What I’ve Been Told: Notre Dame Men’s Basketball

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(Photo: Matt Cashore, USA TODAY Sports)

With Notre Dame men’s basketball practice officially starting Oct. 14, there remains no word on the start of games or a release of the ACC schedule for the 2020-21 season. A source told the media Saturday, Oct. 3, that the release of an ACC schedule still remains perhaps as much as a month away.

The start of the season, at the earliest, looks like the end of November with a likely scaled-down non-conference slate.

In the meantime, the players have participated in workouts prior to the official commencement of drills a week from this Wednesday.

Here is some information that has filtered through to Irish Illustrated.

• As expected, junior point guard Prentiss Hubb is leading the Irish as the alpha dog of the group. This process began during his freshman season and really kicked into gear last year. Now with the departure of John Mooney, T.J. Gibbs and Rex Pflueger, this clearly has become Hubb’s team.

Well respected for his work in the classroom as well as on the court and in the locker room, Hubb has added a few pounds of muscle working with men’s basketball strength and conditioning coordinator Tony Rolinski. It will need to serve him well because Hubb will not come off the court very often for the Irish.

Hubb led Notre Dame in minutes played last year at 35.2 per game. If anything, his playing time will increase a bit. He started all 32 games for the Irish last year. Hubb and Gibbs were the only two Irish players to do so in 2019-20.

• If there’s another “voice” on this team – and it’s a confident personality – it’s Stanford transfer Cormac Ryan, who joined the program in 2019-20 but had to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules.

Ryan, listed at 6-foot-5, 195 pounds with two years of eligibility remaining, is a multi-faceted guard who can handle it and shoot it, which gives the Irish another one of several players who are expected to be part of a vast array of talented long-range snipers. Ryan has impressed as an offensive player who can score at all three levels. Protecting the basketball while playing at a breakneck pace is a point of emphasis with Ryan.

• Improved strength has given 6-foot-11 fifth-year senior Juwan Durham and 6-foot-10 junior Nate Laszewski a real boost as they head into their final and second-to-last years of eligibility respectively. Durham is now pushing 240 pounds while Laszewski is approaching 230. Those are good numbers for guys with length and the agility to fit in well with Notre Dame’s guard-oriented roster.

Again, the work with Rolinski – despite the limitations through several months of the pandemic – has paid dividends. The Irish will count on Durham, Laszewski, and freshmen Elijah Taylor and Matt Zona (see below) to handle the work up front.

• The Irish also will need junior swingman Dane Goodwin to assist on the backboards. Goodwin – now listed at 6-foot-6, 200 pounds – started to emerge as the heady, consistent, talented-shooting guard the Irish envisioned when he was recruited out of Upper Arlington, Ohio.

Goodwin shot 37.7 percent on his 138 three-point attempts last year while chipping in with 3.8 rebounds per outing. His confidence grew in 2019-20. He’s now carrying himself in the mold of Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame’s multi-faceted big guard who was a stabilizing force for the Irish. Notre Dame believes his pull-up game and ability to take it to the hole are advancing in lockstep with his three-point shooting.

• Notre Dame believes it has a chance to have a multi-dimensional, “dangerous” offensive attack in 2020-21 with shooting prowess coming from Hubb, Ryan, Goodwin and Laszewski in particular.

Fifth-year senior Nikola Djogo – a 6-foot-8, 230-pounder – has always shot the lights out in practice and then struggled in game situations. Djogo has reportedly once again shot it well in pickup situations. His contributions (or lack thereof) are critical to the overall success of the 2020-21 team.

The Irish will have nine scholarship bodies available when the season begins, provided there are no further setbacks such as redshirt sophomore Robby Carmody’s kneecap injury that is expected to keep him out through (or near the end of) December. If Djogo could just convert his three-point attempts in the mid-30-percent range, he could provide some rest for a core group that will log heavy minutes.

• Every Brey-coached Irish basketball team is a work in progress defensively because the offensive end is where he has made his living. Without the defensive rebounding of John Mooney, there is, of course, a concern.

Mooney was a vacuum cleaner on the backboards. So this will have to be a collective effort. There continues to be room for growth defensively, although the aggressiveness of guards Hubb and Ryan in particular could make it difficult for some opponents to get into their half-court sets.

• Freshmen Elijah Taylor (6-foot-8, 231) and Matt Zona (6-foot-9, 243) are considered a couple of exciting prospects for the Irish. At least one will have to play regularly to spell Durham, who averaged just 17.5 minutes per game with Mooney logging a vast majority of the big-man time. Durham likely has to play at least 25 minutes per game and probably closer to 30. That could lead to diminishing returns, which would lead to the necessity of playing Taylor and/or Zona.

Notre Dame loves Taylor’s motor. He’s strong, physical and cut. He’s in excellent condition. Zona, too, has put himself in a good position strength- and conditioning-wise. Zona reportedly has blended well with the other four on the court with him. He’s a legitimate long-distance threat who doesn’t play above the rim per se, but knows his way around the basket. The Irish need at least one of these two to make a meaningful contribution.

• It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that freshman swingman Tony Sanders Jr. – a 6-foot-7, 202-pounder out of Miami, Fla. – is the best overall athlete on the team. He’s long, agile and has good bounce. He’s a work-in-progress offensive player, but his length and athleticism can be disruptive to the opposition on the defensive end.

In a perfect world, Sanders would red-shirt. But there’s nothing about 2020 that indicates anything close to perfection, especially with Notre Dame’s scaled-down roster. Notre Dame sees quality long-term upside with Sanders’ athleticism and length.

• Walk-on guard Elijah Morgan (6-foot-1, 165 from New Orleans) could see action if injury (or coronavirus issues) pop up. He’s gotten stronger and is not your typical end-of-the-bench walk-on. If he can handle the ball and get it to Notre Dame’s playmakers, the coaching staff won’t be afraid to spot-insert him for a few minutes here or there.

• Santa Clara transfer to Trey Wertz (6-foot-5, 183) out of Charlotte, N.C. will sit out the 2020-21 season per NCAA transfer rules. This is a multi-faceted big guard who is considered a great fit for Mike Brey’s program. He has length, which allows him to penetrate and finish deftly around the basket, hit pull-up jumpers/mid-range shots, and shoot from beyond the arc.

• Building upon the progress of this core nucleus developed last season, Mike Brey and his coaching staff are reportedly thrilled with the focus, dedication and commitment of the players to the cause. Temperamental personalities on a basketball court can sabotage a team’s chemistry. That is not a concern with this group. This is a very coachable roster.

• Remember how they finished. The abrupt ending to the 2019-20 season during the ACC tournament, the inability to knock off ACC frontrunners, and the residual memories of the 2018-19 season leave many thinking this is a program still a long way off. In reality, that’s not accurate, even with the losses of Mooney and Gibbs in particular.

The Irish won nine of their last 13 games last season to finish 20-12 overall and 10-10 in conference play. Notre Dame had four- and three-game win streaks down the stretch. The Irish opened ACC tournament play with a 22-point victory over Boston College before the pandemic prevented a shot at Virginia.

This is a program on the rise once again. The Irish should be a strong NCAA tournament contender if they can stay healthy (see below).

• COVID-19 related issues are a particular concern for Notre Dame with its limited roster. Between positive tests and contact tracing, the Irish obviously could be sideswiped into postponements. This is even more unpredictable than the current football season because of the nature of the sport/close contact with one another.

Notre Dame’s margin for error is extremely fragile as it relates to the pandemic and its roster construction.





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