Saturday, November 28, 2015

Sleeping with the Enemy, Notre Dame

I asked JoeSchu from One Foot Down to tell us a bit about Notre Dame basketball and their perspective on our game Sunday night.  He was kind enough to take the time to share his thoughts below.  If you visit One Foot Down, please follow the rules of their site and be a positive representative of the University of Alabama.

Irish Strengths
Mike Brey has built his program on the pillars of offensive efficiency and senior leadership. His teams don't turn the ball over, space the floor well, and knock down shots. Last year's team was 2nd in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency, and this year's team is in the top 5 again. 

This year's team has all the components to continue as a top-5 offense. Demetrius Jackson, the junior PG, is a tremendous athlete and a top NBA draft prospect. Zach Auguste, the senior big, is also very athletic and capable of scoring in a number of ways around the rim. Juniors Steve Vasturia and VJ Beachem, along with freshman Matt Ryan space the floor as deadly 3-point threats. Sophomore Bonzie Colson is another capable scorer around the rim and plays much bigger than his listed 6'5" height.

Irish Weaknesses 
While the offense has all the components, they aren't quite clicking yet. Coming off a banner year for Notre Dame basketball, everyone knew replacing two NBA draft picks would be a challenge. Notre Dame played almost exclusively in 4-out sets last year. Occasionally, they would go small and play 5-out. This year, with Colson in the starting line-up, the Irish are playing more 3-around-2, and they're showing some confusion. The ball movement isn't quite as crisp as guys are feeling out new roles. In each of their last 2 games, the Irish built double-digit leads in the first half, only to see them melt away in the second. A lot of this had to do with defenses adjusting and ND not having an immediate answer. The offense started to look a little static, which led to extended scoring droughts. While it is something most Irish fans trust Brey to fix, it is a concern.

The other concern is defense. If you look at the history of the ND program under Brey, there's a pretty consistent standard of efficient offense. The best Brey teams combine great offense with a competent defense. While last year's team wasn't a statistically great defense, the run to the ACC title and Elite Eight was highlighted by Notre Dame's ability to get stops in key stretches of big games. This year's team has an opportunity to be even better defensively, even if the offense drops off a little. The thing to watch with Notre Dame is whether or not their defense is dictated by their offense or vice versa. In the second half against Monmouth, the Irish missed some early shots around the rim, and it seemed to impact their defensive effort. If the Irish can dig a little deeper on defense, even when shots aren't falling, they'll be a very good team. If not, it could be a long year in the deep and difficult ACC.

Impression of the Alabama Program
As any Irish basketball fan will tell you, it ain't easy living in football's shadow. I imagine that Tuscaloosa is one of the few places in America where football's shadow is even bigger than Notre Dame's. However, where Alabama basketball has a clear advantage over the Irish is in facilities. Pictures of Alabama's basketball facilities look great. The Irish still practice in a basement gym named the Pit (and not out of affection). 

Avery Johnson feels like a high risk/reward hire for Alabama. In 1991, Notre Dame brought in an NBA guy named John MacLeod behind Digger Phelps. It didn't work out great for the Irish, and it wasn't until Brey, a former Duke assistant who had head coaching experience at Delaware, was hired that the program built some consistency. That being said, Johnson is a much higher profile guy with a much better NBA track record than MacLeod. I like the hire because he can bring some identity to the program. He's a guy who loves defensive intensity and likes to push the pace offensively. As the college game starts to see a lot more ball screens, Johnson's NBA experience will be valuable. I really like the hire, but Johnson is going to need to show his staff can recruit at a level to get the Tide back in to the upper tier of the SEC.

Thoughts on the Match-Up
I'll admit, I haven't seen Alabama play this season, but looking at the numbers, it will be an interesting conflict of styles. The Irish are an offensive machine with a serviceable defense. The Tide seem to be built the other way around. I see this coming down to two things. First, can Alabama score by dictating tempo. The Tide play much quicker than the Irish, who are becoming one of the more deliberate half court teams in the country. Second, can the Irish make shots. Dayton shoots the ball at about the same percentage as Notre Dame, and Alabama struggled with the Flyers.

Watch the fatigue factor in this one. Coach Johnson has been a little more balanced in his minutes than Coach Brey. If heavy legs cause Jackson or Auguste to pick up some early whistles, it could represent a huge advantage for Alabama. If I'm coaching the Tide Sunday, I look for ways to push tempo vs. the Irish and see if I can run them a bit to expose their short bench.

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