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Irish eyes 2nd straight year without NCAA bid

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

January 27, 2019 04:30 PM

Heading into Monday night’s nationally televised battle against Duke (ESPN, 7 p.m.), Notre Dame is facing the reality that it could miss the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. That hasn’t happened since March of 2005 and 2006. 

A typical weak spot for Mike Brey-coached teams is once again an issue this season. His teams play at a very slow pace, which can trick the media and casual bettors into thinking Notre Dame plays good defense. That might be true by national standards. But by “Dance” standards, the Irish defense is usually pretty soft. 

Notre Dame has been ranked around #100 in Ken Pomeroy’s “adjusted defensive efficiency” in recent weeks. If that holds for the full 2018-19 season, it would rate near the median of the last five seasons. 

No Defensive Fight for Irish

2017-18: #68 

2016-17: #61

2015-16: #158

2014-15: #99

“Adjusted defensive efficiency” reflect points-per-possession allowed while factoring in quality of opposition. With 353 college basketball teams in Pomeroy’s database, how bad could that be? Not a problem if you’re playing Chicago State or Jacksonville. It’s a much bigger issue in a tough conference like the ACC, or in postseason challenges. 

Quality opponents aren’t afraid of major conference defenses that rank that low. Talented offenses can control their own destiny. Even less-than-talented but “smart” offenses will patiently work for a good look. Opponents are going to get points. That places a huge burden on the Irish offense to make up for what the defense is allowing even in games that seem low-scoring to casual fans. 

Notre Dame’s highlight victory in non-conference action came on a neutral court against Purdue. It had to shoot 52% on treys (11/21) on the way to 88 points to score that upset as a 5.5-point underdog in Indianapolis. No team can stay that hot on treys on a regular basis. Two games later, the Irish could only muster 63 points as a 30-point favorite over Coppin State in a seven-point sleepwalk. 

Bettors hoping the Irish would get things turned around have been repeatedly burned, particularly through a poor start in ACC action. There’s little evidence now that Notre Dame will be a money maker or a tournament team down the stretch. Anything can happen in a given game, particularly if the crowd shows up big for national TV cameras. It’s going to take a lot of given games to get the Irish back on the bracketology radar, or into the profit zone for gamblers. 

The ACC can currently be broken down as follows:

  • National Championship threats: Duke, Virginia.
  • Championship Dark Horses: North Carolina, Virginia Tech.
  • Very Likely Dance-bound: Louisville, NC State, Florida State, Syracuse.
  • Can See the Bubble: Clemson.
  • Also-Rans: Pittsburgh, Miami, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest.

Notre Dame has five games left amidst the also-rans, and six games counting Duke against opponents in better categories. Bettors should avoid the Irish until the defense improves. If it doesn’t, keep betting the other way.

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