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Get To Know A Marquette Basketball Opponent: Notre Dame

It’s been nearly a decade since these two teams faced off.

California v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Name: University of Notre Dame du Lac

Du Lac? Really? I mean, if you want to trust Wikipedia. It’s not like it’s on any official letter head from Notre Dame at this point. In any case, it’s a French language thing. Notre Dame is French for Our Lady, so obviously, it has to be Our Lady of something. Let’s move along to a new section before we get out of control here and start overlapping....

Founded: The Bishop of Vincennes handed over some land to Rev. Edward Sorin in 1842 to build a college. Technically, he didn’t do that, starting off with a primary and secondary school, but the state of Indiana gave the school a college charter in 1844. The control of the land dates back to the 1830s when Rev. Stephen Badin started missionary work to the Potowatomi tribe in the area, and he named the mission after the local lake, Lake Saint Mary. While the lake is now split in two, Saint Josephs Lake and Saint Marys Lake, the whole thing ties together with the school being named after the original mission: Our Lady of the Lake. I presume the Mary in question is the Blessed Mother, particularly with the other lake bearing the name of Jesus’ other parent.

Location: Notre Dame, Indiana

I thought it was in South Bend? This is one of those “we gave them their own zip code, so we gave them their own unincorporated area” situations. Yes, it’s in South Bend, but officially, the mail goes to Notre Dame, zip code 46556

Enrollment: According to their official filings for the 2021-22 school year, 13,139 students, with 8,973 undergraduates.

Nickname: Fighting Irish

Why “Fighting Irish”? A fantastic question since Fr. Sorin was French. Even Notre Dame isn’t 100% clear on how it happened, attributing a little bit to Civil War history, and a little bit to apocryphal locker room stories, and a little bit to choosing to steer away from particularly anti-Catholic sentiment into merely cartoonish stereotypes about the Irish. It became official in 1927 when university president Rev. Matthew Walsh signed off on it.

I don’t know about Irish, but Fighting is fine by me after this: In 1924, Notre Dame students — including future Four Horsemen member Harry Stuhldreher — banded together to literally physically fight the Ku Klux Klan out of South Bend and off UND’s campus.

This is Brian Kelly’s fault: I am going to tell you that Notre Dame’s official athletics website has, under their About heading, a section titled Aerial Lift Safety, and I am going to let you click on that and read it and then do follow up reading on it if you do not know what this is about.

The Worst Greek Rush Week In The Country: Notre Dame has zero fraternities or sororities. None. Zip. Zilch. Why? They choose to accentuate their random freshman year housing assignments and refuse to approve any charters for Greek social organizations on campus.

Golden Domers: I think anyone who’s been following college athletics long enough has heard Notre Dame fans and alumni referred to as Domers one way or another, but it does have a little bit of truth and honesty to it. The dome in question is the Main Building on campus (that’s really the name), and the top of the building is an actual golden dome. The dome is gilded with actual gold leaf, and the dome must be regilded from time to time to maintain its appearance. The leftover leaf from the regilding process is used not only in the gold paint on the football team’s helmets, but on UND’s diplomas as well. That’s actually really cool.

Interestingly, it is a campus superstition that enrolled undergraduate students are not allowed to use the front steps to the Main Building. I saw one story that alleges that this dates back to a student cutting class and relaxing on the steps and being threatened with expulsion if they did not get to where they belonged. Notre Dame claims it has to do with 19th century porch etiquette, so I know which story I prefer.

Notable Alumni: No one.

Oh, come on now, do the bit. Okay, fine.

