Notre Dame pretty much off to its worst start in a decade

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

The Irish have talent and scoring ability, but the defense has been lacking in a big way. (USATSI)
The Irish have talent and scoring ability, but the defense has been lacking in a big way. (USATSI)

The Irish are now 7-3 after dropping a home game to North Dakota State on Wednesday night.

That record isn't terrible, yet it's got to be the most disappointing start for Mike Brey and the Irish since the team went 2-3 out of the gates in the 2003-04 season. True, the Irish just two years ago begin with a 5-4 mark. But that Irish team wasn't expected to be as good as this one, and that Irish team lost games to Missouri and Georgia (in Kansas City), at Gonzaga, and against Maryland in Washington, D.C.

This year's team has wilted against any decent competition its played -- and dropped two of its three losses on its home court. As pointed out by my pal Jeff Eisenberg, the Irish's seven wins this season have come against teams with a combined record of 18-44. The best win? A five-point victory at home over 5-4 Delaware.

The team's adjusted defensive efficiency on falls at 101.7 points allowed every 100 possessions. It's not a putrid number, but it is well below the average for Notre Dame over the past seven seasons, and in fact is the worst defensive efficiency number ND has ever put up under Brey. But we're still just a quarter of the way through the regular season, and that number could dip back below 100 by New Year's.

Teams have been able to get the ball inside and score in the paint against Notre Dame so far this year, which is something of a surprise considering the personnel. Brey's not the type of coach to panic or overreact, but the lack of consistent play -- let alone dominant -- has been eye-opening. Some believed Notre Dame to be a top-20 team in the preseason. They haven't shown themselves to be top-60, even.

Brey's made four straight NCAA tournaments and taken ND to six of the past seven. The Irish have the talent to turn this around, but they've run out of slack to lose in the non-conference. Next up is Indiana on Saturday, then a week off, and a game against undefeated Ohio State. Getting out of that with a 1-1 mark would be a boon, but who's to say it's likely?

No matter, Brey's club is going to have to rack up the wins in an ACC that's been undearchieving in the first month of the season -- but still is at worst the No. 3 league in the country. In its first year in that league, the Irish are going to have to elbow out a lot of other teams that will be in a similar spot.

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