With the football season having soured over a month ago, it's time for Irish fans to turn their attention to the hardwood. There was a lot of excitement in the Joyce Center last winter, and I'm not talking about Jeff Jackson's Irish Icers' rise to number 1 in the nation. Despite a premature exit in the NCAA tournament, the Irish compiled an 11 win Big East season and an undefeated record at home. The Irish lost several key contributers from the '06-'07 campaign including all-time Big East 3-point shooting leader, Colin Falls, and fellow senior Russell Carter, arguably the Irish's best offensive player. However, the Irish return a strong nucleus of talent, along with several exciting freshman, who are sure to contend for another tournament berth.
A breakdown of Notre Dame's Team:
Kyle McAlarney: Kyle McAlarney has traded in his bong for a return spot in the Irish backcourt. McAlarney brings experience and outstanding shooting to the Irish, along with a passion and intensity that was often lacking in Falls and Carter.
Tory Jackson: The biggest surprise of last season, Jackson returns as the Irish's starting point guard. Jackson should compliment McAlarney well with his pass-first and attacking style. Jackson will often be the fastest man on the court and should create countless matchup problems for Big East defenders.
Ryan Ayers: The son of a former coach certainly has the basketball IQ, but does he have the intensity and experience necessary to start in the Big East. Ayers' role increased last season as he served mainly as another 3 point threat. This season he'll be called on to attack the basket more and supply the athleticism missing with Carter's departure.
Luke Harangody: Harangody was an absolute beast last season for the Irish. As a freshman, Harangody clearly established himself as the best inside presence for the Irish. Despite a hand injury that will set him back for the first month or so of the season, Harangody should continue to fill this role for the Irish. With a slimmed down body and a more polished offensive game, Harangody should contend for All-Big East.
Rob Kurz - The best comparison to Rob Kurz is to that of an offensive lineman- when he does his job, no one notices. Kurz has quietly compiled a great career with the Irish and the lone senior will be called upon to lead the team. Kurz has a solid offensive game, but is more known for his rebounding.
Zach Hillesland - Unlike Kurz, Hillesland is extremely noticeable on the court. He does a little bit of everything and is always around the ball. A taller, point-forward type player, Hillesland needs to learn to play a little more under control and develop more of an outside game to become a legitimate offensive threat. If Ayers struggles early, Hillesland could fill his role in the starting lineup.
Jonathon Peoples - Peoples will provide toughness in the backcourt and spot both McAlareny and Jackson at both guard positions. No longer the days of Chris Thomas and Chris Quinn playing 40 minutes a night, Peoples is a capable backup who deserves 10-15 minutes a night.
Luke Zeller - Can Zeller provide more of a benefit than simply attracting his younger, and more talented brother to the Irish next fall? Blessed with great size and athleticism, Zeller has been a disappointment for Mike Brey. The Irish need Zeller's height to provide depth inside and contribute to rebounding and shot blocking. In addition, if Brey wants to go big, Zeller could see time at the Small Forward spot because of his ability to shoot the 3 ala formerWest Virginia star Kevin Pittsnoggle.
Tyrone Nash - An athletic freshman wing player who is likely the most ready of the Irish freshman to contribute this season. Nash has a well polished offensive game, but could mostly help the Irish on defense, bringing a strong rebounding and athletic presence off the bench.
Carleton Scott - Hakim Warrick type player who is sure to wow the crowd in warmups and on the fast break. Not expected to contribute much this season but could possibly be the best athlete on the team. His rare athleticism could force Brey to play him against more athletic Big East opponents like Louisville and Georgetown.
Ty Profitt - Freshman guard not likely to contribute with excellent depth already in the back court. However, excellent shooter with a bright future for the Irish.
Tim Abromaitis - Freshman forward with excellent basketball IQ and an excellent blend of offensive and defensive skills. Unlikely to contribute unless other big men get in foul trouble.
With great depth, the Irish should be able to play aggressive defense to compliment their already experienced and prolific offense. This could be Mike Brey's best team since arriving in South Bend. While the big names aren't there, the depth and attitude appear to be. In fact, the Irish's biggest challenge could be its non-conference schedule, not for its difficulty, but rather its ease. Come tournament time, the Irish better not be on the bubble, because their refusal to schedule challenging non-conference foes make keep them on the outside looking in.
Labels: Notre Dame Basketball