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3 players, 2 matchups, and 1 prediction for Virginia at Notre Dame

Previewing today’s action between the Wahoos and the Irish.

NCAA Basketball: Morgan State at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers close out 2023 with their second ACC game of the season, and first ACC road game. They will face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, in South Bend. The ‘Hoos are coming off an uninspired 35 point win over an outmatched and outmanned Morgan State team.

The Irish are coming off a four-point home win over Marist. That’s actually a nice win, considering Marist is ranked higher than the Irish in the analytics. Under new head coach Micah Strewsberry, Notre Dame sits at 5-7 (0-1 ACC). Their best win is an OT win over Oklahoma State on a neutral court. They have home losses this year to Georgetown, Western Carolina and The Citadel.

With all of that in mind, let’s look at this game.

When: Saturday, December 30, 12 Noon (Eastern)
Streaming: ESPN

Three Players To Watch

Markus Burton

The true freshman point guard leads the Irish in scoring, assists, minutes, steals and turnovers. He is shooting 40% from the field and just 22% from three. He also has a “negative” assist to turnover ratio, meaning that he has more turnovers than dimes. That is not good. The combination of turnovers and poor shooting mean that Burton is just a bad offensive player right now.

Burton is also 13th in the nation in usage rate. That might pay dividends in future years as Burton develops his game, but right now he is killing this team.

Impressive drive and finish with the foul. He’s got skills, but he’s also never faced a defender like Reece.

J.R. Konieczny

This is an incredibly young team, making Konieczny a relative veteran with one whole season of experience. He leads the team in offensive efficiency, is tied for the team lead in rebounds and is second in scoring. At 6’7” 204, he’s one of their biggest players, but he’s also a perimeter player who doesn’t really want to play inside against bigs. He has taken almost exactly half of his shots from downtown, making just 26%. That’s not good.

Julian Roper

A transfer from Northwestern, Roper is a junior which makes him the old man of the rotation. He’s also the best shooter on the team, which isn’t saying much. He has made 36% of his treys, and has also taken half his shots from downtown. The problem with Roper is, he doesn’t do much other than shoot jumpers.

Roper is one of seven rotation players for the Irish averaging fewer than 1 assist per game. He has 9 assists and 17 turnovers. The Irish, as a team, rank 275th in assist rate. They also rank 37th in three point rate, but they are 344th in the nation in three point shooting. That means they shoot a TON of threes, but they miss.

A drive and kick-out open three is a good shot. A bunch of dribbling followed by a three is usually not a good shot. Especially when you fall down first. But this is what most of Notre Dame’s shots are (minus the falling down part). And it’s because they just don’t have anybody who can create a shot for others. It leads to bad shots, bad turnovers and just overall bad offense. As a team, the Irish rank 314 in offensive efficiency, which is just really really poor for a high major team. The next lowest major conference team is DePaul, ranked 259th (per KenPom).

Two Matchups to Watch

Three Point Shooting

The Irish can’t shoot. As mentioned, 344th in three point shooting. They are also 209th in three point defense. This bodes well for a Virginia team that is at its best when knocking down outside shots. That’s probably true of every team, but we have seen this Virginia team struggle badly to score points when the outside shots aren’t dropping.

Other teams may have an interior presence to generate points and FT attempts. Virginia does not. The Virginia offense, absent three pointers, is Reece Beekman drives. And while Reece is amazing, he’s not a great finisher. Reece is best when he has shooters to kick to.

The Glass

Although the Wahoos have improved on the glass since the beginning of the season, this is still a weakness. It is really the only weakness they have on the defensive end. Coaches like to say defense doesn’t end until you secure the rebound. In this game, securing the rebounds is very important, because the Irish can’t shoot. They aren’t a whole lot better inside than they are outside, which means they rank 316th in effective FG%.

They are decent on the offensive glass though, led by sophomore big man Tae Davis. Davis transferred in after one year at Seton Hall. His minutes are up a lot over last year, and he’s putting up 9 points and 6 rebounds per game. He’s also just 2/19 (10%) from downtown. Seriously, stop shooting…after this game.

But if Notre Dame can win the rebounding battle, that’s a way for them to stay in the game against a more talented Wahoo squad.

One Prediction

This is just a bad Notre Dame team. Doesn’t mean they can’t win, they did beat a decent Okie State team. But the things that Virginia is usually susceptible to are not things Notre Dame does well. The only chance the Irish really have is for Virginia to be completely cold from downtown. And even that won’t be enough unless the Irish are able to avoid turning the ball over and giving up easy buckets to the Hoos.

But honestly, even if all of those things happen, there’s still a chance Virginia wins. Because this Notre Dame team is bad.

Prediction: Hoos 64, Irish 48