Regis Flipping Philbin; Ted Adams, co-founder, publisher, and CEO of IDW Publishing; G. Simon Harak, S.J., former Director of Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking; author Nicholas Sparks, best known for A Walk To Remember & The Notebook; Meredith Black, Marquette head women’s lacrosse coach; actor Mark Consuelos, most recently known for his role as Hiram Lodge on Riverdale; James E. Muller, 1985 Nobel Peace Prize recipient as the co-founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War; former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; screenwriter Stephen McFeely, best known for his work with writing partner Christopher Markus on the Narnia movies as well as the Captain America/Avengers movies; John Murphy, the inventor of the first LAN; television producer Don Ohlmeyer, the first producer of Monday Night Football; Josiah Bartlett, former President of the United States; Eric F. Wieschaus, 1995 Nobel Prize for Physiology/Medicine recipient for his work involving the genetic control of embryonic development; the founding members of the band Umphrey’s McGee; Megan Duffy, Marquette head women’s basketball coach; Julius Nieuwland, the inventor of neoprene; Adolfo Calero, Nicaraguan rebel leader; Larry Williams, former Marquette athletic director; talk show host Phil Donahue; Jim Andrews and John McMeel, co-founders of Universal Press Syndicate; noted acting That Guy William Mapother; and finally, United States Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Honorary Degrees Conferred: Probably a lot of them because it’s a very old school, but I want to focus on one in particular: Li’l Sebastian, the miniature horse on Parks & Recreation has an honorary (albeit fictional) degree from Notre Dame. This entertains me for multiple reasons, one of which is this is clearly show creator Michael Schur giving a shoutout to his father-in-law, Regis Philbin. This also gives me an excuse to drop in this tribute to Li’l Sebastian.

Shouts to Mouse Rat.

Last Season: 24-11, with a 15-5 record in the ACC. That gave them a #11 seed in the NCAA tournament, and after beating Rutgers in double overtime in the First Four, Notre Dame advanced to the second round with an upset win against Alabama.

Final Ranking: #38

Final T-Rank Ranking: #36

This Year So Far: 7-2, with an 0-1 start to ACC play. The Irish are 1-1 against KenPom top 100 opponents after beating Michigan State at home, but also losing to Syracuse at home.

Current KenPom Ranking & Projection: #78 and projected to finish 18-13 overall and 9-11 in the ACC. That would have them tied for 10th place.

Current T-Rank Ranking & Projection: #82 and projected to finish 18-13 overall and 9-11 in the ACC. That would have them tied for 10th place.

Returning Stats Leaders

Points: Dane Goodwin, 12.6 ppg
Rebounds: Nate Laszewski, 6.5 rpg
Assists: Trey Wertz, 2.0 apg

Actual Stats Leaders

Points: Nate Laszewski, 13.7 ppg
Rebounds: Nate Laszewski, 8.4 rpg
Assists: Trey Wertz, 4.2 apg

Shooters? Trey Wertz seems insistent that he is a big time shooter, firing off 5.9 long range attempts per game to lead the team. However, he’s only hitting 34% of them this season. Now, in his defense, he’s hit over 39% of his triples in each of the past three seasons, one at Santa Clara and the past two at ND. Cormac Ryan, possibly The Most Notre Dame Player Ever, hasn’t shot under 34% since arriving on a transfer from Stanford after his freshman year, and on top of that, he’s gotten better every year. The real problem for MU is that he found a way to get better from 40% last year and is currently draining 45% of his threes right now. We want Radford Cormac Ryan (0-for-5), not Michigan State Cormac Ryan (6-for-7).

Dane Goodwin also seems to be doing pretty well from behind the arc, connecting on 50% of his attempts on 3.8 per game. This is his fifth season with the Irish, and he’s never hit less than 34% of his triples, including 45% a year ago. Taking his 6’10” height into account, Nate Laszewski might be ND’s most dangerous shooter. He’s only attempting 3.4 per game, but he’s connecting 39% of the time this season. Like Goodwin, this is his fifth year in South Bend, and after a passable freshman year and a bad sophomore year, Laszewski has actually regressed from north of 43% in each of the past two seasons.

Bigs? The aforementioned Nate Laszewski is the only guy over 6’6” in the starting lineup. At 6’10” and 230 pounds, he’s doing a lot of Big Man work here, including ranking #46 in the country in defensive rebounding rate per Freshman Ven-Allen Lubin, all 6’8” and 226 pounds of him, is Laszewski’s backup, and he’s doing pretty well. #193 on the offensive glass, #88 on defense, and a very good #185 in block rate so far this season. And that’s it for anyone over 6’6” playing at all for Notre Dame.

Subs? Not really!

Notre Dame has run with the same five starters in all nine games this season, and the only one I haven’t mentioned so far is freshman JJ Starling, who came in as a top 25 prospect out of La Lumiere School in Indiana. Ven-Allen Lubin is the only bench player to appear in all nine games this season. Other than those six gentlemen, Notre Dame’s roster has played a total of 46 minutes this season.

To make this clear: Six guys, 1,754 total minutes played. Five guys, 46 minutes played. No one other than Lubin has played in more than three games off the bench. The leader there is Matt Zona.... who has five minutes played in three appearances.

