They’re volatile. They’re inconsistent. They make a ton of mistakes. They’re also deep, athletic, and fun as all hell.

With the “get old, stay old” teams of the past few years, there was a sense that you could predict what you were going to get. Brey worked his loosest coach routine and the tight rotation was mostly set by the time they tipped the first exhibition. Earlier this week, Brey was quoted by Tom Noie saying, “I said, ’My God, look who we have on the floor right now,’ It’s new territory for me, and I’m growing in that area.” After Tuesday’s 76-74 win over Illinois in the ACC/BigTen Challenge, Brey said, “I’m learning about them during the game.”

That, fellow Irish fans, is reason for hope. Brey has been at his best when his back is against the wall. When the situation makes him uncomfortable, he finds a way. When Harangody goes down, we get the burn. When he has a roster without any low-post bigs, he goes spread pick-and-roll. Without reliable veteran depth, he’s going to go young. He has to. Play 10 guys. Live with turnovers. Celebrate big runs, big wins and breakout performances. Turn the page quickly when bad losses or tough nights roll around. That’s the formula this year. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Tuesday night’s victory over a very frisky Fighting Illini squad in South Bend was a great example. If you’re looking to prognosticate, there’s plenty of raw material. For the optimist, DJ Harvey is back baby! Knee injury, what knee injury? This guy is a big time scorer! Don’t even get me started with Juwan Durham. He’s a killer on both ends! For the pessimist, WTF is with these turnovers? Did we really cough up a comfortable margin and have to sweat out a final possession? Are we ever going to shoot well?

Here’s the thing: it’s all true. Some of it will be true next week in MSG, and some of it won’t. Knowing which parts is the trick. On the one hand, I envy Mike Brey. He and his staff have a toolbox full of shinny new toys to mix and match. On the other hand, the paradox of choice starts to sit in. With so many combinations and permutations of guys, which is optimal in any given moment? How quickly can you adjust when a guy like Durham breaks out on one night and struggles another? That’s the challenge for the Irish. That’s why this year is a lot like a basketball box of chocolates – you’re just not sure what you’re going to get.

So let’s celebrate Juwan Durham’s big night. He made game-changing plays on both ends of the floor. While still raw, he flashed athleticism, skill and intensity that helped he Irish secure the win. Now he’s got to build on it. Dane Goodwin was solid on both ends and confident with the ball, even when things got a little crazy. DJ Harvey looked unstoppable at times. He waved off a ball screen and scored on a beautiful clear-out when he found a mismatch. Harvey was also seen icing down his repaired knee and seemed sore after 27 minutes. He’s still only played half a college season and is less than a year out from serious surgery.

These were fun, awesome data points. Not an entire season. Progress with this team won’t be linear. There’s a head scratching loss or two out there yet, but there are also some fun wins too.

Tuesday was a fun win. Notre Dame’s first tilt against a P5 team had a little bit of everything. The first half was a turnover fest with both teams coughing it up at alarming rates. Ticky-tack officiating saddled John Mooney with early foul trouble and limited him to 10 minutes. That opened the door for Harvey and Durham’s break out games. Harvey scored 19 on 3-4 shooting (2-4 from deep) and was 7-10 from the line. He added 3 boards and 3 assists. Durham had 10 points in 17 minutes. He chipped in 4 boards and 5 blocks.

A few days after scoring 15 on 4-6 from deep, Nate Laszewski went 0-3 from behind the arc. Same with Rex Pflueger. After making everything he looked at over the weekend, he was 0-1 from the floor and 5-8 from the line. Free throws were definitely a factor in Tuesday’s contest. Notre Dame shot over 80% from the line in the first half, but missed enough critical ones down the stretch. They ended at 62% from the charity stripe, turning a comfortable win into a nail-biter.

