(Image – Erin Edgerton – Daily Progress)
As the Wahoos enter ACC play, they’ll be hoping to bounce back from Saturday afternoon’s drubbing at the hands of Gonzaga. In Notre Dame, Virginia will tip off against a dangerous opponent who will provide a litmus test for the ‘Hoos in ACC play. The Irish aren’t near the caliber of Gonzaga, but they’re still a capable, talented team that could cause trouble for a squad hoping to get back on the right foot.
What has Notre Dame done so far?
The Irish are 3-4 on the season with their only notable win coming against a flagging Kentucky team. That said, their four losses have been relatively close and have come against legitimate competition. So far, Notre Dame has lost to Michigan State by ten, to Ohio State by five, to Duke by ten, and then to Purdue by ten. While the Irish are yet to notch a big win, they’ve obviously played more high level opponents than the Wahoos have and are more accustomed to playing in tight games.
Breaking the Irish down
With Santa Clara transfer Trey Wertz gaining immediate eligibility to play in mid-December, the Irish have been running a roughly seven-man rotation. As a result of Wertz’s eligibility, Mike Brey has been using a four-guard starting lineup with stretch four Nate Laszewski as the center. That lineup of starting point guard Prentiss Hubb, shooting guard Wertz, wings Cormac Ryan and Dane Goodwin, along with Laszewski is deadly from behind the arc as all five guys shoot more than three three-point field goals per game with Hubb and Ryan shooting 8.0 and 5.9 per contest.
That ability to space the floor and then the mobility that comes with a four-guard lineup with a stretch four at the five makes the Irish a dangerous team considering the issues that this Wahoo squad has had on the defensive side of the ball. Guys like Trey Murphy and Sam Hauser will need to be able to stick with the quick Irish guards or else Virginia will be forced to play small ball. Additionally, Jay Huff’s matchup with Laszewski is an interesting one as the 6’10” junior is constantly setting screens and popping off of them. Huff will need to be quick in his hedges and recoveries while also being aware that Laszewski is a threat to slip the pick.
Prentiss Hubb is Notre Dame’s leader, though, and Kihei Clark will have his hands full guarding a player who shoots upwards of fourteen field goal attempts per game. If Clark can shut Hubb down, life will be much easier for the Virginia frontcourt.
On the other end, the Irish aren’t all that intimidating. Laszweski can be exploited on the interior — if UVa actually feeds Huff — and Notre Dame has struggled to find their defensive identity as their individual defense is nothing to write home about, and their rotations tend to be on the slower side. Brey has elected to mix a bit of zone defense in at certain times, and it’s very possible the ‘Hoos see some of that Saturday evening.
UVA will win if: the ‘Hoos are sounder defensively and can prevent Notre Dame’s small ball lineup from spacing them out too much. On the other end, guys like Sam Hauser and Trey Murphy will need to hit shots, while Jay Huff will hope to feast in the paint. But, most importantly, Virginia needs needs needs to take care of the ball and reverse course from the fifteen-turnover performance against Gonzaga.
Notre Dame will win if: The Irish can exploit Virginia’s still gelling defense while forcing Kihei Clark to beat them on the other end. The ‘Hoos have struggled guarding ball screens so far this season. So, Notre Dame will hope they can take advantage offensively and then just survive on the other end.
Score prediction: UVA 69 – Notre Dame 61
Virginia will get the bounce back win they’re needing, but it won’t be necessarily pretty. They’ll find their footing a bit more defensively, ideally with some more passionate play. Then, on offense, a few new schematic looks will help the ‘Hoos utilize the individual skill sets of their best players.