Now, I’m going to hang a giant asterisk on all of that right here, because 34 of the 46 minutes belong to Marcus Hammond, a 6’2”, 160 pound guard from Queens who has transferred in for this season after four campaigns at Niagara. He sprained his MCL in their exhibition game and missed the first seven games of the season. Hammond played 19 minutes and 16 minutes in their last two games but also has yet to make an impact on the stat sheet. Combined, Hammond is sitting on eight points, three rebounds, and four assists in his two appearances. Still, that’s a seventh guy playing what you would call every night rotation minutes for the Irish, and that’s something they didn’t have for Games 1-7. In his time with the Purple Eagles, Hammond averaged 12.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game in 113 career appearances.

Head Coach: Mike Brey, in his 23rd season at Notre Dame and his 28th season as a Division 1 head coach. He has a 479-261 record with the Irish and 578-313 overall.

All-Time Series: Notre Dame leads, 81-37.

WAIT, WHAT? Couple of things, the series started in 1920, so it’s had over 100 years to stack up encounters. Given the timeframes we’re talking about for couple of relatively nearby Catholic schools, they played each other a lot because travel was weird and bad relative to today’s modern standards. Next, Marquette won the first two meetings and then Notre Dame won the next 12 and 14 of the next 15. So that’s 14-3 out of the gate right there. Then, between 1983 and 1992, Notre Dame won 17 of 18, including 12 in a row between 1983 and 1989. Look at that, 31-4.

Marquette won the last regular season meeting between the two teams, 72-64, on 2013’s Senior Day, but Notre Dame won the rematch 12 days later in the Big East quarterfinals and they haven’t played each other since.

What To Watch For: This game is going to be won or lost by Marquette’s defense. Notre Dame’s defense is largely hands off, ranking third worst in turnover rate per and sub-200 in any measure of shooting defense. They will grab a lot of defensive rebounds, but I suspect that’s more of a “we have to do something to get stops” item than anything else. In any case, the Irish currently rank #174 in KP’s adjusted efficiency on that end of the court, so Marquette should largely speaking be able to do whatever they want.

On the other end, Notre Dam’s pretty good at putting the ball in the net. You probably already got that idea from seeing all the three-point shooting numbers a little bit back. They do shoot it very well as a team, no matter what kind of shot. #52 in three-point shooting percentage, #35 in two-point shooting percentage, and #7 in free throw shooting percentage. They also don’t turn the ball over almost at all: Less than 14% of their possessions so far this season have ended with a turnover, and that is the fourth best turnover rate in the country. If Marquette and their #43 ranked turnover rate can do anything — AND THE ROCK MEANS ANYTHING — to get the Irish to turn the ball over more towards their preferred 23% of the time, that’s going to work out really well.

Finally, I hate to harp on one singular thing in these sections, but here we are again. Notre Dame is a glacially slow team, currently ranking #339 in the country in adjusted tempo per, and that’s mostly because they are incredibly patient on offense with one of the 10 longest average possession times in the country. Marquette’s three losses this season are all against teams that were able to impose their tempo and pace on the Golden Eagles for at least some section of the game: Purdue (#265 in tempo), Mississippi State (#345), and Wisconsin (#333). We are continually told that Marquette wants to play fast. The system is designed for that. That’s why MU’s adjusted tempo ranks #46 in the country.... but it seems that if Marquette allows themselves to be dragged into a slow tempo game, they suffer as a result.

If I can see this, smarter basketball people than me — say, a Division 1 head coach with more than two decades of experience and a track record of trying to play slowly — can see it. If Marquette can accelerate this game, preferably by ending Notre Dame possessions with turnovers and generating runouts and transition buckets, then that’s how MU wins. If Notre Dame tricks MU into letting them patiently find the best possible three-pointer to shoot.... that’s probably going to result in a Notre Dame victory.

Side bonus to getting this game going faster? Notre Dame is only playing seven guys, one of whom sprained his MCL a month ago. They haven’t played a game faster than 70 possessions all season. Shaka Smart is more than happy to give playing time to Sean Jones and Chase Ross and Ben Gold and David Joplin. MU has the ability to keep fresh legs on the floor. Notre Dame does not, and if this is a track meet, the Irish won’t have anything left in the tank at the end if it comes to that.