Do you like “old-school basketball”? Are you a fan of fundamentals? Are free throws, defensive footwork, and hustle plays some of your favorite things?
If so, Indiana vs. Notre Dame is about as good as it’s going to get.
Sure, the Irish love the three ball and the Hoosiers have terrific athleticism, but both teams are rooted at heart in some of the game’s most traditional concepts. It’s not about flash, but grit. It’s not pace and space, but methodical efficiency. It’s not AND1 mixtape, it’s more like a Dean Smith instructional video.
However, despite being focused on fundamentals, both teams are wildly inconsistent. In fact, they often look like completely different teams from week-to-week, game-to-game. Each vacillate from an entertaining brand of basketball to sluggish grind-it-out ugly play.
Thus, it seems unpredictability will reign supreme in the buildup to the 2019 edition of the Crossroads Classic. Which team will find their footing first? What team will be better able to execute their game plan? How will Indiana fare without Juwan Morgan who had always dominated the Crossroads Classic (dropping 34 and 35 points the last two seasons)?
Here is everything you need to know about Indiana’s next matchup against the top-70 Irish (according to Ken Pomeroy).
How to Watch
|Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Indiana Hoosiers
|Saturday, December 21, 2019, 12 p.m. ET
|Bankers Life Fieldhouse – Indianapolis, Indiana
|Find the Lowest Ticket Prices on SeatGeek
|IU Radio Network
|IU -2.5, Over-Under 142
Getting to Know the Fighting Irish
Notre Dame currently sits at 8-3 overall and 0-2 in the ACC, with the team’s three losses coming to Maryland, North Carolina, and Boston College. The Irish were projected to finish seventh in the preseason ACC poll. Notre Dame is currently 65th in the KenPom rankings.
Offensively, Notre Dame averages 76.0 points per game and shoots 41.9% from the field. The team relies heavily on three-point shooting (11th in the nation in 3P attempts) and rebounding (28th in the nation in total rebounding). The team is second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio and have the second-lowest offensive turnover percentage.
Defensively, Notre Dame allows 64.1 points per game (83rd) and hold opponents to 39.2% from the field (66th).
While there were obvious questions about Notre Dame’s roster coming into the season, few could have predicted their Jekyll and Hyde start to the year. If you watched two different Notre Dame games this season, you were likely to have seen two completely different Irish teams. Some games are highlighted by tremendous shooting and free-flowing play while others are bogged down by a completely stagnant offense with no direction and no creativity. The differences in the game film are nearly as stark as any imaginable.
Part of the team’s ebb and flow to the season is due to the quality of opponents. The Irish flat out dominated teams like Robert Morris, Howard, Detroit-Mercy, and Fairleigh Dickinson. The team likewise struggled against better opponents like Maryland and North Carolina (although UNC is certainly no behemoth this season).
Yet, there has not always been a direct correlation between quality of opponent and inconsistent Notre Dame performances. For example, the Irish struggled immensely against Toledo, only shooting 31.5% from the field and having to go to overtime to secure the victory. Then, Notre Dame looked abysmal in a loss to Boston College, who was only 5-5 at the time. This was followed by the Irish’s complete thrashing of UCLA, during a broadcast that left former Bruin legend Bill Walton disgusted with his alma mater.
Therefore, it is not the quality of talent that matters, but rather the style of play. The Irish struggle against tough man-to-man defenses. On the other hand, Notre Dame has a great deal of success against teams that play zone or have slow-reacting defenses. For example, the Irish had their way with UCLA because the Bruins sat in the zone and never applied ball pressure. As a result, Notre Dame was able to swing the ball and find the open shooter.
The bottom line is Notre Dame wants to shoot the ball, particularly from three. As mentioned, they are 11th in the nation in three-point field goal attempts with 322 so far this season and 13th in the nation in three-pointers made. If defenses can guard the perimeter and rotate to prevent open shooters, Notre Dame will struggle to score. If they don’t, Notre Dame will feast. Sophomore Prentiss Hubb and senior TJ Gibbs are the only real playmakers on the team. Most of the other players are spot-up shooters, cutters, or post players. Therefore, in order to score, they need to be able to find open looks. These looks are predicated on the aggressiveness (or lack of aggressiveness) of the opposing team’s defense.
Archie Miller echoed similar sentiments in a recent press conference, saying that the defense will need to communicate to prevent open looks.
“The three-point line is huge,” said Indiana coach Archie Miller. “Notre Dame – just look at where their point distribution is coming from – it’s coming from the three. They have a lot of guys that aren’t just okay shooters, they have a lot of great shooters. They have guys that can make them in bunches.”
Another key to Notre Dame is John Mooney, one of the most underrated players in all of the country. The 6’9, 245 lb power forward/stretch center has been extremely impressive over the last two seasons and a handful for any opponent on the schedule. Mooney is the leading rebounder in the nation at 13.4 boards per game. He is also the Irish’s leading scorer at 14.8 points per game and even contributes 2.2 assists per game. In the vein of former Irish standouts Jack Cooley and Luke Harangody, Mooney’s success comes from his ubiquitous nature and unbelievable work rate. However, Mooney separates himself by his terrific mid-range jumper and decision-making.
