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Men’s Basketball

Irish prep for Crimson Tide on short rest in round of 64

| Friday, March 18, 2022

Notre Dame versus Alabama. It’s not a postseason battle that has favored the Irish in recent years in a certain popular sport. But now the two schools meet on the hardwood rather than the gridiron. All that’s at stake is a berth in the round of 32 and the opportunity to keep dancing in March.

Quick Turnaround

For the Irish, it’s like blinking and playing again. Their First Four battle with Rutgers started around 9:30 and bled past midnight. The Irish needed a huge defensive stop at the end of regulation, a game-tying layup at the end of the first overtime, and a game-winning bucket with 1.4 seconds left in double overtime to triumph over the Scarlet Knights.

“If there’s a better game in the NCAA Tournament, I gotta see it,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “That was an unbelievable college basketball game…We’ll get our legs under us by Friday afternoon.”

Sure enough, the Irish got on a plane shortly after their game ended on Wednesday night (more accurately, Thursday morning). “Sleep is for the weak,” Brey joked on the plane in a Snapchat video posted shortly before takeoff. The team is now in San Diego and preparing for a game that tips off at 4:15 EST, so 1:15 local time (PST) for the Irish.

Sizing up Bama

Alabama is a lethal offensive team, ranking top-15 in KenPom adjusted offensive efficiency. It’s hard to find a more inconsistent team than the Crimson Tide, however. They boast victories against No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 15 Houston, and No. 4 Baylor. Besides that, however, the Tide’s resume features losses to Iona, Memphis, Davidson, and Georgia. They enter the NCAA Tournament on a three-game losing streak. In the SEC Tournament, Alabama entered as the sixth seed and lost their preliminary round game to eleventh seed Vanderbilt.

Guard Keon Ellis is one of Alabama’s X-Factors. He gets it done on all levels in the offensive game. He’s third on the Crimson Tide with 12.0 points per game. He also leads the squad with 6.0 rebounds per contest. Defensively, he notches nearly two steals per game, with 62 on the season. The next best Alabama player has 29 steals. Not far behind with 26 steals Alabama’s leading scorer Jaden Shackleford, who averages 16.7 points per game. He and Ellis are tied for the team lead in shooting percentage beyond the arc, both making 35.6% of their efforts from range.

Jahvon Quinerly rounds out Alabama’s trio of top scorers. He averages 14.3 points per contest. For the Irish, it’s about honing in on these three players and making someone else on the Crimson Tide win this game. Alabama is not extremely deep in high-level scorers, and the Irish must shut down the top options.

Notre Dame Keys To Victory

Notre Dame has a few different make-or-break areas that could decide this game.

Get Laszewski Hot

Senior forward Nate Laszewski poured in 18 points against Rutgers. Laszewski also strokes the three-ball very well for a forward, shooting from deep at a 46.2% clip. When his shot is going, Laszewski can be a total mismatch. And when he draws more defensive attention, that opens lanes for other seniors to make shots. Senior guards Cormac Ryan, Dane Goodwin, Prentiss Hubb, and Trey Wertz can all drill their open looks and create space. A strong effort from Laszewski opens up a lot of lanes for the offense.

“I’m really proud of him. He has really grown and on this stage, this was a new stage for these seniors, Nate, Dane (Goodwin), and Prentiss (Hubb). And I thought they delivered,” Brey commented.

Let Cormac Cook

Ryan has long felt like a defensive stalwart who occasionally made a shot. But, more frequently, he’s becoming a reliable offensive contributor. Ryan was all over the court on Wednesday night. Firstly, there were his 16 points, all of which seemed to come at pivotal moments. He played lockdown defense on Rutger’s final possession of regulation, forcing a contested jumper. Additionally, in the first overtime, he collected a steal off of an inbounds pass and laid it in to push the Irish back in front and avoid a must-foul situation. He’s a leader at all times for the Irish, and the offense flows when he’s an additional shot-making threat on the court.

Keep It Cool

Alabama has an elite offense. They rarely get shut down and, much like Rutgers, they’re probably going to hit some demoralizing shots. They may go on a run or two. But against such an outstanding offense and playing on short rest, Notre Dame must remain locked in. Mike Brey isn’t too worried about this, noting “we’ve grown a lot in the mental toughness area.”

Having such a senior-laden squad helps with that, as the Irish have displayed a knack for closing out games. They are now 3-0 in overtime contests this season. This team rarely got blown out this season, and they’ll need to keep that calm and collected attitude against an Alabama team that’s capable of scoring — and fast.

For Mike Brey, it’s about capitalizing on the momentum generated in the First Four and carrying that to San Diego for their Round of 64 battle. Brey said as much to the team themselves: “My quote was ‘let’s use Dayton as a springboard.‘”

 

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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