2008-09 Notre Dame Basketball Preview: #9
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Overall Rank: #9
Conference Rank: #3 Big East
2007-08: 25-8, 14-4, 2nd
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
On paper few teams in the nation are better than Notre Dame. The Irish finished last year with a 14-4 conference record and that is quite impressive in the grueling Big East. A second round NCAA Tournament exit ended Notre Dame’s year a little earlier than they had hoped, but with just about everybody back, a year older and a year wiser, the expectations for the 2008-2009 Notre Dame team are through the roof. And those expectations are in large part due to junior forward Luke Harangody. As a sophomore last year the 6-8 reigning Big East Player of the Year averaged 20.4 points and 10.6 rebounds. Performing that well as an upperclassman may be difficult now that the opposition will not overlook Harangody.
The lone loss is a big one; Rob Kurz, a 6-9, 232 pound forward, averaged 12.5 points and 7.1 rebounds during his senor season. Fortunately, the Irish have plenty of other weapons returning and Kurz’s departure should not be as big of a deal as it sounds.
Lanky forward Carlteon Scott redshirted last year and will provide some depth on the wing this year. On a team that lacks proven depth, Scott will get an opportunity for some playing time this year.
Who to Watch:
This team is about more than Harangody. Shooting guard Kyle McAlarney is one of the best shooters in the Big East and hit 3.3 three-pointers per game last year. That is impressive enough, but the 6-0 senior knocked down 44.1 percent of his attempts. McAlarney will do more than score though, as he is also a solid passer who can find his teammates when he is not open. However, it is Tory Jackson who does most of the passing. The 5-11 point guard led the Big East with 5.8 assists per game and is poised to have a great junior campaign in 2008-2009. Ryan Ayers was a part-time starter last year and should step into a full-time position for his senior year. The 6-7 wing will do a little bit of everything, but what he does best is shoot the ball. Ayers hit 45.1 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc and knocked down 1.7 per game. If he can start using his size to get to the basket more often, Ayers will be yet another dynamic scoring threat for the Irish. Jonathan Peoples played in all 33 games last year, but he only averaged 11.5 minutes per contest. McAlarney averaged 35.7 and Jackson totaled 32.8 minutes per game. Peoples, and other less experienced players, must be ready to play more minutes or the Irish backcourt will be tired by March.
The frontcourt has a similar problem with their depth. Zach Hillesland is an experienced senior who is expected to replace Kurz and Luke Zeller is a solid option off the bench, but that is pretty much all Coach Mike Brey has to work with. Hillesland started 16 games last year and averaged 6.1 points and 5.2 rebounds. If he can replace Kurz’s numbers, few teams in the nation will have a starting five as talented as Notre Dame’s group. However, with Hillesland stepping into the starting lineup, there is little room for injury and foul trouble. Zeller, a 6-10 senior, will be the first big man off the bench, but the Fighting Irish need a player like Tim Abromaitis to step up. Abromaitis only played in 12 games last year and it remains to be seen if he can play some quality minutes off the bench. If he, or anybody else, cannot provide Notre Dame with some depth, it could lead to another early exit in the NCAA Tournament.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Tory Jackson, Junior, Guard, 8.0 points per game
Kyle McAlarney, Senior, Guard, 15.1 points per game
Ryan Ayers, Senior, Guard, 7.8 points per game
Luke Harangody, Junior, Forward, 20.4 points per game
Zach Hillesland, Senior, Forward, 6.1 points per game