TJ Gibbs is another Irish standout. He averages 12.6 points, 3.8 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game while shooting 39.7% from three. Gibbs can stop and fire a three on a dime or hit you with a step back jumper. He is also one of the few players on the team that can successfully drive hard to the basket (he almost always drives to the right side of the lane).
Gibbs and Hubb are great guard complements because they each have unique qualities. Gibbs is direct and physical, while Hubb is creative and skillful, often sprinkling in a behind the back pass or bounce pass between defenders.
The other two names to remember are Dane Goodwin and Rex Phflueger. Goodwin originally committed to Ohio State but later re-opened recruitment after the departure of coach Thad Matta. This season, Goodwin has been outstanding and become one of the best sharp-shooters in the ACC. He is posting 11.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting 42.2% from beyond the arc and 95.7% from the free throw line. Notre Dame’s legendary coach Digger Phelps called Goodwin the team’s X-Factor on a recent television broadcast.
Last but not least, senior Phflueger is still the heart and soul of the Notre Dame team. He is the team’s best defender and a steadying hand on offense that does a little bit of everything. He is also the team’s clear-cut captain and most respected player. After battling through injury and his mother’s recent death, the team rallied around Phflueger flying to California for his mother’s funeral in September. He is the emotional and intellectual leader of the team.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Notre Dame Fighting Irish
|G: #3 Prentiss Hubb
|G: #1 Al Durham
|G: #10 TJ Gibbs
|G: #11 Devonte Green
|G: #0 Rex Pflueger
|F: #3 Justin Smith
|F: #11 Juwan Durham
|F: #4 Trayce Jackson-Davis
|F: #33 John Mooney
|C: #50 Joey Brunk
What to Watch for
1. Mooney against Indiana’s Frontcourt
One of the most interesting tactical matchups in the game will be John Mooney versus Indiana’s frontcourt depth. Indiana has several bigs that can play in the paint, both offensively and defensively. Notre Dame, on the other hand, relies almost entirely on John Mooney under the basket with a little rebounding assistance from perimeter players.
Luckily for Notre Dame, Mooney is one of the very best in the nation. Despite being undersized, he is college basketball’s best rebounder, can score, and can defend the post.
Statistically, Notre Dame and Indiana both average around 40 rebounds per game and are both in the top 50 in the nation. Can Indiana take advantage of Notre Dame being undersized and score around the rim? Will the Hoosiers get Mooney in foul trouble? Can Indiana find a way to assert itself under the basket and control the boards? Or, will John Mooney be able to ward off IU’s wave after wave of Jackson-Davis, Brunk, Smith, and Davis?
What will prevail: Indiana’s quantity or John Mooney’s quality?
2. The Turnover Battle
One of the key statistics to follow during the game is turnovers. As we highlighted above, Notre Dame is one of the best in the country at limiting turnovers, sitting with the 22nd fewest overall turnovers which breaks down to an average of about 9.7 per game. Indiana, however, has struggled throughout the year with sloppy turnovers. The Hoosiers are 233rd in turnovers, averaging 13.6 per game.
From a big picture sense, the number also will be indicative of which team’s style is prevailing. Has Indiana’s defense been disruptive or is Notre Dame finding a rhythm? Is Indiana rushing its offense or being methodical?
3. Indiana loves to get to the free throw line, but Notre Dame rarely fouls
As has been well documented, Indiana is the best in the country at getting to the free-throw line, ranking first in attempts and first in free-throw makes. Interestingly, Notre Dame is among the best at the often undiscussed, but important, statistic of free-throw defense.
To put it simply, Notre Dame rarely fouls opponents. They rank 19th in fewest opponent free-throws attempted. For comparison purposes, here are the numbers to give you an idea of the discrepancy between the two teams. In the same number of games (11), Indiana has attempted 323 free-throws, while Notre Dame’s opponents have only shot 126 free-throws.
Thus, what will prevail on Saturday: Indiana’s knack for getting to the line or Notre Dame’s disciplined foul prevention defense?
4. Can Notre Dame’s shortened bench sustain?
Archie Miller is currently employing an 11-man rotation. In the game against UConn, the Hoosiers won with a balanced scoring attack where no single player reached double digits in points.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, goes with a 7-man rotation. In fact, they only have 11 total players on their roster in entirety. They do not have any walk-on players / non-scholarship players.
In addition to dealing with Indiana’s ability to draw fouls, the Fighting Irish will also need to find a way to sustain against a deeper roster. Indiana utilizes an extra four players (likely three if Devonte Green is out), which is more than half of an entire line change.
We’ll find out on Saturday whether or not Notre Dame can keep up with a hungry group of hustling Hoosiers.
Photo: Irish Sports Daily