After what transpired earlier this week, Wake Forest and Notre Dame both could use a hug, a box of tissues and a strong performance on Sunday. Both teams sauntered off the court at the final buzzer with towels over their heads, albeit for polar reasons.
Playing in Syracuse, the Orange jumped out to a 31-14 lead on the Irish. The Orange by over 20 points for most of the second half. Yes, the 81-66 scoreboard actually makes the game look closer than it was.
The Demon Deacons on the other hand... we know what happened there. Wake LITERALLY defied statisticians by losing a game up seven with the ball and 20 seconds left. #WakeWill DO THE IMPOSSIBLE.
Both teams clash on Sunday looking for answers. And more importantly, looking for results. We spoke to Adam Steinbach at One Foot Down to analyze the Fighting Irish, how they'll respond to adversity and how they'll perform against the Demon Deacons.
1. The Fighting Irish opened conference play losing two of their first three. Then, they reeled off a four game win streak. Now they got walloped in Syracuse. What happened on (Thursday night)? Do you write off the game against the Orange or is this team streaky?
I think a fair amount of what happened on Thursday can be chalked up to being without Demetrius Jackson. The whole attitude surrounding the game just had an air of being able to "afford" to lose one, and it never really looked right from the start. They were too methodical on offense, trying to "figure out" the Syracuse zone that always gives Brey teams trouble rather than just attacking like DJ likely would've been able to do. And defensively, Syracuse offers some tough matchups, especially with the lineup that Brey was forced to go with. It was all a recipe for disaster and just a really poor effort, but how it will be interpreted depends a lot on how they bounce back on Sunday.
2. According to KenPom, Notre Dame is ranked as the most efficient offense in the nation. What makes this team so difficult to defend?
It has been very balanced, especially in recent weeks. They do not turn the ball over (best in the nation in that category). Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson have really energized the offensive rebounding attack. Jackson has been a maestro with the pick and roll and is starting to replicate how it looked with Jerian Grant last year. Great free throw shooting in conference play. And at the end of the day, they just have a few guys (Jackson, Vasturia, Colson) who can hit tough shots with the shot clock running out. Honestly, the only thing they aren't doing well consistently is shooting the 3, which is very un-Notre-Dame-like.
3. Demetrius Jackson is one of the most skilled point guards in the NCAA and is widely regarded as a late-lottery pick. What makes him so lethal and what’s the best way to contain him?
Well the best way to contain him is to pull his hamstring, so we'll see if he suits up on Sunday. All reports were that he looked good and pain-free earlier this week, but it is something that the team wants to approach very cautiously because hamstring pulls can be so tricky. He's very quick, but he is also built like a running back, so he is very adept at getting into the lane and finishing in traffic. He can also shoot at every level, so he's very much a pick your poison type of player to defend. He doesn't turn the ball over all that much and, like I said before, has really hit his stride in terms of commanding the offense and the pick and roll attack that propelled the team to a historically good (at least in the KenPom era) offense last season. He's the complete package at point guard. It's just his health that we have to worry about.
4. Notre Dame generally plays small without a true center. Wake’s best player is big man Devin Thomas who uses his size and physicality to impact the game on both ends. How should/will the Fighting Irish defend him to keep him at base?
I think you'll see Zach Auguste on Devin Thomas most of the game Sunday, probably with some minutes with Colson (undersized but great wing span - you'll hear this a few times during Sunday's broadcast, I'm sure) at the 5. But it's mostly going to be Auguste's challenge to limit the damage from Thomas. Brey has had some success in the last couple years (most notably in last year's ACC semifinal against Duke) of just letting teams dump it into the post to their big man without offering any help but staying tight on shooters, sacrificing efficient production down low for not letting someone else get hot from outside. So the answer might not be "trying to limit Thomas" but rather "trying to limit everyone else".
5. How do you expect this game going and what is your prediction?
This depends a lot on Jackson's availability, and maybe it's just the bitter taste from the Syracuse game, but I'm not exactly feeling great about this one without him. Notre Dame has been prone to allowing teams to have big first halves in South Bend, then bouncing back for a big second half themselves and ultimately winning a lot of those games. I think I expect a similar script in this one, but without Jackson, will they be able to bounce back after giving up a big first half and close down the stretch? I'm not sure who closes for this team without him, because Jackson has been terrific in the last few minutes in games against Georgia Tech, Duke, Virginia Tech, and even all the way back against Iowa in November. With Jackson, I'll expect something like a 81-73 Irish win, needing free throws in the final minute to put it away. Without Jackson, and a close 73-70 Wake Forest win would not surprise me in the least.