It’s a good thing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish that they are averaging 84.4 points per game and shooting about 50 percent from the field, because the their defense needs work.
Two games ago, in one of the two games Notre Dame has lost this season, the Fighting Irish were defeated on the road by the Iowa Hawkeyes 98-93 as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Notre Dame gave up 52 points in the first half of that contest and allowed Iowa to shoot nearly 57 percent from the field.
Even when Notre Dame righted the ship somewhat last time out against the Delaware Blue Hens in an 80-75 win, Delaware hit 10 three-pointers and shot 43.5 percent from the outside to stay close. This wasn’t a total anomaly; Delaware only lost at the Villanova Wildcats by four earlier this season, but many Fighting Irish fans probably expected a little easier go of it against the Blue Hens.
On Monday night in the Gotham Classic, Notre Dame takes on the Bryant Bulldogs (6-3). Bryant suffered significant losses against their two toughest opponents of the season (Gonzaga Bulldogs, 100-76 and Harvard Crimson, 86-68). But the Bulldogs are averaging nearly 74 points per game, so they have some capacity to score. Dyami Starks, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, will be the key objective of Notre Dame’s defense Monday night. Starks is averaging 23.4 points per game and scored 35 in the loss to Gonzaga.
A game against a team the with the likes of Bryant might not seem as important as others for the Fighting Irish (6-2), but this game, and the one that follows it against North Dakota State (who previously beat Bryant, 66-62), are the final tune-ups before a brutal stretch of the schedule for which Notre Dame better have their defense tuned up. As part of a four-game span that starts Dec. 14, the Fighting Irish will play the Indiana Hoosiers, Ohio State Buckeyes and the Duke Blue Devils, the latter being Notre Dame’s ACC debut.
Giving up 98 points to Iowa of the Big Ten is not a good sign of what might be to come against teams like Indiana and Duke, both of whom average in the mid-80s in scoring. Notre Dame does a lot of things well, shooting 50 percent from the field, averaging 20 assists per game, and only turning the ball over 9.5 times per contest, but they will have to improve defensively to be a force in the ACC on a nightly basis.
With only two more games ahead before the schedule gets significantly harder, Notre Dame must start showing improvement Monday night against Bryant.