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Notre Dame Basketball

WBB | Is the Starting Five the Most Talented Ever at Notre Dame?

February 28, 2019

Irish fans have just one regular season game, plus the ACC and NCAA tournament games, to enjoy what is arguably the most talented starting five Notre Dame has ever put on the court at one time.  Prospects Nation rated all five as top ten recruits, but it took some twists and turns to enable them to all play together this season.

Brianna Turner, who was rated in the top five by both major recruiting sites (Prospects Nation and HoopGurlz), would have finished her career last season if she hadn’t suffered the knee injury that cost her all of the national championship season last year.  

Jess Shepard would be playing her final season at Nebraska had she not elected to transfer before last season, and the Irish would likely still be sitting with just one national championship without her contributions last year.  She was ranked third in her class by HoopGurlz and fourth by Prospects Nation, which rated Arike Ogunbowale fifth and Marina Mabrey seventh in the same class.  Prospects Nation rated junior Jackie Young as second in her class.

This team is currently averaging 87.9 points per game — the highest of any of ND team over the prior eight seasons plus the 2001 National Champions and 1997 Final Four team.  The team that is closest is last year’s National Champions at 85.1 points per game.

This team is also shooting better than any of the prior teams cited above — 51.8% from the field.  Only two other teams topped 50% from the field — last season’s champs finished at 50.6% and the 2013-14 team shot 50.6% from the field in ND’s inaugural season in the ACC.  

This season’s team sports a margin of victory of 25.0 points per game despite playing what is rated as the nation’s toughest schedule.  Last year’s national champions were 17.3 points better than opponents.

This ND team is making 55.4% of its two-point attempts.  Last season’s 53.6% was the previous high water mark.  Four of the Irish starters are averaging above 50% from the field and all four rank in the top six in ACC conference play. Turner and Shepard lead the ACC in field goal percentage at 65.9% and 59.4%, Young is fifth at 53.9% and Mabrey seventh at 53.1. Only seven players in the ACC are shooting better than 50% from the field in conference play. Young and Mabrey are the only guards to do so. For the full season, Turner is shooting 62.4%, Shepard 59.9%, Young 54.6% and Mabrey 51.8%.

Only Arike Ogunbowale, who became Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer last Thursday night against Duke, is a sub-50% shooter at 45.5% for the season and 41.4% in conference.  These averages place her 12th among all ACC players for the full season and 13th against conference opponents.  Ogunbowale has struggled shooting on the road against ACC opponents this season.  She's making 35.3% of her field goal attempts on the road, 26.1% from three, and 72% from the line (a perfect 11 for 11 the last two road games moved her above 70%). At home, she's 50% from the field, 50% from three, and 90% from the line. 

Despite the conference road shooting woes, her 45.5% field goal percentage for all 29 games is the best of her four years.  She has led the Irish in scoring in 17 of the 29 games to date including the last five in a row, averaging 21.3 points per game over that span.  She’s hit 30 or more five times. Her full season average leads the ACC. She is also the ACC’s top scorer at 19.3 per game in conference-only games.

Over the past five games since the loss at Miami, she’s led the team in scoring each outing scoring an average of 24.2 points. She’s made 47.3% of her field goal attempts including 46.7 from three.  She’s made 91.3% of her free throws over the past five games.  She’s also averaged 4.6 assists per game with an A/TO ratio of 3.3.

Ogunbowale is faster with the ball than most opposing players are without it.  Her speed helps her get to the basket on fast breaks and in the half court offense.  Her 168 free throw attempts are the most on the team and she’s converting at a 78.6% rate for the season, which is tops among the five starters.

ND’s three guards are in the top six in the ACC in assists and assist to turnover ratio in conference play.  Mabrey is second in the ACC with 4.8 assists with a 2.0 A/TO ratio.  Ogunbowale is fourth averaging 4.7 assists per game in conference with an A/TO ratio of 2.2. Young is sixth in the conference with an average of 4.5 assists per game and third with a 2.3 A/TO ratio. 

Young is best of the three for the full season at 5.0 assists per game and an A/TO of 2.5, which is the best among all guards in the ACC. Mabrey is at 4.6 assists per game for the season and an A/TO ratio of 2.1.  Ogunbowale’s passing performance has picked up in the ACC after averaging 3.4 assists in the 14 non-conference games — her full-season averages are 4.0 assists and 1.7 A/TO.

