De Jesus: Notre Dame has more potential than in past years
Manuel De Jesus | Wednesday, May 3, 2017
No. 4 Notre Dame was one comeback away from capturing its second ACC championship in four years, but it ultimately fell 14-10 to No. 9 North Carolina. While the Irish failed to hoist the conference trophy, this year’s team is positioned to make a deeper run into the NCAA tournament than last year’s squad.
Last season, it was clear who the leader of the Irish was: Former attack Matt Kavanagh did it all. He led Notre Dame (8-4, 2-2 ACC) with 50 points on the season, tallying 21 goals and 29 assists. In addition to Kavanagh, then-sophomore attack Mikey Wynne, then-freshman attack Ryder Garnsey and then-junior midfielder Sergio Perkovic all scored over 20 goals on the season. It was, without a doubt, one of the more prolific offenses in the nation. But this year’s offense has a bit more potential.
Twelve games into the season, there are five different players with at least 16 goals and seven players with at least 11 points. Garnsey is leading the offense thus far with 39 points — 19 goals and 20 assists. Wynne follows Garnsey with a team-leading 25 goals and four assists. Perkovic has scored 22 goals and added seven assists, and sophomore midfielder Brendan Gleason and freshman midfielder Bryan Costabile have both recorded 16 goals. While sophomore midfielder Drew Schantz doesn’t have double digit goals scored, he has garnered 11 points with six goals and five assists.
Unlike last season, there isn’t a single clear threat on the Irish roster. While that doesn’t necessarily sound like a positive, the versatility of the team’s roster gives Notre Dame a multitude of options in any given game in the NCAA tournament to spark the offense. In last season’s NCAA quarterfinals loss to North Carolina, outside of Kavanagh and Wynne, no other Irish player scored more than two goals, and when they failed to find opportunities to score, the offense relied solely on Perkovic, who took 14 shots throughout the game without converting any into goals.
This season, while the average goals per game are lower by .17, the offense has been able to score 10.83 goals per game on 150 fewer shot attempts. The offense this year also has a higher shot percentage — 31.4 percent to 29.3 percent — and a higher percentage of shots on goal — 60.9 percent to 58.9 percent.
While the offense has improved in terms of its versatility, the defense has done just as well as last year’s squad, which is promising when competing against the country’s best in the NCAA tournament. Despite allowing 1.33 more goals per game, Notre Dame is still holding opponents’ shot percentage to under 30 percent and the shot-on-goal percentage to 58.5 percent, which is identical to last year’s team. The most critical stat, however, is one that is often overlooked: The Irish have committed 44 fewer turnovers than last year’s team. At the end of a one-score game in the NCAA tournament, it’s crucial to protect the ball, and this year’s Irish team has done that time and time again. It also helps that they’ve earned four one-score wins over elite opposition.
The defense hasn’t necessarily improved, but the offense’s versatility and ability to value the ball more than last year’s team will likely get them over the hump and back into the Final Four for the third time in the last four years.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.