Indiana vs. Notre Dame Preview


Game Info:

Indiana Hoosiers (8-3, 1-2 on neutral courts) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-2, 1-2)

Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

When: Saturday, December 19 at 2:00 pm ET on ESPN2

Line: Notre Dame -1

Not to paint too bleak a picture, but Indiana needs a win at this year’s Crossroads Classic to prevent its non-conference season from being a complete and utter waste. The Hoosiers have just one win against a KenPom top 100 team, #60 Creighton. And it’s not as though Indiana has been losing to great teams either: Tom Crean’s non-conference strength of schedule currently ranks 281st in the country. If IU can’t beat Notre Dame, there is nothing from the first two months of the season that will impress the selection committee.

So let’s talk about the Irish. In many ways, playing Notre Dame is like looking into the mirror for Indiana. Notre Dame also struggled in its tournament over Thanksgiving week, sandwiching bad losses to Monmouth and Alabama around a victory over Iowa. Both teams are incredibly efficient on offense (Notre Dame ranks second nationally in adjusted offense, Indiana ranks fourth), and both teams largely treat defense as optional (Indiana is #111 in adjusted defense, Notre Dame is #129). Both teams have a dynamic point guard and interior presence who they surround with an army of shooters (For IU that’s Yogi Ferrell and Thomas Bryant, in case you were wondering).

For Notre Dame, that point guard is Demetrius Jackson. After a couple years of playing second (sometimes third) fiddle to Jerian Grant and others, this is undeniably Jackson’s team now. Jackson has posted an impressive line of 17.8 points and five assists per game thus far, with 55/42/74 shooting splits. The interior presence I mentioned is Zach Auguste. Auguste has steadily improved every year under Mike Brey and now can be considered a fringe Player of the Year candidate. Before you scoff at that last sentence, note that Auguste is averaging a double-double of 14.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. The Thomas Bryant/Auguste matchup should be a great one, provided Bryant stays out of foul trouble.

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Notre Dame has a few deadeye shooters besides Jackson. Steve Vasturia (44 percent), VJ Beachem (43 percent), and Matt Ryan (41 percent) can all light it up from behind the arc. Of those three, only Vasturia can really be considered a threat as a slasher–the other two are largely spot-up shooters. The biggest difference between IU and Notre Dame is that for Notre Dame, that’s it. Brey only goes seven players deep this year, with Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell rounding out the rotation. The fact that Crean can go deeper with more offensive weapons at his disposal gives Indiana a huge advantage in that regard.

What will likely decide the game will be which team can effectively dictate pace. The Hoosiers obviously love to run and gun, and Brey has been perfecting his “burn” offense for years now (which is why the Irish rank 329th in tempo, per KenPom).

When run correctly, the “burn” runs the shot clock as low as possible before getting an extremely high-percentage shot. Historically, this has involved a dynamic one-on-one player like Ben Hansbrough or Jerian Grant beating his defender for a layup or kicking it out for a wide-open three. This year, Jackson and Auguste like to run a two-man game when the shot clock gets under ten seconds. This is typically effective because Auguste is phenomenal at rolling to the basket, and even better at drawing fouls. If the defense collapses, Jackson or Auguste can kick it to any of the aforementioned shooters.

Therefore, Indiana will do everything in its power to speed up the pace–pushing the ball in transition whenever possible, and trying to force Notre Dame to play at a faster tempo than the Irish would prefer. The perimeter battle between Ferrell and Jackson and the interior battle between Bryant and Auguste will both be pivotal. In the end, I think Indiana’s perimeter depth and tempo will be too much for Notre Dame, and Tom Crean gets a much needed quality win.

Prediction: Indiana 83, Notre Dame 79