(Apologies for the Digger Phelps inspired title which is possibly the worst pun in the long history of puns, but it had to be done. After all you can’t know what funny is without experiencing mass levels of unfunny.)
Later tonight, Kentucky will take on Mike Brey’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend, Indiana. This will certainly be another early season test for the Wildcats as the Irish are 6-1 on the season and are looking to pull off an upset against a top-10 opponent. Much has been made recently over the difficulty of Notre Dame’s home arena, Purcell Pavilion, and rightfully so. Brey’s Irish have taken an incredible 45 of their last 47 home games dating back to the 2009-10 season, which is even difficult for traditionally elite teams like Kansas and Duke. An even more impressive feat than the previously mentioned streak is their November home record under Brey, a perfect 43-0. A stat like that is certainly concerning for a team like Kentucky who’s still very much in the process of breaking in an entirely new roster, but just how concerning is Notre Dame’s November streak? To find out, I researched Notre Dame’s past November home opponents (since 2002) to determine their average margin of victory, and more importantly, their strength of schedule during that time.
Since I used KenPom.com’s advanced data, which dates back to 2002, I was not able to count the strength of all 43 opponents, rather only 40 of them, but this still gives more than enough information to make a reasonable conclusion. After researching and compiling the data of their November home record under Brey, the first thing that jumps off the page is their average margin of victory, 23.2 points. During this streak the Irish have outscored their opponents by an average score of 81.4-58.2, which is certainly impressive, even more so when you consider the typical inexperience of teams during early season basketball. However, in the 40 games that I’ve compiled, the average KenPom.com rank of teams faced by Brey’s Irish is 245th, which is poor to say the least. In fact, during November, the strongest opponent Notre Dame has ever faced at home under Brey were the 61st ranked Hofstra Pride in 2005 (they won 69-50). Given the collective strength of their opponents, it’s pretty easy to see that the 43-0 record is a bit misleading.
While it’s easy to detract from their home record due to strength of schedule, 43-0 is 43-0, no matter how you slice it. This type of scheduling isn’t exclusive to Notre Dame either; teams like Kentucky, North Carolina, and Duke typically don’t play a murderers row in November. However, this will be the first time under Mike Brey that Notre Dame will face an elite team at Purcell Pavilion during November, so it will be interesting to see if his team can knock off the typical early season rust against Kentucky. Likewise it’ll be interesting to see how the Wildcats react to their first hostile environment tonight. Both teams certainly have their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s undeniable that the Irish are strong at home (just ask Syracuse). Many an elite opponent have fallen in South Bend, that being said, Kentucky should be on high alert tonight.