Saturday afternoon, the No. 3 Virginia Cavaliers continue conference play with a trip to South Bend to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Irish are struggling a bit this season at 11-8 overall (1-5 in the ACC), but have had injury issues. Virginia, conversely, is one of five teams—alongside Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, and Syracuse—that lead the conference at 5-1.
To get more info on all of the important (and some not-so-important) things about this Notre Dame team, we chatted with Patrick Sullivan (@Psully226) of One Foot Down (@OneFootDown).
Check out my answers to Patrick’s questions here.
Streaking the Lawn: Notre Dame has been in all but one of their ACC games, why do you think the Irish have come up short to start conference play?
One Foot Down: I would chalk it up to a mix of three things.
First, this team relies HEAVILY on a bunch of freshmen who’ve never played in ACC crunch-time moments, and so they get nervous/tighten up and stop playing within themselves down the stretch, try to do too much, and make bad decisions. There’s a reason Mike Brey’s recent teams have been able to win games that come down to the wire -- they’ve been filled with upperclassmen who have played in the program for years and know how to coolly stick with the plan in stressful situations. These kids just aren’t there yet.
Second, there’s definitely some team-wide fatigue due to a lack of depth -- beating Boston College with six scholarship players a couple weeks ago is a nice talking point, but it means everyone is playing way more than they should be. Guys HAVE to be getting tired at the end of competitive games, and that especially weighs on guys like DJ Harvey who are still trying to get back to 100% from injuries and guys like TJ Gibbs or John Mooney, who are being asked to play nearly the entire game while carrying the scoring load.
Finally and third, I think this team really struggles in big moments because they don’t have a “the guy” to turn to down the stretch (especially a ball handler). In past years the Irish have been able to rely on Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, Demetrius Jackson, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, etc., in the waning moments of close games. This squad doesn’t seem to know who “the guy” is. TJ Gibbs seemed like the best option heading into the season, but he’s had a rough year and now looks much more like he should be the #2 guy on a good team. John Mooney finally began to separate himself as ND’s best player over the past month or two, but isn’t necessarily great at creating his own shot, especially because he isn’t a guard who can have the ball in his hands and create for the entire offense as time winds down.
All of those things have culminated in a young, overworked, identity-less team with plenty of raw talent but without the experience and veteran playmakers to close out these kinds of games.
STL: Injuries have been an issue for the Irish. Who has stepped up as a reliable player that you weren’t expecting?
OFD: Dane Goodwin comes to mind first. He was a highly rated recruit coming in, for sure, but we all heard much more about the immediate impact we’d see from guys like Nate Laszewski and Prentiss Hubb and even Robby Carmody, who seemed more aggressive and stronger than Goodwin as a ready-to-play freshman. Goodwin, meanwhile, seemed like the quiet coach’s kid who would start contributing major minutes as a sophomore and then maybe start by junior or senior year as a solid wing and number three or four option on a good squad. Instead, he looks like an ahead-of-schedule Steve Vasturia out there and has arguably been the most reliable, promising freshman so far. He’s still inconsistent in terms of scoring volume (because he’s a freshman), but he clearly knows where to be at almost all times and doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses in his game, considering he’s a good defender, has good size, can handle the ball, is an adept passer, and can both finish at the rim and knock down threes.
I’ll give honorable mention to Prentiss Hubb, who is in the midst of coming back from an ACL tear. He’s been erratic at times and has to hoist up a lot of bad shots at the end of the shot clock due to his role as the main ball handler, but he’s also 7th in the ACC in assist to turnover ratio (2.13) and has proven to be a good defender. Laszewski is also an honorable mention here -- we all knew he could shoot, but despite his thin frame, he’s been surprisingly pretty tough in the paint and has been willing to fight down low on defense and on the glass, which is great to see despite his strength limitations.
