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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

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Lytle: Why Notre Dame's men's basketball season was a success

The Irish went 13-20 in year one under Micah Shrewsberry

Notre Dame men’s basketball finished the season with a record of 13-20 and 7-13 in the ACC. To some, this record might seem disappointing, lackluster or a failure, but considering the Irish returned 1.57% of its scoring from 2022-23, fans can start to realize how bad Notre Dame was projected to be. The entirety of the scoring returned was senior forward Matt Zona’s 33 points last year and a single free throw made by junior guard Alex Wade. The Irish were projected to win four games and be last in almost every metric. However, they finished with seven ACC wins and were four conference wins ahead of last place in the ACC. Record-wise, this season certainly exceeded expectations. 

Markus Burton was a shining beacon of hope for Irish fans this year. The 5-foot-11 point guard’s first game set the freshman debut record of 29 points. Burton also collected ACC Rookie of the Week four times throughout the season for a new Notre Dame record before winning ACC Rookie of the Year. Finishing the season with averages of 17.5 points, 4.3 assists and 1.9 steals, he ranked first in scoring, second in assists and first in steals for ACC rookies. He also led the ACC is offensive usage rate, finishing sixth in total scoring in the ACC behind players like North Carolina's RJ Davis, who won ACC Player of the Year. 

Burton was more than just statistically valuable to the Irish. He was the offensive engine of the team. As head coach Micah Shrewsberry said, “We fed off of his energy the whole year.” The Mishawaka native was asked to step into a huge role offensively with little help from other ball handlers. Burton’s season was a success for both him and the Irish. With plenty of opportunity for growth, Burton has a chance to develop into one of the best guards in the ACC with experience, scoring help and opportunity to shine in games on the biggest ACC stage. 

The Irish also finished the season as the third-best defense based on points allowed in the ACC. At times throughout the season, they were ranked in the top 30 of teams in Division I basketball in defense. Shrewsberry emphasized throughout the season that the guys who exhibited the most effort in practice and in games would be the ones on the floor when it mattered. He also made it clear from the start of the year how he would build an identity based on effort and defensive intensity, utilizing lineups with players including junior forward Julian Roper II and junior guard J.R. Konieczny in close games that allowed the team to overcome major deficits based on energy.

This identity certainly was questioned on Dec. 19 after a 20-point loss against The Citadel in which the Irish shot 26.6% from the field and scored a total of 16 points in the second half. The rest of the season seemed bleak for the Irish as they struggled to beat Marist next, but the first conference game proved to be a different story. This game, a 76-54 defeat over Virginia, resulted in Notre Dame's first major conference win and helped showcase the culture the Irish were after at the end of December. The domination of then 10-2 Virginia proved how the defensive intensity could catapult the team into victories, giving the team a benchmark for success that it would aim for throughout the rest of the season. 

The Irish faced rough stretches of losses, the most being seven in a row, but flipped things around starting against Virginia Tech on Feb. 10. The Irish would go on to win five out of six, with signature wins over Wake Forest and Clemson. The only loss during that stretch was a near 29-point comeback against Syracuse, in which the team ultimately fell short. This stretch was highlighted by major offensive contributions outside of Burton, including a 23-point game from freshman guard Braeden Shrewsberry against Louisville. 

Shrewsberry made huge strides in his offensive ability this season. Despite the rough shooting start at the beginning, he was second in scoring behind Burton to finish the year. His efforts including a 25-point game in the overtime victory against Georgia Tech and the 23-point game against Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament, giving Irish fans glimpses of a prolific offensive weapon in blue and gold. Shrewsberry finished the year shooting 37.1% on over six attempts per game. Freshman forward Carey Booth also became more comfortable as the season went on and scored double digits in three of the last six games. Booth finding his 3-point shot allowed the spacing for the Irish to improve and clear out space to score in the paint. 

This year proved to showcase the team’s potential. So what’s next? Indiana pumps out high-level basketball recruits, and Notre Dame has a chance to capitalize on future local stars like Burton from Mishawaka. Micah Shrewsberry has discussed challenges with recruiting players or getting experienced transfers to join a team with so much uncertainty. However, next year the Irish have already locked up some players with potential to be major contributors.

Notre Dame is listed as having the 27th best recruiting class in the country on 247Sports. Sir Mohammed, a 6-foot-7 small forward, 6-foot-4 shooting guard Cole Certa and 6-foot-10 forward Garrett Sundra have all signed with the Irish. Although none of these players are from the Midwest, Micah Shrewsberry should look locally to find more contributors to the program. Winning the region could help bolster the program name nationwide and continue the culture he is after. In the 2023-2024 season, Notre Dame basketball has found multiple freshmen to build the program on, but there’s still a long way to go.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the views of The Observer.