The ACC season has been a bit more of a roller coaster than Irish fans are used to. For the first time since joining the conference, the team has lost two regular season conference games. Nevertheless, they are currently tied atop the ACC standings and will look for a strong finish in the last four games of the regular season.

Just the Facts

The #6 Irish currently hold a 23-3 record and sit at 10-2 in the ACC with losses to unranked North Carolina and #20 Miami. Once again, let’s take a look at a few key stats at this point in the season:

  •  The offense is clicking well for the Irish, who are currently averaging 87.2 points per game. After working out a few hiccups early in the season, the offense is looking strong and taking advantage of their talented starting lineup. All five starters are averaging over 13 points per game, with Arike Ogunbowale leading the scoring at 21 points per game.
  • A big part of what has made Irish teams so fun to watch the last several years has been how well they share the ball, and this year is no exception. The team is averaging 20 assists per game (4th in the nation), with a 1.33 assist to turnover ratio (good for 12th nationally).
  • This team has been scoring well in the paint and has been very good at drawing contact and getting to the free throw line. However, I’d like to see more consistency once they get there. The team is shooting 72.6% from the line, with three of the five starters having free throw percentages in the 60s. They are leaving points on the table, and it could cost them in a close game.
  • With the focus on getting the ball inside to Shepard and Turner, the team is spending a lot less time outside the arc than other teams in the conference. They have the second fewest three-point attempts in the ACC. However they know when to shoot the three, and are making 39.5% of their shots – good for 2nd in the ACC and 33rd nationally. Marina Mabrey has been shooting a solid 46.6% from three-point range.
  • Brianna Turner continues to bring up the defensive intensity, averaging 2.7 blocks per game. Her 71 blocks this season are the 3rd highest total in the country.
  • The Irish have a 26.8 point scoring margin in their ACC games. They have been blowing a lot of teams out, but haven’t been able to pull off the win in close games. Their two closest games of the season have been the 5-point loss to North Carolina and the 7-point loss to Miami. The next closest game was a 14-point win over Louisville.

Notes and Observations

Jackie Young was the least talked about of the five starters at the beginning of this season, but she has proven to be key to this team’s success. She is such a well-rounded player, and provides a calming presence on the floor. She is averaging 14.4 points per game, and also 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. She picked up the program’s seventh triple-double earlier this season against Tennessee. When she was injured and missed the following game at North Carolina, her importance to the team was underscored as they clearly struggled in her absence. If you’re looking for one more thing to worry about the next few weeks, consider that Young is age-eligible to declare for the WNBA draft this year and has been projected as a first-round pick in mock drafts if she does so. She has said that she hasn’t made a decision yet, but should she choose to leave early that would have a significant impact on expectations for this team next season.

With at least four starters departing after this season, a lot of attention is being paid to what the bench players are doing when they’re in the game. Thanks to the large margins of victory, these players have been seeing more minutes in recent games. Prohaska, Nixon, Patterson, and Vaughn all see limited minutes while the games are still in doubt, with others coming off the bench once things are well in hand. Unfortunately, getting more minutes has not led to much more scoring. For a striking example, bench players were in for much of the fourth quarter of the most recent game at Boston College and ND was outscored 18-9 that quarter. More time playing together will certainly lead to improvements, but there is going to be a learning curve next season for sure.

Records and Rankings

A couple of school records are likely to fall in the coming weeks. Ogunbowale currently has 2,324 career points and is in sole possession of second place on the all-time scoring list. She needs just 33 points to break the record of 2,357 currently held by Skylar Diggins. Averaging 21 points per game, she is on track to break it easily and to set the new bar quite a bit higher. Also of note, Marina Mabrey is now tied for second for the Notre Dame record for career three-pointers. Mabrey has 249, and Alicia Ratay holds the record at 262. Mabrey averages 2.5 threes per game, so she is on track to take over the record.

The ACC standings are incredibly close this season. The Irish are currently tied with both Louisville and Miami atop the standings at 10-2 after Miami helped them out by beating Louisville this weekend. NC State is only half a game behind the trio of leaders. The conference is very strong this year, with six teams currently ranked in the top 25. ND’s loss to North Carolina felt a little like a fluke – Young was out with very little warning, and the Irish racked up 20 turnovers in a game where they just didn’t look like themselves. However, their loss to Miami just looked like two good teams playing a close game. The regular season title, and certainly the tournament, are going to be hard fought this year.

After their three losses, Notre Dame was not a 1-seed in the first NCAA early look rankings. However, they are still in position to compete for one of those slots. Things at the top of the rankings have been unusually fluid for women’s basketball this year. Several different teams have held the top spot, and even UConn has two regular season losses. Baylor and Oregon are in good shape to hold onto 1-seeds, but UConn, Louisville, and Notre Dame are all fighting for the other two spots. For objective observers, it’s really been a fun women’s basketball season.

Burger Basket Leaderboard

When the team scores 88 points or more at home, the fans in attendance get coupons for free burgers. I’ll track which player is responsible for feeding the fans most often during the season.

It’s not that I’m not grateful that the Irish are sharing the ball so well. But it does make this a little bit less of an interesting leaderboard. Vaughn still holds the lead with two, but Nixon (against Boston College on 1/20), Cosgrove (Georgia Tech on 2/3), and Shepard (Florida State on 2/10) each picked up their first burger basket of the season.

Mikayla Vaughn – 2

Danielle Cosgrove – 1

Marina Mabrey – 1

Jordan Nixon – 1

Danielle Patterson – 1

Jessica Shepard – 1

Brianna Turner – 1

Jackie Young – 1

Coming Up

Monday 2/18 – 7pm – #6 ND at #12 NC State – ESPN2

Thursday 2/21 – 7pm – #6 ND vs. Duke

Monday 2/25 – 6pm – #6 ND at #16 Syracuse – ESPN2

Sunday 3/3 – 12:30pm – #6 ND vs. Virginia

Just four games remain in the regular season. With their precarious perch atop the ACC standings, and to have any chance at reclaiming a 1-seed for the NCAA Tournament, every one of these games is going to be important.

They’re starting off with what ought to be the biggest challenge of the remaining schedule – tonight’s visit to NC State. The #12 Wolfpack were the last undefeated team in the country before dropping two in a row to North Carolina (we’re not alone!) and #24 Florida State on February 3rd and 7th. They bounced back with a close win over #16 Syracuse on Wednesday, and at just a half game back in the ACC standings, are looking to make a push.

The Irish will then host Duke before traveling to #16 Syracuse, then will close out the regular season at home against Virginia.