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Notre Dame Basketball

Notre Dame Hoops | Love, Like, Hate

January 4, 2024

Notre Dame basketball being in the middle of rebuild isn’t a secret to anyone. 

Micah Shrewsberry inherited a program close to rock bottom and has more than embraced the challenge of starting from ground zero. There have certainly been more lows than highs, but that was expected given Notre Dame’s inexperience and lack of proven players. 

Markus Burton wasn’t a sexy take given his size, yet the kid was one of the purest scorers in his class. Some were concerned about how his attacking style would translate to college basketball, but Burton has thrived, averaging 16.1 ppg and 3.9 apg through the first 14 games of the season and leading all ACC freshmen in scoring. 

Perhaps the most impressive piece to his game is the fact Burton is shooting 41.6 percent from the field. The buttery jumper has traveled from Mishawaka to Purcell Pavilion and quite frankly, it’s refreshing to see a player with a strong mid-range game. 

Burton has also embraced Shrewsberry handing him the keys to the program. The Indiana native has taken on more responsibilities than he’s ready for and succeeded for the most part. Burton has been Notre Dame’s lone playmaker and consistently scored when the Irish have needed points.

Now, Burton is far from a finished product, which makes his future even more exciting. After 14 games, he is averaging 4.1 turnovers a game. Notre Dame has to live with that piece of it, similar to Prentiss Hubb. Notre Dame doesn’t have another true point guard and no one else has proven to create shots consistently, so Shrewsberry has to live with some bad turnovers at this point. 

Overall, I continue to believe Burton will challenge Austin Carr’s record for career points by the time it’s all said and done (assuming Burton stays four years). Notre Dame has a future star there and Shrewsberry will need to continue to acquire pieces to fit around him. 

Notre Dame’s defense has been a pleasant surprise to this point in the year. Shrewsberry put a true emphasis on defense dating back to the first practice and Notre Dame has embraced it. The Irish own the No. 2 scoring defense in the ACC at 64.8 ppg and teams are shooting 41.2 percent from the field (No. 6 in the ACC). 

The Irish have only given up 80 points (or more) once this season and that was to a veteran Auburn team on a neutral floor in game three. That’s impressive. 

Wednesday’s game against NC State is an interesting study. The Wolfpack shot just 28 percent but was it because Notre Dame’s defense was good? You have to give credit to the Irish, yet NC State’s shot selection was so bad that it’s hard to say Notre Dame was playing suffocating defense. It’s much better than in recent years and that’s all that matters at the end of the day. 

Why is it better? 

It’s simple. Notre Dame has length to protect the rim and by length, I mean multiple bodies who make life difficult at the second level and at the bucket. Kebba Njie, Carey Booth and Tae Davis aren’t considered shot blockers, but they do force opponents to adjust and don’t give up easy layups. 

Matt Zona is also a physical presence. He might not impact as many shots at the rim, but Zona will make the offensive player work to get a shot up. 

There is also more ball pressure on the perimeter, which is a good thing. Burton and Braden Shrewsberry are the weak points right now, but that’s inexperience and growing into their bodies more than effort. Julian Roper II has done a nice job and JR Konieczny’s length has shown itself in positive ways at times. 

Overall, it’s hard to complain about the effort and results on the defensive end. If Notre Dame can add a true shot blocker, it might be scary. Could 2024 signee Garrett Sundra be that guy? We’ll see. 

Notre Dame’s offense and lack of discipline have repeatedly cost the Irish games this year. There have been flashes from various players on the offensive end, but only Burton has shown any type of consistency. Yes, Burton is also the only Notre Dame player to average double figures in scoring right now. 

Tae Davis has shown he can attack the rim, but then he will disappear for 15 minutes. JR Konieczny has hit the three-ball and even created at the end of the shot clock at times. Yet, JRK is shooting 31 percent from three and isn’t consistently taking someone off the dribble. 

The biggest disappointment has been Notre Dame’s inability to get anything out of the post. Yes, Kebba Njie has been hurt, but that isn’t an excuse now. Njie is averaging just 4.4 ppg and shooting 30 percent from the floor with most of his shots coming at the rim. 

If Notre Dame could play inside-out at times, it would be a huge benefit and calm the game down at times. The Irish can’t do that at this point, which means everything falls on Burton’s shoulders, and everything remains perimeter-based. 

And that leads Notre Dame into trouble as they are barely shooting 40 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. There is a lack of ball movement (10.2 assists per game) and flow to the offense. 

It’s not a huge surprise as Roper averaged 4.4 ppg last year and was the leading “returning” scorer of those who had played college ball. 

The good news is the Notre Dame staff believes 2024 signee Cole Certa is the best shooter in the recruiting class and he’ll have plenty of opportunity from day one. The Irish desperately need him now as there is a plethora of open threes to be made. 

When it comes to adjustments, Shrewsberry has to find a way to keep Davis engaged, aggressive and attacking the rim. JRK’s development is encouraging and a definite building block moving forward past this year. 

Perhaps the biggest concern will be how Notre Dame handles ACC competition. The opposition will be bigger, longer, more athletic, more skilled and more physical. The physicality in the ACC will be an interesting detail to watch, given Notre Dame hasn’t handled it well through the non-conference stretch. 

The officials let NC State and Notre Dame play on Wednesday, which was good to see. It gave the Irish problems on both ends of the floor, but Notre Dame is going to need to raise its level of physicality or, at a minimum, embrace the physical play of the league. If not, they will get left behind quickly. 

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