Notre Dame beat Cincinnati 66-60 on Monday night. We saw the Bearcats give up a lot of wide open shots to the Irish. Especially late in the first half when Notre Dame scored 21 points in 6 minutes. Like many of you, this left me very frustrated. Unlike many of you, I'm a giant dork and decided to look at how and why Notre Dame ended up with such good shots. If you aren't a fan of posts with a lot of pictures, be warned that there are 29 here.
You can see Cincinnati comes out man to man. Pat Connaughton is in the red circle.
There are a couple of things happening in this image. First on the ball, Jack Cooley got a pass on the elbow, dribbled out to hand off to Eric Atkins and set him a screen. In the circles, you have Scott Martin, blue, setting a screen for Connaughton, the red circle. Cincinnati switched both screens. That's about to become very important.
Connaughton makes his way to the corner. He's now guarded by Titus Rubles instead of Shaq Thomas. UC switching the ball screen has Cheikh Mbodj on Eric Atkins with Cooley rolling to the basket on JaQuon Parker. Look at the 2 UC defenders on the left side of the lane. They are both ready to drop down and guard Cooley.
Look at the absolute confusion the double screens ended up causing Cincinnati. Mbodj tries to drop back once Atkins starts to drive. Parker is now stuck guarding 2 people.
Connaughton, still in the red circle, gets the ball the corner. Atkins pretty much walks over, hands off and screens Mbodj. Mbodj has no chance to block the shot. Parker has no chance. Where is the man who was guarding Connaughton? Under the red arrow.
This play is a little different because it came off a rebound and mini-break. The Irish pushed the ball ahead to Scott Martin, who caught the pass on the block. All 5 Cincinnati players are in the paint pretty much.
Martin passed out to Grant, who passed to Connaughton in the corner. He's one on one with Rubles. Look at the brilliant seal Martin has on Nyarsuk on the block. Connaughton is going to follow the arrow down the baseline. Parker seemingly knows this is coming as he didn't move out towards Grant at all.
Mass confusion again by the Bearcat defense. 4 black shirts on 2 ND players. Martin, in green, popped out to the wing after Connaughton passed him. Parker crashes the lane to stop a turnaround shot. Rubles and Nyarsuk are totally lost. Kilpatrick is the only one on the wing and has to guard 3 players. The ball went to Atkins, circled in red.
Notre Dame started the offense so fast on this possession that ESPN didn't have the camera on that side of the floor completely. The maroon arrow is because there is a man in the corner. Grant, circled in red, set a screen for him. The man with the diamond on his head follows the white line to the corner. The guy behind Grant switches on to him.
Cooley screens for Grant. Cincinnati switches the screen, leaving Kelvin Gaines on Grant up top.
Grant faked a pass inside. As you can see, Gaines bought it hook, line and sinker as he started collapsing the lane. Grant would drill a 3.
Grant gets the ball on the left wing and starts to drive, obviously. His man got a little tied up on a screen, which is about to be very important.
Cooley has the ball just off the left block. The white circle is Cashmere Wright, who dropped down and swatted the ball out of Cooley's hands. The red circles are Connaughton and the man who was guarding him. That guy had to cover Atkins to make up for Cash not being there.
The ball gets kicked out to Connaughton. Cash started out towards Grant, as a result, he has to take a very high angle on Connaughton. The red circle is the man supposed to be guarding Scott Martin, the orange circled fellow.
Connaughton drove and threw a jump pass out to Martin. That's Kelvin Gaines wildly going for the block. Sanders did not go with Martin. UC paid dearly.
Grant drives towards the baseline. Kilpatrick slips, so Gaines has to help. Grant passes out of a double team to a cutting Atkins, that's Sanders there in the lane to cut him off. That was some good help defense because 2 guys ended up on Grant and Cash slid down to get in front of Cooley.
But that means everyone is sucked up in the paint.
The pass goes to Martin, two guys run at him, he kicks to Connaughton, top of the picture, for another wide open 3.
The white circle in this picture is Titus Rubles. UC switches the screen on the ball. Rubles is guarding Martin.
Cash recovers to get all up on Atkins. Rubles slides in to cover Cooley. Who isn't guarding anyone? The guy in the red circle. Who is making this 3 pointer? The guy in the orange circle.
The key thing in most of these sets are poor rotations by Cincinnati. I'll show a couple more examples on screen and rolls.
This is the adjustment Notre Dame made in the second half. With Cincinnati sticking to the shooters more, they start using high screens with their guards. This is Grant getting a high screen. Martin, in yellow, moves out to the wing. His defender has to stay with him to not give up the kick. No one is in the lane. Grant gets an easy layup.
Screen and roll with Atkins and Cooley. Cash goes over the top of the screen.
Atkins starts to go to the basket. Gaines steps up on him, leaving the circled Cooley to slip to the basket. He would score a layup.
Grant is guarded by Rubles. He takes him out high.
Grant doesn't even need to use the screen by Sherman. He's able to suck up Gaines and Rubles. You can't see Grant in the sea of black. You can see #11 though. Sherman is able to cut down the lane with no resistance from Wright or Parker.
Both of those layups happened on Gaines. He was pulled from the game right after this.
One last one because it was the back breaking basket.
Martin got the ball high up top. He starts to drive and Rubles, white circle, can't keep up with him. That forces Mbodj, on the left block, to leave his man to collapse.
Rubles is in the white circle again, as he caught up to Martin. Notice Rubles leaning towards the man under the basket. Martin passed to the wing to Connaughton, in orange. Connaughton drives towards Martin.
Connaughton stopped at the free throw line and passed to Sherman. As you can see in the circle, Rubles slid over to guard Sherman. The man who is totally confused is Cheikh Mbodj. He's the orange arrow. You can see Scott Martin on the right wing. He once again slipped free. He got the ball, put ND up 62-51 and pretty much ended this game.
It doesn't take a lot to give up a basket. Against a team that's so smart with the ball and so disciplined as Notre Dame is, one mistake, one blown assignment, one missed rotation causes you to give up a lot of points. Cincinnati paid dearly for not being able to defend the Irish. That's why Notre Dame is #2 in the KenPom offensive rankings. You have to hand it to the Irish, they executed at an elite level. That's why they won. Sometimes it's that simple.
When you play a team like this, communication is huge. If you aren't calling out screens or yelling at someone to pick up your man, you get burnt. Look how many times confusion seemed to reign. It was not the best defensive game for Titus Rubles or Kelvin Gaines. That was for damn sure. That's something that can get better as we move along.