All I Want To Do Is Dance – Irish Season Preview

As great as the NCAA Tournament is, when your team misses it, there’s a sizeable void when filling out brackets and watching other teams celebrate buzzer beaters.  Add the slap in the face of being the last team left out of the tournament (thanks again Rhode Island…), and last year’s tournament didn’t have the same juice for us Irish fans.

No moments like Pat Connaughton swatting a shot into the sixth row to force overtime against Butler in the second round in 2015.

Or Rex Pflueger’s miraculous tip-in to beat Stone Cold Stephen F. Austin in the 2016 second round.

Or one round later, Demetrius Jackson swiping the ball from Nigel Hayes for a go-ahead layup in the final seconds of a Sweet 16 win over Wisconsin.

Injuries unfortunately took that moment from the Irish players, coaches and fans.  Yet, without Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey for chunks of the 2017-18 season, Mike Brey somehow willed the shorthanded Irish to the verge of the tournament.  Bonz, Farrell and Marty Geben are gone, but a returning stud and an influx of new talent should have Notre Dame in position to avoid missing consecutive tournaments, which hasn’t occurred in over a decade.

The New Alpha

That returning stud is T.J. Gibbs.  In last year’s preview, we highlighted how T.J.’s brothers took significant leaps in their sophomore seasons and predicted the same for the youngest Gibbs brother.

Like Sterling and Ashton before him, T.J. increased his scoring by more than 10 points per game in year two, averaging 15.3 a night.  He’s now the alpha on this Irish squad, and should challenge for first-team ACC honors.

Sterling and Ashton improved even more in their junior years.  One stat to keep an eye on is T.J.’s three-point shooting.  As juniors, Ashton shot an amazing 49% from deep, while Sterling shot 43.6%.  T.J. was no slouch from behind the arc last season (40.3%), but expect to see that percentage increase 3-5%.  If it does, 18-20 a game is absolutely within reach.

We Need More, Rex…Or Do We?

Rex seems like a genuinely great kid, and there were hopes from this blog that he could become a hybrid of Pat Connaughton and Steve Vasturia.  Unfortunately through three years, his production has been more comparable to Derek Manner.

We know that Rex is going to be on the floor nearly at all times because of his defense, but will year four bring any offensive improvement?

Pflueger’s three-point shooting plummeted, going from 39.7% in his sophomore season to 31.7% last year.  The trip to the Bahamas in August didn’t go much better, as he hit 3 of 17 triples.  He’s definitely athletic enough to get to the rim, but doesn’t drive often enough and has trouble finishing when he gets there.

A successful senior season for Rex doesn’t necessarily mean more points.  Sure, that three-point percentage hopefully will be a little better, but defense is his calling card.  Guard like hell, rebound, and maybe eliminate that step-back 17-footer.

Leave those to this guy…

The Key – D.J. Harvey

Coming into October, no one outside the program was sure what the Irish were going to get out of D.J. Harvey after he underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee in the spring.  Then came a pleasant surprise:

Then another from this past weekend:

Harvey showed loads of promise in his freshman campaign, even though it was limited due to injury.  After Bonz went down, Harvey was inserted into the starting lineup and responded with 17 points in a blowout of NC State.  Though he struggled with his shot over his next three starts, Harvey contributed as a willing rebounder…something desperately needed at the time.

And that pull-up jumper is just a thing of beauty.

While it would be a surprise to see D.J. in the starting lineup on November 6, if healthy come March, Harvey not only will be starting but could certainly be the second offensive option on a deep Irish squad.

Brey’s New Toys

With a class ranked 10th by ESPN, 15th by 247Sports, 18th by Rivals, 24th by Scout…Brey loaded up by signing five freshmen and also landing Juwan Durham, a former Top 100 recruit who spent one relatively unproductive year at UConn before transferring.

Here’s what you need to know about the new guys:

PG – Prentiss Hubb

A 6’3 point guard that was a consensus Top 40 recruit prior to suffering a torn right ACL that cost him his senior year.  Another I-95 guy that is slated to play the point a lot to free up T.J. to conserve some energy by playing off the ball.  Tom Noie wrote an excellent article highlighting Hubb and his importance to the Irish having success this year.

SG – Robby Carmody

This was a personally satisfying signing as Carmody chose the Irish over Purdue.  You guys know, I’m not a fan of the Boilers.

Carmody is ridiculously athletic.

Carmody also knows how to score.  He averaged 31 and 14 for the Mars Fightin’ Planets in his senior season (by the way, I need a Fightin’ Planets t-shirt).

That hybrid Vasturia/Connaughton I was looking for in Rex last year…that might be Carmody.  Robby is going to be incredibly fun to watch develop over the next four years.

