But for a neutral-court November loss to St. Joe's, the first two months of Notre Dame's season proceeded in typically impressive fashion. The Irish's nonconference schedule was hardly stacked, but they managed to rack up a few solid wins along the way, including one over BYU, a victory at Purdue, and a clinical shellacking of Kentucky at home. Star forward Jack Cooley had long since established himself as the college game's best rebounder, Notre Dame's offense was among the most efficient in all of college hoops, and everything was right in South Bend. (Well ... everything basketball-related, at least.)
And now, all of a sudden, Notre Dame is officially struggling.
In the past 10 days, the Irish have lost three of their last four. With all due respect to Notre Dame's opponents, these losses are not exactly the product of a stretch of vintage Big East schedule. They began with a home loss to UConn, continued with a road loss at struggling St. John's, and got their most recent addition Monday night, when the Irish were handled at home by Georgetown, 63-47.
What gives? It's actually pretty straightforward: Notre Dame is not a good defensive basketball team. (When you look at ND's box scores, you might automatically assume that all those 66-point games are the product of good defense and so-so offense, but that's not really true. This is, as I wrote Monday, why pace-adjusted statistics are your friend. Notre Dame just plays slow.) The Irish have allowed .97 points per trip this season, which ranks well outside the top-100 defenses in the country. According to Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency metric (which adjusts for opposition et al.) Notre Dame ranks outside the top 150.
This was a known issue entering conference play, but it's only gotten worse since. In six games, the Irish have allowed 1.08 points per possession, third-worst in a Big East that also includes such yearly defensive luminaries as DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall, and so on. Meanwhile, while still good, their vaunted offense has taken a slight dip. On Monday, the Hoyas held Notre Dame to their worst performance of the season -- ND scored just .85 points per possession -- but Mike Brey's team also scores less than a point per trip at St. John's, scored 1.04 against UConn, and just 1.05 against Rutgers (in a win).
Needless to say, when you allow 1.07 points per trip, your offense better be really good. For almost all of the season, Notre Dame's has been. But when it struggles like it did Monday night -- and give credit to a very good defensive team in Georgetown, too -- the Irish can't win. Because they can't get stops. See? Simple.