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The Big Preview: Virginia faces uphill battle at Notre Dame on Saturday

kihei clark notre dame
Kihei Clark drives to the rim into the teeth of the Notre Dame defense. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

The start to Notre Dame’s season looked a lot like the start to the past several for Mike Brey, who hasn’t had a team in the NCAA Tournament since way back in 2017.

The Irish sat at 4-5 after a 64-56 loss to Indiana on Dec. 18.

Nobody, I’m sure even Brey himself, saw the 9-1 run since coming.

To be fair, there’s just one Top 50 win in the bunch, a 78-73 win over North Carolina in South Bend on Jan. 5.

Also being fair, though, you can only beat the teams they put in front of you.

The Irish (13-6, 6-2 ACC) currently sit at 72 in the flawed NET. I call it “flawed” because Virginia Tech (10-10, 2-7 ACC) is seven spots higher, without a Q1 win, and a lower RPI (ND: 67, VT: 115) and a lower non-conference strength of schedule (ND: 74, VT: 178).

I digress.

Notre Dame’s rotation guys

Brey, like Tony Bennett, goes with a seven-man rotation. The two focal points offensively are 6’6” junior Dane Goodwin (15.3 ppg, 4.9 rebounds/g, 51.2% FG, 48.9% 3FG) and 6’5” freshman Blake Wesley (15.0 ppg, 43.0% FG, 32.4% 3FG).

Goodwin, per Synergy Sports’ data, is a monster on spot-ups (57.4% FG, 79.4% AFG, 1.603 PPP), off screens (56.4% FG, 65.4% AFG, 1.244 PPP) and post-ups (57.1% FG/AFG, 1.158 PPP).

Wesley gets used a lot in pick-and-roll ball handler (104 possessions, 41.9% FG, 44.6% AFG, .808 PPP) and is sneaky-good in transition (65.5% FG, 69% EFG, 1.116 PPP).

The other double-digit scorer is 6’9” senior Paul Atkinson (11.4 ppg, 6.2 rebounds/g, 61.2% FG), a Yale transfer who gets a lot of touches in post-ups (87 possessions, 54.8% FG/EFG, 1.057 PPP) and is an excellent finisher in lane cuts (81.3% FG/AFG, 1.435 PPP) and pick-and-roll man (82.4% FG/AFG, 1.345 PPP).

6’10” junior center Nate Laszewski (8.9 ppg, 7.5 rebounds/g, 49.6% FG, 46.5% 3FG) isn’t scoring as much as he did last year (13.3 ppg), but that’s largely the result of having more options around him.

Laszewski is a tough matchup for most college fives with his ability to shoot from three.

6’3” junior point guard Prentiss Hubb (8.3 ppg, 3.6 assists/g, 34.4% FG, 30.8% 3FG) is also noticeably down numbers-wise (2020-2021: 14.6 ppg, 5.8 assists/g).

The bench guys are 6’5” junior Cormac Ryan (7.8 ppg, 4.4 rebounds/g, 39.0% FG, 36.1% 3FG) and 6’5” junior Trey Wertz (4.5 ppg, 2.4 assists/g, 35.0% FG, 31.7% 3FG).

Matchups

The matchup that concerns me the most is Laszewski against the Virginia bigs, 6’11” sophomore Kadin Shedrick (6.5 ppg, 5.1 rebounds/g, 58.5% FG) and 7’1” junior Francisco Caffaro (4.2 ppg, 4.0 rebounds/g, 50.9% FG).

Laszewski is basically a stretch five, and he’ll be a weapon in pick-and-pops (48.5% FG, 63.6% EFG, 1.263 PPP).

Last season, Laszewski averaged 20.0 points per game on 12-of-19 shooting (63.2%) in two games against the ‘Hoos.

6’7” senior Jayden Gardner (14.0 ppg, 67 rebounds/g, 52.1% FG) could get some reps against Laszewski, a danger in that he gives up four inches, but his mobility might be a plus, though you’d expect Brey to try to exploit the height disparity if Tony Bennett tries to go this way matchup-wise.

If he does, that would put Shedrick and Caffaro more with Atkinson, who is more a back-to-the-basket scorer, with whoever is in the game at five for Virginia post-to-post doubling Laszewski with Gardner if he gets the ball down low.

I imagine Bennett goes with Armaan Franklin (12.2 ppg, 41.9% FG, 25.7% 3FG) on Goodwin. Franklin rates as an “excellent” defender, per Synergy Sports, holding opponents to .690 PPP, 31.4 percent shooting from the field, and an effective field-goal percentage of 37.3 percent.

Reece Beekman (8.0 ppg, 5.0 assists/g, 43.7% FG, 33.3% 3FG) gets Wesley. Beekman is also an “excellent” defender, per Synergy Sports (.675 PPP, 32.1% FG, 39.7% AFG).

Kihei Clark (9.2 ppg, 4.2 assists/g, 39.5% FG, 38.8% 3FG) matches up with Hubb on D. Clark is a “good” defender, allowing .781 PPP, 34.8 percent shooting from the field, and an adjusted field-goal percentage of 43.9 percent.

Story by Chris Graham


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