PF – Nate Laszewski

The highest rated recruit in the class (ESPN #51), Laszewski can really shoot it.  With a skill set like Tim Abromaitis, Brey could not have been more thrilled to find a legitimate stretch-four.

The concern:  he’s listed at 6’10, 200 pounds.  He’s going to get the opportunity for some minutes, but how many depends on how he rebounds.  In the Bahamas, he had 9 rebounds in the Irish’s only competitive game, also going 7-9 from the floor (4-6 from deep).

The talent is obviously there…and how could I not root for a guy named Nate, wearing #14.

SG – Dane Goodwin

Goodwin is definitely the most underrated recruit in the class.  Why, I don’t know.

Let’s look at his senior year accolades:  Ohio Mr. Basketball, Gatorade and USA Today Ohio Player of the Year.

He can fill it up, and has good size at 6’6.  It might just be a numbers game for Dane this year, however.  We all know Rex is not going to come off the floor much.  Goodwin is going to have to show that he can also play defense in order to get significant minutes.  Even if we don’t see much of him this year, this is a fantastic signing by Brey that will pay dividends in the next couple of years.

C – Juwan Durham

Durham provides the Irish with something they haven’t had in a long time:  a 6’11 body with the ability to challenge at the rim.  Unlike our discussion on Goodwin, Durham’s minutes are likely tied to his ability to flow in Brey’s offense and finish around the rim.

Between Durham, Mooney and Burns, I have no earthly idea how the minutes are going to get distributed.  And I’m not sure Brey does either at this point.

PF – Chris Doherty

Doherty is somewhat the forgotten man of this class, but from what I have read, he may be Austin Torres 2.0.  By no means is that a bad thing, especially as the likely 12th man on the roster.  I would assume he is a candidate for a redshirt, given the depth that the Irish have.

Year 3 for Mooney and Burns

Several bigs under Brey have significantly increased their production in their third year of action.  Let’s take a look at some of them:

Sophomore Junior 
PPG / RPG PPG / RPG
Rob Kurz 6.4 / 5.1 12.6 / 8.0
Carleton Scott 5.0 / 4.6 11.2 / 7.4
Jack Cooley 3.7 / 3.1 12.5 / 8.9
Zach Auguste 6.7 / 4.3 12.9 / 6.5
John Mooney 5.6 / 3.9

Burns may not have the offensive firepower to threaten the numbers of those before him, but Mooney might.  To get there, he has to do two things well:  1) become an absolute nightmare for opposing teams in the pick and roll; and 2) show some aggression on the glass.

Don’t be surprised to see the Irish roll with four guards/wings around Mooney for much of the season.

Djogo’s Role

Nik Djogo was thrust into action last year out of necessity, and it was a tough go for him.  Djogo shot 28% from the floor and 24% from deep…woof.

Athletic and a willing rebounder, there should be a role for him on this team…at least until Carmody and Goodwin get acquainted with college hoops.

The Schedule

The Irish start out with seven straight at Purcell, highlighted by the Big 14 / ACC Challenge against Illinois.  Personally, I’m looking forward to the Nov. 17 tilt with Bill & Mary.  The early over/under on triples in that game is 73.5.

We’ll likely learn a ton about them in early December:

Dec. 4 – vs Oklahoma (in NYC)
Dec. 8 – at UCLA
Dec. 15 – vs Purdue (in Indy)

ND finishes December with three cupcakes before beginning ACC play.  And January is not easy.  5 of their 8 games are against almost certain NCAA Tournament teams:  on the road in Blacksburg in the ACC opener on New Year’s Day, Syracuse at home immediately after, a trip to the Dean Dome, and what could be the most fun weekend of 2019:

Saturday, Jan. 26 – Virginia
Monday, Jan. 28 – Duke

I’m already planning for the weekend, but Notre Dame appears to be stonewalling me…

The second half of the ACC slate…still tough, as the Irish travel to Miami, Virginia, Florida State, Louisville and Pitt.

So How Good Will The Irish Be?

Let’s go to the transitive property.  Good coaches make the tournament more often than not.  Mike Brey is a good coach.  Notre Dame still has Mike Brey; therefore, they will be in the hunt for a tournament bid.

If you don’t believe me, believe this “scout” quoted in SI’s ACC preview that had the Irish projected 8th:

“I think Notre Dame will be better than people think, they’ll probably surprise people the most in our league.  With who, we don’t really know yet outside of a few vets.”

How good the Irish will be depends on the health of Harvey and the development of Hubb, Laszewski, Carmody and Goodwin.  Are all four of those freshmen going to play a major role?  In a Brey rotation, probably not this year.  But unlike years past, where the upperclassmen get the benefit of the doubt, the kids are going to have a chance to impress.

Let’s hope 2-3 of them do, because that will mean the Irish will be dancing again come March.

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