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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 12:25 PM

Notre Dame basketball has made the Elite Eight two years running and in both years lost to a team widely believed to be the best in the country at the time (undefeated Kentucky in 2015, North Carolina in 2016). The Fighting Irish are at it again this season, with a 16-3 record and emerging as a key contender in the ACC.

More important for college basketball bettors, Notre Dame is cashing tickets. Even though the Irish dropped a tough 83-80 decision at 10th-ranked Florida State last night, it was still an ATS cover as a (+5.5) dog. It marked the fifth straight game that Notre Dame bettors have gotten the money.

The hot streak makes for good cash flow, but there are some inconsistencies in the Irish market performance that show this team is still a work in progress. For example, Notre Dame is clearly better off when games go Over the total—in their eight Overs, the ATS record is 6-1-1. In the five Unders, it’s a money-losing 2-2-1.

When you consider that Notre Dame ranks eighth nationally in offensive efficiency, but a mediocre 69th in defensive efficiency, those numbers make sense. The problem is that Notre Dame prefers to play at a slow pace—one of the slowest in the country in fact. Keep in mind that offensive efficiency measures a team’s ability to score on a per-possession basis, not in raw volume. The same goes on the defensive side.

So bettors are faced with a conundrum of having a good offensive team that needs to go Over, but one that plays at a slower pace. For a basketball coach like Mike Brey, there’s no contradiction. For a handicapper looking for an edge, it presents a challenge.

The area to key on for the Irish is the kind of shooting percentage they allow from the floor, particularly against good teams. In their three straight-up losses—Villanova and Purdue, along with Florida State—Notre Dame allowed shooting of anywhere from 45 percent to 55 percent. Conversely, the best win of the season came against Louisville when the Irish allowed the Cards just 39 percent shooting from the floor.

Notre Dame’s defensive concerns stem from not having a true rim protector. Bonzie Colson has been a terrific forward for this team, averaging 16 points/10 rebounds per game. He’s also a good story, because he’s only 6’5” and is doing it against taller players. Unfortunately, good stories often make for bad betting situations. Colson can score and rebound, but the Irish lack a shotblocking presence to deter drives to the basket and to make perimeter defenders more comfortable being aggressive.

What the Irish can do is shoot the basketball. Steve Vasturia, Matt Farrell and V.J. Beacham are all consistent from behind the arc. As a team, Notre Dame shoots a positively sizzling 43 percent from three-point range. You combine that with the ability of Colson to score, and the Irish offense can match up with most anybody.

So it boils down to defense. As you evaluate Notre Dame in the games ahead (they host Syracuse and Virginia the next two games and make a high-profile visit to North Carolina on the Saturday before the Super Bowl), decide if they can hold their opponents to something lower than 45 percent from the floor. It’s those decisions that point the way to making money.  

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