Mabrey is the most accurate three-point shooter in ACC play.  She’s made 48.9% of her attempts in conference games.  She had trouble finding the range in her first three games after returning from an injury that kept her on the sidelines for the first five games of the season.  She only made 5 of 19 (26.3%) in those games. She’s made 48.9% of her three-point attempts (53 for 104) over the last 21 games. For the season, she’s made 59.3% of her two-point attempts.

Mabrey will likely soon hold the Notre Dame record for most career three-point field goals.  After connecting on 3 of 7 attempts against Syracuse Monday night, she now trails current record holder, Alicia Ratay, by just seven.  She’s no threat to Ratay’s career accuracy mark of 46.7%, which is still the best in NCAA history.

Mabrey has scored 1,803 career points — just 196 shy of 2,000.  If the Irish were to play the maximum number of available games (10), she would need to average 19.6 points a game to make it.  She’s currently averaging 15.0 points per game in the ACC.

Turner is also flirting with 2,000 points — she’s currently at 1,852 points.  At her current scoring rate, she probably doesn’t have enough games remaining to get there.  She has a better shot at reaching the 1,000 rebound mark — she needs 38 more and if she maintains her season average of 7.6 per game, she can get the caroms she needs in five games.  She’s also flirting with the career record for blocks of 370 currently held by Ruth Riley.  She needs 29 more to break that record.  She’s averaging 3.1 blocks in the ACC.

Two of the seniors — Ogunbowale and Shepard — have already scored over 2,000 points.  Shepard has also collected 1,136 rebounds to go with her 2,154 points in her two years at Nebraska and two with the Irish.  Shepard has twelve double-doubles (points and rebounds) games this season.  For here combined career at both schools, Shepard has made 61% from the line, and she only managed to make a little over half her free throws in the non-conference this season. She has found the range in the ACC. She is currently making 81.7% from the line in the 15 conference games, which is seventh best in the conference and tops for the team in ACC play.

Shepard delivers on the road where she averages more points and rebounds (16.6 points and 11.7 rebounds) than at home (15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds).  Her road play in the ACC is even better — she averages 17.8 points, makes 65.5% of her shots, and snags 10.9 rebounds.  She also has more assists, steals, and blocks on the road.  She’s averaged 3.7 assists in the 15 ACC games played to date — good for 12th in the conference.  A number of TV analysts consider her outlet passing the best in the nation.  She gets Notre Dame’s fast break going which has helped ND lead its opponents in fast break points 17.3 to 5.6 per game.

The lone junior among the starters, Young, does everything well. Head coach Muffet McGraw believes she has the potential to be the best ever to play for the Irish.  She shoots well (54.6% for the season), rebounds (6.9 per game), assists (5.0 per game), and plays defense.  She is steady and reliable contributor at home and on the road.

All five starters are among the 30 players named to the Naismith Trophy mid-season watch list.  Only two other schools — Oregon and UConn — have as many as three.

Finally, WNBA draft projections have all five starters being selected in the three-round draft with Young the top pick even though she is still a junior.  WNBA draft rules permit a junior to declare if she turns 22 the same year of the draft.  Young will have that option after the season.

Since losing at Miami on February 7th, ND is playing at another level and is hitting high gear with post-season play looming. The Irish are averaging 95.2 points per game with an average margin of victory of 31.6 points despite playing three ranked teams with two of them on the road.

Assists are up to 25 a game vs. 20.6 for the whole season with an A/TO ratio is at 1.9 vs. the season average of 1.4.  Field goal shooting over the past five games is at 53.5% vs. 51.7% for the whole season. Free throw shooting has improved to 76% from 72.7%. The Irish advantage on the boards averages 15 over the latest five games vs. 9.5 for the season.

The Irish are the only team averaging over 80 points per game in conference play and for the full season.  The 87.5 points per game in ACC play is 13 points per game better than the number two team, Syracuse.  ND is the only team making over 50% of its field goals in both ACC play (51.4%) and the regular season (51.8%). 

Notre Dame also leads the ACC in margin of victory in conference (26.9) and full season (25.0). The Irish also lead all ACC teams in rebounds, assists, assist to turnover ratio, and blocked shots.  

With the season winding down, we should all enjoy this group while we can.  It may be a while before we see this much talent starting for ND again.

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