These are the things you learn from when you’re young. Luckily for Brey and his staff, they get to teach after a win. Enjoy this win and celebrate it as that. The “winning is hard” mantra doesn’t just apply to football. As easy as the hired guns at Duke make it look sometimes, the rest of us have to work at it. It isn’t time to exalt or damn anyone in this program. They’re a work in progress – far from finished product. Every guy has their contribution to make. Every guy has their struggles to overcome. This is going to be an incredibly fun, and occasionally frustrating ride. If you can manage to stay out of the prediction business, your nerves will thank you.

By |2018-11-28T08:48:27+00:00November 28th, 2018|18S Reads, Basketball|12 Comments

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MikeyB
MikeyB

Cannot believe this team beat a Power 5 squad when our starting big man fouled out in 10 minutes! What a weird game. Hope Carmody is ok too; I think that’s 2 shoulder injuries already in this young season.

I’d love to see Durham and Mooney basically split the minutes at the 5 this year, with Mooney getting closer to 25 minutes on nights where he’s feeling it. I’d also like to see Durham’s minutes come when Harvey is on the floor. Until he’s 100% recovered from that knee injury (which honestly may never happen), the lateral defensive quickness isn’t going to be what he’s used to. Having Durham there to help clean up is a big boost. Maybe 25 minutes per night for Harvey, with Durham’s 15-20 minutes all coming while Harvey is on the court. When Harvey isn’t on the court, Laz can play the 15 minutes at the 4.

As for the rest of this team, who knows. Gibbs can’t play 40 per night; we saw what happened to Vasturia down the stretch the last 2 years when he played that much. Hubb probably can’t play 33 per night; we saw what happened to Gibbs down the stretch his freshman year when he played that much. So that means you’re going to need more minutes from either Goodwin, Carmody, Djogo, or Pflueger.

Rex’s shot can’t get any worse, so if he’s playing tired, I’m not too worried, unless it impacts his defense. In an ideal world, I’d actually like him to play less so we could get more offense, but Brey won’t do that. Goodwin can play; I thought he would be further behind defensively than he is. If he can hold up in the ACC, get him 20+ minutes per night. Really hope Carmody can stay healthy, because he’s also got a chance to grab minutes right now.

Concrete Charlie
Concrete Charlie

I don’t know nearly as much about basketball as you guys. I must say that watching that game last night, my thought was, “Holy hell, we are going to get absolutely demolished in ACC play.” Am I wrong?

alstein

We played another great second half (just like against DePaul, albeit not quite as outstanding) and just fumbled it away at the FT line (and 2-3 outrageous turnovers, but the 13 missed second-half FTs were really the problem). That was a double-digit victory masquerading as a near-loss because of it.

Now, of course, if the FT line (and/or game pressure) is going to be a problem all season, then that is huge cause for concern. I think it’s more likely to be an aberration or at least something a relatively inexperienced squad will improve upon over the course of a season. But, hey, they’ll have to prove it.

Besides that, I think the last two games have been wildly encouraging for ACC play. Brey has historically tended to take a super-patient approach to first halves, extending his bench, trying to balance out touches, and tinker with Xs and Os on both ends before really going into whatever matchup-based bread and butter he has figured out for the evening. So it’s not surprising to me to see a couple so-so first halves followed by stellar second halves.

What’s also great about these last two games (or, at least, the second halves) is just how insanely different our formula was to get there. A lot of that is just personnel – it was Durham and DJ last night, but Rex and Laz leading the way on Saturday. We’ve got a bunch of guys who, while inconsistent, can do some really good things and go off based on the matchups, and it seems like tactically we can adjust to that personnel reasonably well as needed.

That’s what was so frustrating about the Radford loss to me. Nothing was working, and Brey didn’t even TRY Goodwin (a guy who does good things all over the court) and Durham (a guy who we saw last night just brings a totally different dimension to this program) to spark anything. I think he knows now that he’s got a deep arsenal of weapons to use and needs to be willing to use any and all of them on any given night.