Also, I want to give a quick shout-out to freshman forward Chris Doherty, who was supposed to redshirt this year and be a 5-year-project kind of prospect, but who instead has had to play this season due to all the injuries and due to senior captain Elijah Burns transferring to Siena out of the blue at the end of 2018. Doherty’s done his job so far, playing 5-10 minutes in each of the past couple games and providing defense, rebounding, hustle, and fouls -- very solid considering how suddenly he was called upon.
STL: Virginia’s big three of Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter are all averaging over 13 points per game and shooting 40% or better from three. How do you see Notre Dame slowing them down?
OFD: Short answer: I don’t -- at all.
Longer answer: ND typically has to play some zone with this group, considering their lack of depth and needing to conserve energy, so that doesn’t bode well for taking on so many good shooters on the perimeter for the Cavaliers. Thus, because the Irish will end up needing to play man-to-man once the Cavaliers’ shots start falling, I think Gibbs, Hubb, and Goodwin will have to bring their A-games and simply try their best to switch, help, and close out on these shooters. They’re all pretty good defenders, but they will get gassed because there’s no Rex Pflueger or Robby Carmody to help out. Nik Djogo will need to give some good minutes to give them breathers, for sure, and at times DJ Harvey may need to play some uncharacteristically solid defense on the perimeter to help out.
I don’t think that group is deep enough or good enough to really slow down a trio like that, though. ND probably needs to hope the three of them just have an off shooting night, or maybe be overly aggressive in chasing them off the three point line in hopes of them doing less damage driving than launching from long range.
STL: What is your favorite look for Mike Brey and why? Casual Maui? Mock turtleneck?
OFD: First, let me list our options here. We’ve got:
- Old School Mock Turtleneck Brey, who wanted to be casual, warm, and a little mysterious as he roamed the ND sidelines for the first 15 years of his Irish coaching tenure
- New School No Tie Brey, who simply traded the mock turtleneck for a dress shirt beneath his suit jacket, with the top button unbuttoned, trying to look like a consultant pitching to a potential client
- Brey After A Bender, which I would describe as a spinoff of New School No Tie Brey, where New School No Tie Brey is coaching after having gone clubbing the night before, not shaving before coming to the arena, and potentially having tried a little cocaine. He looks like he had a helluva night, but now he’s got some ibuprofen in him and is ready to get down to business
- Game Time Maui Brey, who wears a t-shirt and shorts and tennis shoes and is super relaxed and loves roaming the sidelines in a tropical, beautiful place
- Postgame Maui Brey, who rips his shirt off, puts on a lei, struts into the locker room, and flexes for his adoring team after they won a Maui Invitational title game they honestly had no business winning (at least based on the first 35 minutes of the game)
Each Brey has his advantages -- for instance, Old School Mock Turtleneck Brey is the guy I’d most wanna smoke a cigar with, for some reason, but Game Time Maui Brey is the one I’m most comfortable around. New School No Tie Brey is the one I’d want to introduce to my parents because he’s classy and polished but also not too stuffy, but Brey After A Bender is the guy I’d call if I needed to get on the list at an exclusive club in New York or were looking for a party.
However, in the end, there’s just no topping Postgame Maui Brey, whose performance in November 2017 was one of my favorite things I’ve ever seen in all of my life -- and I’ve seen Red Panda live during like 10 different halftime shows, you guys, so you know that’s real.
Just drink in the majesty and pure bliss and comfort with his team that is Postgame Maui Brey, the best look for Mike Brey by a longshot:
STL: Prediction time. Who ya got, what’s the score?
OFD: I’ve watched some of Brey’s best teams get beaten fairly easily at home by Tony Bennett Virginia teams that probably weren’t any better than this one (and were likely worse). Considering ND’s offensive struggles and Virginia’s efficiency on both sides of the ball, I think the Cavaliers suffocate ND and win this easily.
Give me 73-57 as the final score.
Huge thanks to Patrick and One Foot Down. The Hoos and Irish square off at 1pm on Saturday. The game will be broadcast on CBS.