September 1st, 2006
Basketball Preview: Notre Dame
The Irish lost quite a bit from last year's
team. Chris Quinn was an iron man for ND. He averaged 17.7 ppg on 45%
shooting overall, including 42% on treys, and 6.4 apg with an impressive
assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.4/1.0. He is going to be very difficult to
They also lost their leading rebounder in
Torin Francis (9.4 rpg) who also averaged 11.6 ppg on 50% shooting. As much
as many Notre Dame fans viewed Francis as an underachiever, 9.4 rpg
qualified him as one of the elite rebounders in the conference.
Coach Mike Brey also lost a solid frontcourt
reserve in Rick Cornett, who averaged 5.4 ppg and 3.6 rpg in a little over
13 mpg. Plus, he was an aggressive, effective defender.
Overall, the Irish lost about 35 ppg and nearly 17 rpg from last year's
team. Still, there's quite a bit of talent left over.
CHN has learned that guard Colin Falls, one of the best outside
shooters in the conference, is listed on the team’s roster and will play
this year. Falls shot 39.7% on trey attempts for the season, though that's
about all he did offensively. He took nearly four times as many three-point
shots (257) as he did shots inside the arc (66), and he made only 27
two-point baskets in 30 games. He also averaged a paltry 1.7 apg in 35.2
mpg. Falls got a lot of his shots last year because of Quinn's abilities to
shoot and pass. Opposing teams had to focus on containing Quinn, and because
he was such a good passer, Falls was often the beneficiary of open looks.
Since Falls has difficulty creating his own shot, the question is whether
anyone else on this year’s team can help him get open looks.
Sophomore Kyle McAlarney may be able to do just that. He had a
respectable freshman season, averaging 6.6 ppg in 22.4 mpg, but, more
importantly, he showed improvement as the season progressed. Two stats that
stand out are his 43% shooting from behind the arc and his
assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.5/1.0. He won't make Irish fans forget Quinn,
but before he graduates, he'll have a very nice career. If Brey opts to go
with three guards, which is likely, McAlarney will share the point guard
duties with freshman Tory Jackson and play alongside Jackson and Falls, at
The best player on this year's team is Russell Carter. He averaged
11.5 ppg and 5.1 rpg last season, but his stats don't tell the whole story.
He's quick, athletic, and strong. He can put the ball on the floor and
drive, he can post up, and he can hit the outside shot (41% on treys last
Brey went with a four-guard lineup with Carter defending the 4 for a
good portion of the conference season last year, and he will likely do it
again. With Jackson at point and Falls and McAlarney on the wings, teams
will have to respect the perimeter shooting of the latter two. Carter
creates match-up problems for other 4s in the conference. If they don't
come out to guard him, he can drain the outside shot, and if they do, he can
beat them off the dribble. Carter improved as much as any other BE player
during the season last year. If he continues to improve, he could compete
for all-conference honors.
Jackson will give the Irish backcourt something it desperately needs -
quickness. He wasn't an RSCI Top 100 recruit, though two analysts included
him in their Top 100, while three others had him between 101 and 125. He
has the ability to beat his defender off the dribble and drive to the hole.
If he can do that against Big East point guards, he will be able to set up
Falls, McAlarney, and Carter for open jump shots. He also likes to push the
ball up the floor. With Carter running the floor at the 3 or the 4, and
McAlarney, who can play at either a fast or slow pace running on the wing,
Jackson can be effective in a transition game, especially if Falls spots up
behind the arc either on the initial break or as a trailer.
Brey and his staff face numerous questions up front. Junior Rob Kurz,
averaged 6.4 ppg and 5.1 rpg in 21.2 mpg. He's strong, and he can board in
traffic . Extrapolating his rebounding stats to 30 mpg, he'd average 7.6
rpg, which is definitely respectable. However, he has yet to prove he is a
reliable low-post scorer.
Sophomore Luke Zeller is also back, but he's not
an interior player. The former high school Player of the Year in Indiana,
Zeller likes to play on the perimeter despite being 6'11". By the end
of last year, he hardly saw the court. In fact, in his last nine games he
averaged only 4.1 mpg.
Then there's 6'7" Ryan Ayers, who played in
only four games in February. Furthermore, for the five games before the
Michigan NIT game, he averaged fewer than two mpg, then, surprisingly,
played 34 minutes against the Wolverines. Given that last-game turn-around,
it's hard to predict what his role will be this year.
As important as Tory Jackson’s development at point guard will be for
the Irish, a more critical key could be the play of fellow freshman, Luke Harangody, a 6'8" center/power forward. He's strong, and he can rebound,
especially on the defensive end, but he's not very quick, and he's not much
of a jumper. Still, he ranked #66 on RSCI and appeared on basically every
Top 100 list. Given the lack of depth up front, he has a decent chance to
earn quality minutes, and he could push for a starting position.
Last year, the Irish led the country in
close, heartbreaking, last-second losses. While those have a way of evening
out over time, it will take a lot of fortuitous circumstances for Notre Dame
to be in contention for an invitation to the Big Dance in 2006-2007.
Another NIT season is more likely, but that may not be enough to keep Irish
fans from calling for Brey’s ouster.
Predicted Finish: 12 of 16