Florida State, on the cusp of an ACC regular season title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, has two games left in its regular season.
Its last road test is against Notre Dame, who loves to throw up shots from beyond the arc. What can the Seminoles do to combat that?
Well, we’re glad you asked.
Notre Dame likes to shoot the three. I mean they really like to shoot the three. They rank 10th in the country in three-point attempts per game which puts them above everyone else in the ACC. Now I know what you must be thinking. If all they do is shoot the three shouldn’t they be easy to stop? Just camp out on the three point line, right? Well as with all things in life it is never that easy or that simple.
If you give them even an inch of space they are going to pull the trigger. In the clip below the Miami big man is giving Temple Gibbs just the smallest cushion which is all the space Gibbs needs to get a shot off:
This next clip is going to send shivers down the spine of any fans of old school basketball. Notre Dame is not afraid to pull up for three during their transition opportunities. Even when there is a wide-open lane they will often forgo an easy two points for a slightly less easy three:
Once they settle in the half-court they are one of many teams whose primary offense is operated through the spread pick and roll. Notre Dame is especially adept at finding space on the perimeter while the defenders are concerned with helping on drives. This is especially dangerous against Florida State as they have a habit of over-helping or helping when its not needed:
If spacing alone isn’t enough for them to generate open looks they will set flare screens during their high ball screens. This picks off any defender who is caught ball-watching and often leads to good looks from the corner.
One of the most common responses to this barrage of three-pointers is for the defenders to stick to their man like glue. Fortunately for the Irish, their coach, Mike Brey, has a few tricks up his sleeves to counter this strategy.
Mike Brey coached teams are generally known for their heavy use of floppy action. This involves symmetric pin down screens for shooters. The tighter a defender sticks to his man the harder it becomes to trail through these screens:
Another consequence of playing tight perimeter defense is that it makes it hard to help in the paint. This is where Notre Dame’s leading scorer, John Mooney, makes his money. If he is left in isolation he has some nifty post moves he can use to punish defenders. In their last match-up he racked up 13 points from post ups or free throws directly tied to them:
Notre Dame is really good at putting the defense in no win scenarios. If the defenders help stop Mooney in the paint then they back at square one and risk giving up open threes:
Defending Notre Dame is truly a zero sum game. There is little that can be done to stop them short of shutting down the paint with one elite post defender. Unfortunately Florida State doesn’t have that one elite post player so something has to give. In their last game that thing was three pointers. This was one of the big reasons they were able to climb back into things in the waning moments of the game.
So with this offense how has Notre Dame lost 11 games this year? Defense. Well really more of a lack of defense.
At this level there are very few players that can do it all and most of them end up at blue bloods like Duke or Kentucky. Teams have to sacrifice some traits to get players that fit their system. In general what Notre Dame chooses to sacrifice so they can have some shooting on the floor is their athleticism. To take advantage of this, FSU needs to be aggressive driving the ball and use their speed to get good looks at the rim:
If they can consistently get a step ahead of Notre Dame’s defense it will force them to clog the interior. A higher commitment to stopping drives leaves shooters open on the perimeter. In the games where FSU’s offense has been most effective they do a good job of taking advantage of these opportunities:
A more extreme way to shut down the paint is for them to switch to a zone defense. This places help permanently behind the defender but it also makes it hard to adequately defend the three point line. This partially explains why Wyatt Wilkes’s highest scoring game this season came against Notre Dame:
At the end of the day the key to winning this game is to score more than the opponent. I know that’s a cliche but there is some truth here. Notre Dame will score. They will throw up a lot of threes and they’ll make a few of them. It’s up to Florida State to make their shots on the other end if they want to walk out of the Joyce Center with their first ever victory in South Bend.