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The Big Preview: UVA basketball returns home to face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Taking a look at the Irish before Saturday’s noon tipoff.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers traveled to Louisville to play a bad Cardinals squad and played down to their level, squeaking out a three-point win. Wins are wins, especially on the road in conference, but that was a poor performance and would’ve been a disastrous loss against a team ranked near 300 by the advanced metrics.

The Wahoos are back to it against another struggling team in Notre Dame. This game is at home, which alleviates some of the concerns. The ‘Hoos just play better at home, as do most teams. Plus the Irish have not yet won a road game this season. They have lost four in a row, eight of nine, and 12 of 15. They did beat Michigan State back in November in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, but that’s their only win over a top 100 team (per KenPom). They have lost twice to both FSU (ranked 204), BC (194) and once to Georgia Tech (195). They aren’t good, though there is some talent.

The Irish lost three starters from last year’s squad, including leading scorer Blake Wesley (a one-and-done who is with the Spurs now). But they still returned over half their production from last season. It’s not their scoring that’s a problem. It’s their defense, or rather their no-defense. They are worse, defensively, than even Louisville. They may have the worst defense of any high major conference.

There is no real size or depth on this Irish team. Seven guys play, that is all. Their tallest player is 6’10” Nate Laszewski, who has been at Notre Dame longer than the hunchback. Laszewski, though, is a perimeter player. He doesn’t hit the offensive glass, though he will work out of the post if he has a size advantage.

Even with a foot advantage, Laszewski is content to just shoot a turnaround jumper. Thing is, he’s one of the best shooters in the nation.

Freshman Ven-Allen Lubin is actually the best, and only, real inside presence. His minutes have fluctuated during the season, in part because of some injuries. But he moved into the starting lineup last week and his season high in minutes is the 28 he played against Duke on Tuesday night. He’s averaging just 6.5 points per game on the season, but that is up to 11 points per game over three February games (all starts). He’s also 15/20 from the field over that stretch.

He’s not a particularly big guy. He’s not going to get such good position against Jayden Gardner or Ben Vander Plas. But, when he does get good position, he’s very tough to stop. He’s also the only offensive rebounding threat they have, so this will be a point of emphasis for whoever is guarding him.

The entire rest of the roster is wings. Notre Dame shoots a ton of threes, and they shoot ‘em well. Laszewski leads the team at 43% on 4.5 attempts per game, but Cormac Ryan is at 38% on over five attempts per game, Dane Goodwin shoots 39% on four attempts per game and Niagara transfer Marcus Hammond shoots 39% on four attempts per game. As a team, they attempt 26 treys per game, which is a lot. If they shoot it well, the Irish are tough to stop. Against Virginia Tech last week, Notre Dame was 13/30 (43%) from downtown. They scored 87 points. But, they allowed 93. The Hokies shot 43% from downtown as well, and 66% on twos. Not going to win when the opponent shoots 57% from the field.

Where is the communication from the Irish defense? It’s a dribble-hand-off look, but there’s no hand-off. Pedulla just keeps going. Marcus Hammond just watches.

This looks like zone defense, but nobody steps out on BC’s shooter. That is Makai Ashton-Langford, who isn’t a great shooter. But you gotta get a hand in his face.

Yes, the game against Louisville was bad for the ‘Hoos. But Louisville hit some tough shots and Virginia missed far too many easy ones.

This is a very nice bucket from El Ellis. It isn’t bad defense, just a good player making a good shot. The Irish can score, especially from outside. If Virginia continues to shoot poorly, they could absolutely lose this game. They should get good looks against this bad defense. Just need those looks to start dropping.