NCAA tournament team previews: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats are through Monday, March 16.
Record: 29-5 (14-4 ACC)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 122.1 (2nd)/99.7 (112th)
Seed: Midwest No. 3
Impact player: Jerian Grant, senior, guard. 16.8 ppg, 6.6 apg, 123.7 offensive rating
The Case For: An egalitarian offense that is among the nation’s most efficient—ranked second on that end of the floor—led by Grant, an SI All-America veteran playmaker. The Irish have the No. 1 effective field goal percentage in the country at 58.6. They have a turnover percentage of just 14.4, third-lowest nationally. And six rotation players have usage rates between 18% and 27.0%. The ability to trust multiple offensive options and minimize mistakes should keep Notre Dame in most games.
Where it has sometimes fallen short in previous NCAA tournament flameouts is in the athleticism department, with losses to Florida State in 2011 and Iowa State in 2013 specifically springing to mind. But Grant, guard Demetrius Jackson, forward Pat Connaughton and 6’10” forward Zach Auguste should alleviate those concerns. And as much as everything flows through Grant, Notre Dame was 2-3 in his five lowest-scoring games of the regular season. It is not the preferred way to operate, but it is possible the Irish can survive without the 6’5” senior filling it up.
The Case Against: Notre Dame is 1-4 in the NCAA tournament since 2010. It hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since 2003. The Irish have made a habit of entering the NCAA brackets and ... well, to put it kindly, they fail to make the critical plays to advance. To be less generous? They seize up in the moment. The personnel has turned over enough that this group has a mostly clean slate, but the program is not free of that burden until it successfully navigates the first weekend.
More quantifiably, Notre Dame isn’t a great defensive team (112th nationally in efficiency) nor on the glass (sub-200th in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage). Besides Auguste, there is really no size in the lineup, even if 6’5” freshman Bonzie Colson has been a revelation on the blocks. If a team gets into Notre Dame and overplays Grant, turning things into a grind, that so-so defense and history of shot-making shortcomings comes into play again.