Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Notre Dame Program Profile


2005-2006 Team Roster from Official Team Site: ROSTER.

The Notre Dame Coaching Staff: ND STAFF.

Home Court: Joyce Center: JOYCE CENTER INFO.

OVERVIEW: Not too many fans of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish anticipated the Chris Thomas era to end with a home loss to Holy Cross in the NIT. Adding to the fact that it was a second straight NIT appearance for the Fighting Irish under Mike Brey has made things even tougher to swallow for those fans of the program. When you also consider, as they prepare for the 2005-2006 season, they are losing three of their top six players from those back to back NIT teams, including their star player, and one might not be expecting a banner season out of South Bend this winter.

However, I think Mike Brey has plenty of reasons to be optimistic as he enters his 6th season as the head coach at Notre Dame. In Brey’s first three seasons, after coming from the University of Delaware, Brey and the Irish competed in the NCAA tournament each year and I fully expect Brey to lead the Irish back to the Big Dance in 2006. Some factors that have worked against the Irish the last couple seasons seem to be working for them this time around and I expect them to take full advantage within the Big East conference. The Irish return some talent that is ready to step into the spotlight and take their turn and an infusion of talent from a very solid recruiting class should get the Irish fans smiling once again in March.

LIGHTER PATH: The past two seasons, the Irish have been saddled with a tough conference schedule draw. Notre Dame is always a very skilled team that likes to play the game at a quicker pace and utilize their skill on the perimeter to cash in beyond the arc. Teams that they have a tough time matching up against the last couple seasons have been the long and athletic teams of Connecticut and Syracuse as well as the physical and monotonous style of Pittsburgh. Notre Dame has found themselves on the outside looking in of the NCAA tournament, mostly due to a pedestrian 17-15 conference record and early conference tournament exits. To go one step deeper, the Irish have posted a 3-9 record the last two seasons against Pitt, UConn and SU and have beat up on the rest of the conference at a .700 clip (14-6). Being a high profile institution and a great television draw, the Irish have been saddled with a tough conference slate to take advantage of their television appeal for the conference. This year, the addition of Louisville and the added marketability of high expectations at Villanova, has eased the Irish out of the conference spotlight into a role that should set them up for success.

RETURNEES: The Irish return three players that have figured into their past success very prominently: Chris Quinn, Torin Francis and Colin Falls. Falls and Quinn both averaged nearly 13 PPG last season and Francis slumped a bit returning from back surgery to average 9 PPG and nearly 8 rebounds. This should be a season in which Quinn takes a major step forward in the league, as a senior, it is his turn to step out of the Chris Thomas shadow. His late season injuries definitely hurt them as they faltered down the stretch and missed the NCAA tournament. Francis also returns for his senior season after entertaining the NBA draft process. Francis should be more of a focal point in the offense and rugged Ricky Cornett should team with him upfront to give him a little more help around the hoop and let Francis be more effective. Falls is one of the top 3-pt marksmen in the college game and is a tremendous stand still shooter that excels at finding an open spot to let it fly. Russell Carter also returns and really could add some needed athleticism on the perimeter between Quinn and Falls that should help defensively. Rob Kurz got some time late in the year and could figure in the front court mix and Omari Israel adds some additional athleticism to the wing.

INCOMING: The Irish add 4 very solid recruits to their roster this coming season. Luke Zeller is a skilled BF that can add some skill to the mix with Francis and Cornett up front and his ability to step out and pass, handle and shoot could create some room inside. He does need to add weight and get a little tougher, a common knock on Irish players, but the Indiana native will have high expectations from the Irish faithful. Kyle McAlarney is a highly touted shooter and scorer from Staten Island, NY that should fit the Irish perimeter mold that has been common with players like matt Carroll, Chris Quinn and Colin Falls very well as he is a player that can really shoot it and has a high basketball IQ. Speaking of high basketball intellect, Ryan Ayers, son of NBA coach Randy Ayers, also joins the Irish. The 6’7 swingman from Germantown Academy is a player with solid skills, athletic ability and a nice shooting stroke that will fit well at ND and provide a steady performer on the wing for seasons to come. Zach Hillesland is a 6’8 forward from Ohio that can add inside depth and has the skills to step out and shoot the ball as well.

LOSSES: Notre Dame bid farewell to seniors Chris Thomas and Jordan Cornette last season and Dennis Latimore decided to pursue professional opportunities after playing one season for the Irish. Thomas struggled in his senior season after having knee surgery in the off-seasons, but his career never matched the promise that was expected early on. The Irish were never able to take it to another level in his 4 seasons, despite a very good career for Thomas. His ability to knock down key shots will be missed, but others are also ready to take their shot for Notre Dame this year.

SCHEDULE: Finally, a break for the Irish! Instead of mirror schools like Syracuse, Connecticut and Pittsburgh as in the past, the Irish get DePaul, Marquette and Providence and all three should be looking up at the Irish in the standings. Each is in their own version of rebuilding after key losses from last year’s teams. They miss out on playing St John’s and Cincinnati. They will host Villanova and Syracuse and do face a tough road slate with dates at Louisville, Connecticut and West Virginia . This is a schedule the Irish should be able to take full advantage of in the conference.

OUTLOOK: To me, the outlook for the Irish is very positive this year. They have an above average core of returnees and some very solid new faces that should look very good in the Irish uniform. The Joyce Center will be a tough road trip for any Big East foe and Mike Brey is a very solid coach. The Irish will still need to get a little tougher on the defensive end, especially on the perimeter, but players like Carter and Cornett could add a little more of that dimension. Francis should be fully recovered from his back surgery and Chris Quinn is a player I expect to really raise his game in his senior year. Having two very experienced seniors as the focal points of the team will go a long way for the Irish this season. As long as they win the games they should, they should have a very successful Big East conference record and be a solid NCAA tournament team. Anything less would certainly be a disappointment.


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