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Friday, June 14, 2024
The Observer

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Shrewsberry's first season begins to build winning culture at Notre Dame

Burton shines as Irish hang tough against the best of the ACC

Entering a new era after Mike Brey’s departure was certain to be a challenge for Notre Dame men’s basketball. Following a disappointing 11-21 season in 2023 with 1.57% of scoring returning, the 2024 season seemed bleak for new head coach Micah Shrewsberry. However, despite almost every metric pointing to Notre Dame finishing last in the ACC with four conference wins, they won seven out of 20 ACC games and finished with a final record of 13-20. The new cast of freshmen and transfers for Micah Shrewsberry faced adversity at many points throughout the season but put together strong stretches of basketball. Winning five out of six games near the end of the regular season, capped off with a final home victory against Elite Eight qualifier Clemson, this Irish team gave fans something to cheer for to end the year. Men’s basketball finished the season losing in the second round of the ACC Tournament to Wake Forest, 72-59. 

Freshman guard Markus Burton excelled from his first moment on the court. Against Niagara, he set the new freshman debut record with 29 points. Earning ACC Rookie of the Week four times — and ACC Rookie of the Year — Burton continued to set new Notre Dame records throughout the season. Despite low expectations for the three-star point guard from Mishawaka, Notre Dame found success through Burton’s scoring, playmaking and defensive energy throughout the season. The freshman was asked to carry the offensive load, leading the ACC in offensive usage rate and, despite struggling at times, gave serious flashes to Irish fans of a future star point guard.

“Coach [Shrewsberry] talked to me and told me the different role he wanted me to play to make the team better. Having fun through it all was what helped me stay locked in,” Burton said about his freshman season.

Burton finished the year averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game, finishing first for ACC rookies in scoring and steals and second in assists. 

“We fed off his energy the whole year,” Micah Shrewsberry said.

With a season high of 31 points against Wake Forest in the last stretch of the season, Burton improved his scoring and efficiency over the course of the year. Following the conclusion of the season, he officially entered his name into the NBA Draft with all signs pointing to him returning to Notre Dame next season. With the new NIL and transfer portal rules, players can enter the draft process to be evaluated by scouts and still retain college eligibility.

The Irish began the first stretch of the season going 4-7, with losses to Sweet 16 qualifier Marquette and SEC Tournament champion Auburn. On top of the losses to the top teams, the Irish also fell at home to Western Carolina (71-61) and at the Citadel (65-45).

“The Citadel game was an awful loss," freshman guard Braeden Shrewsberry said. "It helped us grow closer as a team. It was a wake-up call for us.”

Shooting only 26.6% from the field in that game, the Irish looked primed to struggle in ACC play after a narrow victory against Marist next. 

Starting ACC play at home against 10-2 Virginia, the Irish defied expectations and earned one of the signature wins of the season, dominating the whole game to win 76-54. Coach Shrewsberry continuously talked about the defensive culture he looked to build on the team, and it was on full display against the Cavaliers. 

Over the next 10 ACC games, the Irish struggled to find scoring down the stretch to lose close games, going 1-9 to start 2024. With a loss on a buzzer-beater against DJ Burns and the Final Four-bound NC State Wolfpack, a close home loss against Elite Eight qualifier Duke and a loss to Virginia, the Irish had entered a tough stretch of the ACC regular season. During this time in early January and into February, the Irish lost seven in a row and shot poorly as a team.

Looking back on the stretch, Burton said, “It says a lot based on how young we are. We played those [Elite Eight] teams very close and led against NC State until the buzzer-beater [from DJ Burns], when we let it slip at the end.” 

The only win during this month-long stretch was an overtime victory over Georgia Tech. Braeden Shrewsberry’s season-high 25-point game helped propel the Irish to win against the Yellow Jackets. Shrewsberry’s emergence in this game gave Irish fans some hope as the freshman began to find consistency from the 3-point line.

“Georgia Tech was my biggest game,” Shrewsberry said. "The Duke game before was important, too, because I gained confidence that I could make any shot.”

The freshman shooting guard showed flashes throughout the season of a sniper in blue and gold, shooting 37.7% on six 3-point attempts per game.

Over the last eight games over the season, beginning with a home victory against Virginia Tech, the Irish got the season back on track. They won five out of six, with the only loss coming off of a near 29-point, miraculous comeback against Syracuse that ended with an 88-85 score. The Irish triumphantly beat Clemson in the final home game of the season, 69-62. Also winning against Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Louisville down the stretch, the Irish found a formula of ferocious defense and ball-handling help from freshman guards Logan Imes and Braeden Shrewsberry in the backcourt. The Irish finished as the third-best defense in the ACC and cracked a top-30 defensive rating in Division I at times throughout the season, which was on full display during this stretch. 

The Irish beat Georgia Tech for the third time in the season in the ACC Tournament's first round but fell short against Wake Forest to end the season. In this loss, the Irish shot below 30% from the field, and Burton went 4 for 16. Throughout the season, the Irish found success as Burton did. With a whole offseason to regroup, the Irish should look to add more ball-handling and scoring help in the backcourt to take pressure off of Burton. 

Over the past few weeks, the Irish have lost the highest recruit from 2023, 6-foot-10 freshman forward Carey Booth, who averaged 6.4 and 4.3 rebounds, to Illinois in the transfer portal. Senior forward Matt Zona also left for Fordham. The Irish have added graduate transfer Matt Allocco from Princeton, where he averaged 12.7 points, 3.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds last year. With four-star recruits Sir Mohammed and Cole Certa leading the incoming Irish recruiting class, Notre Dame currently has the 24th-best class in the country based on 247Sports. Even amidst the ever-changing landscape of college basketball, within his first year of coaching, Micah Shrewsberry has begun to build a winning culture for Notre Dame men’s basketball.