Notre Dame’s Explosive Offense Makes Them A Dangerous Team

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2016

Last season, Notre Dame had the most successful run of Mike Brey‘s tenure in South Bend. The Irish finished third in the ACC with a 14-4 record, and then won the ACC Tournament in Greensboro by knocking off league stalwarts Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back nights. Then came an excellent NCAA Tournament run where they fell to an unbeaten Kentucky squad on the game’s final possession in a Regional final. That Irish team featured the second ranked offense in the country according to KenPom’s efficiency ratings, trailing only Wisconsin’s historically best offense. After losing its top two players from last year’s group, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton (both NBA draft picks), Brey’s current team may not be as strong overall due to a significant drop off defensively. But Notre Dame’s offense has remained elite (currently #1 in Kenpom) and that makes them a threat to win any time they take the floor.

Demetrius Jackson leads Notre Dame's outstanding offense and is among the nation's best point guards. (Ben McKeown/AP Photo)

Demetrius Jackson leads Notre Dame’s outstanding offense and is among the nation’s best point guards. (Ben McKeown/AP Photo)

As if to prove this point, on Saturday afternoon Notre Dame outscored Duke 95-91 by posting an outstanding 1.36 points per possession. We looked over the 15 years of KenPom historical data, and couldn’t find a better offensive performance for a visiting ACC team in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Granted, this is not a vintage Duke squad, with youth and a lack of depth being the main problems. But yesterday, the Blue Devils played hard and well most of the game (51.8 FG%, 50.0 3FG%), and the Cameron crowd was at its best, making it a difficult environment for the visitors. Still, Notre Dame maintained its poise and offensive efficiency down the stretch to come out on top in this shootout.

Now known as a bona fide Duke-killer (scored 17 in last year’s victory in the ACC Tournament), Bonzie Colson came off the bench to punish the Blue Devils from all over the floor. He finished with 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting, grabbed 11 boards (eight offensive), made all five free throw attempts, and even added two big second half threes that came just before the shot clock was about to expire. Brey’s veteran backcourt also had a huge afternoon as Demetrius Jackson scored 24 and Steve Vasturia finished with 22. Jackson was singled out for major praise afterwards from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski:

I think [Demetrius] Jackson is as good a guard as there is in the country. He is so poised and strong and they are a really good team. When you have someone like him [Jackson], he should handle the ball, he is a pro. He is a big-time player. Him on the court gives you a chance to beat anybody because he understands his weaponry and he doesn’t get tired. He is an old, strong guy and he is perfect mentally, he is just really poised. For me, I think he is a terrific player.

Senior big man Zach Auguste gives the Irish a solid inside presence, and he works well in concert with the guards. Auguste and Jackson run the pick-and-roll as well as any tandem in college basketball. Auguste sets solid legal screens, and Jackson makes great decisions with the space created by those screens. Jackson is a threat to finish at the rim off the bounce, has a dandy pullup floater, and keeps his head up in the lane for open teammates. Often that open teammate is Auguste rolling to the basket or spotting up for a mid-range jumper. Other options include Vasturia and other three-point marksmen like V.J. Beachem and Matt Ryan. Even freshman Rex Pflueger got into the act Saturday, scoring a season-best seven points in 23 minutes, by far the most action he has seen to date.

Another strength of this team is that unlike most perimeter-oriented units, Notre Dame is not overly reliant on 3-point shooting – ranking 183rd in three-point attempt percentage. What they are is a group that rarely turns the ball over (6th nationally) and is tremendously efficient from both sides of the arc, ranking among the nation’s top-25 in both 2-point and 3-point shooting percentage. Brey is regarded as one of the nation’s best offensive coaches, and he and Jackson do a great job of getting the Irish into the right sets, with proper spacing to take advantage of match-up problems. Of course, with a defense that currently ranks 213th in KenPom, the Irish are probably not a real threat for a repeat of last year’s postseason success. But with this explosive offense, for any one game they can cause problems for most any opponent. That means this is not a team you want to see in your favorite school’s bracket come Selection Sunday.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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