Notre Dame’s guard-heavy lineup a challenge for Indiana

There’s no point in reading into Notre Dame’s loss to North Dakota State on Wednesday as thought it contains in-depth secrets to beating the Fighting Irish, Indiana coach Tom Crean said. There were two simple reasons the Irish fell in that game. One was North Dakota State’s Marshall Bjorklund going off for 26 points.

And the other….

“The other night they just didn’t make shots,” Crean said. “You can overanalyze it and just saying what it really is. They just didn’t make shots.”

And that’s not something Indiana can rely on happening again at the Crossroads Classic on Saturday at 3:15 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Fighting Irish were just 20-for-56 from the field and 9-for-29 from 3-point range in that 73-69 loss, but that was very much an anomaly. The Irish are shooting 47.9 percent from the field this season and 40.2 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, making 80 3-pointers in 10 games.They start a four-guard lineup and three of those four players average double figures. The fourth, point guard Demetrius Jackson, was a McDonald’s All-American last year and is not far behind with 8.1 points per game. In addition, Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman has become a reliable post scorer, averaging 14.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. 

“They’re fully capable,” Crean said. “They’re always one of the better shooting teams in the country and I don’t think this team is any different. What’s happened now is not only do you have the perimeter scoring, but you have the post scoring in Garrick Sherman.”

When the Irish are good, they can play fast but also in control. They averaged 81.4 points per game so far and rank 28th in the nation in offensive efficiency with 112.9 points per 100 possessions. They turn the ball over on just 14.4 percent of their possessions, the 19th-best rate in the country. They’ve posted 192 assists to just 98 turnovers.

The reason being is that all four guards can work as point guards. Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton all average at least 2.6 assists per game and have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3-to-1 or better. Grant leads the team with 18.7 points and 6.1 assists per game. Atkins scores 12.4 points per game and averages 4.8 assists and Connaughton averages 13.9 points and 2.6 assists per game, leading the squad with 26 3-pointers.

“What makes them so dangerous is they make a lot of great decisions,” Crean said. “They have a 2 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio almost every night. The other night they didn’t shoot as well and they still had 16 assists and eight turnovers. Bottom line, we can’t give them easy baskets, because they’re good enough no matter who is in the game to capitalize on it.”

It’s a bit of a clash of styles for the Hoosiers, who are low on true backcourt players but heavy on long, versatile, small forward-type wings. They have to make their length work for them, keeping Grant, Atkins and Jackson from breaking them down off the dribble and make sure they limit the number of open outside looks they surrender.

“We’ve gotta keep them off the foul line, there’s no question about that,” Crean said. “But you’ve gotta really guard your man. You’ve gotta keep your chest in front. We’ve gotta know what we’re switching, we’ve gotta know what they’re not switching.”

Said sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell: “We just need to play disciplined on defense. If we break down, we’ve gotta help each other. If we guard our yard and stay to their tendencies, we’ll be OK.”

NOTE: Freshman forward Devin Davis will be available after sitting out the last game with an ankle injury. Freshman swingman Troy Williams was fine after a spill at the end of Tuesday’s win over Oakland.

AUDIO: Tom Crean

AUDIO: Yogi Ferrell

AUDIO: Troy Williams