Wednesday, October 22, 2008

No. 7 Notre Dame: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 25-8, 14-4 Big East (t-2nd)

Key Losses: Rob Kurz (12.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg)

Key Returnees: Luke Harangody (20.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg), Kyle McAlarney (15.1 ppg, 44% 3's), Tory Jackson (8.0 ppg, 5.8 apg)

Newcomers: None

Notre Dame returns basically everyone from the team that won 25 games last year and finished tied with Louisville for second in the Big East. Most importantly, Notre Dame returns its two big guns, reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody and 1st team all-conference performer Kyle McAlarney.

Harangody had a good freshman year, but not many could have expected what he did as a sophomore: 20.4 ppg and 10.6 rpg, upping those numbers to 23.3 and 11.3 in Big East play. 'Gody is a handful on the block to say the least, checking in at 6'8" and 255 lb. He is a good low-post scorer, tending to use a variety of quick moves (his favorite is probably a righty jump hook) to get his shot off against bigger, more athletic players. He seems like he knows his physical limitations (can't really jump, not very long) and as a result he excels at establishing position, both on the offensive and defensive end of the floor, and using his girth and strength to his advantage. On the defensive end, it results in tough shots for the guy he is guarding, and a flawless box-out technique. Offensively, it allows him seal a defender and finish at the rim (something he does extremely well). He is also surprisingly nimble for a guy his size, with quick feet and a nice spin move. Joining Harangody in the front court are two seniors, Zach Hillesland and Luke Zeller. Hillesland is a scrappy, 6'9" glue guy that plays some defense, rebounds the ball, and will pick up some floor burns along the way. Zeller is 6'11", but fairly perimeter oriented (32 of his 55 field goals last year where three's). With Rob Kurz graduating, one of those two is going to have to step up and be a threat for the Irish. Sophomore Tim Abromaitis and junior Tim Andree could also push for some minutes.

McAlarney is a combo-guard, but usually lines up at the two for the Irish. McAlarney's game centers around his jumper, which he can hit consistently out to around 28 feet, off the dribble or off the catch. He shoots a phenomenal percentage (44%) for someone that takes as many three's as he does (245, or 7.3 a game). He is a good ball-handler and can get by his man at times, but when he penetrates it usually results in a floater, a pull-up jumper, or a kick out. His back court mate is Tory Jackson. Jackson is a great penetrator, and can finish at the rim as well as find one of the many shooters Notre Dame has once he gets in the paint. He is a tough kid and one of the best guard rebounders (under 6'0" but averaged 5.1 boards), but his jump shot leaves much to be desired - he shot 30% from three and an abysmal 52% from the free throw line. Ryan Ayers, who split starts with Hillesland last year, will be the likely starter at the three. Ayers is a dead-eye three point shooter (55 3's on 45% shooting) and not much else (over 65% of his FG's attempted were 3's), but since defense's will have to respect his stroke, it will open up the paint for 'Gody. Jonathan Peoples, who at 6'3" may be the Irish's best perimeter defender, will also see a lot of time.

Outlook: Notre Dame can win games. They proved that last year. They have a lot of talented guys, a lot of guys that can score, and a lot of guys that can shoot. My question is with whether or not this team can win games in the post season. They are 2-4 in the Big East and NCAA tournament's the last two seasons. My other big question mark is who will be able to match up with a scorer in the post. Sure, Harangody will make someone earn their buckets, but do you really want to tire out your best player on defense, especially when that guy is as effective as he is because he out works the opponent? Notre Dame is a very good team and is going to win a lot of games, but in my mind for them to be a serious Final Four threat, they need one of their bigs to step up.

No comments: