Coming into the 2008-2009 college basketball campaign, many media outlets (including the much-loved Blue Ribbon Yearbook) had Notre Dame tabbed as a sure-fire Top 5 outfit. From the outset, we have been apprehensive about the Fighting Irish as a Final Four team.
Certainly, the Irish have the best set of shooters assembled on a collegiate roster this season, led by Kyle McAlarney and Ryan Ayers. Tory Jackson is a strong distributor with improved shooting faculties (but an ugly 48.5 FT% - remember that). And, oh yeah, Luke Harangody is the reigning Big East Player of the Year. Though he missed two games and was limited in two others due to a case of pneumonia, ‘Gody averages 23.0 points and 12.0 rebounds per game. The Irish run an elite, efficient offense. However, it’s the same old story in South Bend with a twist.
At Notre Dame, defense is optional and everyone knows it. Nationally, the Irish rank 133rd in FG% defense. They also do not cause turnovers (that said, they are tops nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio). When you combine the mixed bag that is the 3-point shot with questionable defensive prowess, you don’t get Final Four contender.
Here’s the unexpected twist. Last season, Notre Dame shot 73.8% (ranked 38th out 328 teams) from the free throw line. This season, the Irish make less than three of every five free throws (59.6 FT%; #308 national rank). Though the free-throw shooting woes have not ruined them in their two losses, it could burn them in a crucial game or two later in the season.
NOTE: The statistics used in this article can be found at the official NCAA website.