Paddy

I am no longer thinking of our record as 6-1, instead I’m going with “6-0 when Juwan Durham plays.”

It’s really nice to pull that one out on a night where we were turning it over constantly and getting into foul trouble, two things that are anathema to any Brey team. I chalk so much of it up to Durham. In that second half spurt, he completely shut U of I down, and even when he wasn’t rejecting shots, he was forcing them to take fadeaways. I don’t know if Brey’s hesitance to play him was more performance-related or conditioning-related, but I hope he can get closer to 20 MPG. I just love having him out there.

Goodwin didn’t have the most impressive box score, but he is another guy I just feel completely comfortable with when he’s on the court. His ability to move his feet defensively is awesome for a freshman. He hasn’t been shooting well from deep at all, but when that starts to fall, he’s going to be such a good all-around player.

We definitely haven’t been able to sustain impressive runs so far (with the exception of the 2nd half vs DePaul), but I just can’t believe that we will shoot this poorly all year. Gibbs, Hubb, Pflueger, Laszewski, Goodwin, and Carmody are a combined 28%. Most of those have been good looks. That number has to regress to somewhere in the 30s.

The next two games are going to be very fun from a “these games seem like total coin-flips” perspective, but if we play well, we can salvage a pretty decent non-conference resume.

rdicicco
rdicicco

As echoed previously, I hope Carmody is alright – 2 shoulder issues for the season so far. I’m not sure whether this is something that occurred fairly regularly in high school or if it recently started this season. Regardless, his tenacity on the drive and for the boards is sorely needed for this program, and I hope he is healthy enough to continue to reach for minutes as the season commences.

I also think Durham became tired towards the end of the game – it’s not as if he saw an extraordinary amount of minutes (17 isn’t that many for a bench player), but it was mostly due to the fact that his minutes largely occurred in the second half, not allowing him to leave the floor at all. I look forward to Durham also grabbing at more minutes, but I doubt we will see a situation like this again – usually Mooney has been pretty smart about using his fouls.

Anyone have any thoughts / updates on basketball recruiting? I know we we have 3 scholarship openings for next season, with only Tre Mitchell and Cole Anthony as possible prospects. I don’t think ND has a likely chance at either and even getting one of two isn’t very likely in my opinion – will Brey perhaps pick up a recruit in the spring similar to Farrell in 2014, or maybe Brey will pick up a transfer if the fit is right? I just really want to keep this train rolling after a great class of 2018. Playing time will be hard to come by in the 2019-20 season, looking at the anticipated current freshmen roles for next year, but I hope Mike Brey can pick up 1-2 guys in this cycle.

alstein

Possible he finds another guy late this cycle, but he has already started to cast a fairly wide net for 2020 and I think that’s where most of his focus is. There are a couple local kids that he has already offered and have visited a ton (one of whom is Niele Ivey’s son, Jaden). He’s also intensely focused on getting Hunter Dickinson from DeMatha. There are a few others that are heavily involved with. I just think it’s more likely – especially given the size of this year’s freshmen class – that he saves those three scholarships for next year.

MikeyB
MikeyB

Yeah if he does end up looking at the transfer market, he’s probably only going to be interested in another PG/Combo Guard. Somebody to take some pressure off Hubb once Gibbs is gone. I don’t really see a need on the roster for a grad transfer who can play immediately next year (with only Pflueger leaving after this season).

I still think he took the right approach in swinging for the fences this year. But if he doesn’t land Mitchell or Anthony (or a great transfer), Dickinson is as close to a must-get as Brey has had, and he absolutely needs to grab a PG who can play as a true freshman.

dpet
dpet

This team is so exciting! I still have it at under 50% that they make the tournament this year but I do think they can. All 4 of the freshman are at least as good as I thought they would be and obviously Durham has tantalizing potential! He’ll continue to get better! Can’t wait for these next 3 games! I too hope Carmody is okay!