Friday, September 22, 2006


September 24, 2006

For the past three seasons, the Irish have disappointed their faithful and ended up in the post-season NIT. It was not supposed to be like that for Mike Brey and his Irish as Chris Thomas and Torin Francis looked to lead their program to the top of the Big East. However, the path to the top has slowly drifted north and last year the Irish had all they could do to just make the Big East tournament in New York, finishing 6-10 in conference play.

This year, the task will not be any easier as the Irish must find a way to replace their two best players: Chris Quinn and Torin Francis. They also lose serviceable frontcourt player Rick Cornett. There might not be a coach sitting on a hotter seat this year than Mike Brey. I really think he is a good guy and a good coach, but he is in a tougher spot than most may realize. The Irish are in a east coast conference and despite the Nore Dame name, they are finding it tough to compete with some of the basketball powers that have recruiting pull on the east coast. I also think Brey is a nice guy, and to a fault, has not insisted on more toughness from his team or program. Some of that might be changing this season as Brey has publicly said he is turning up the intensity in the preseason to get the players in better shape and stronger. Is it too little too late for the Irish?


Read Rest of the Notre Dame preview...click "READ MORE" below!!


The Irish have accrued a couple solid recruiting classes in a row. However, they do not seem to have anyone ready to make an impact to carry the load that Quinn and Francis did last season. Of their 11 players, eight are freshmen and sophomore's and the experience level is obviously low as Kyle McAlarney was the only one getting much playing time late last season. McAlarney will likely be called upon to be their leading backcourt player. He is a fiesty competitor who can shoot the ball and is getting better at making decisions with the ball. A scorer in high school, he will probably begin the season as their starting point guard but will also see time off the ball. By the end of the conference season McAlarney was in the starting line-up and averaged 6 PPG in Big East action while shooting 40% from behind the arc. He also chipped in 3 assists a game in the conference while shooting over 90% from the line. He will get help at the lead guard dutues with ultra-quick 5'10 Tory Jackson joining the team. The Saginaw, MI freshmen will add an element of speed and the Irish will hope to take advantage of his ability to penetrate and dish to their, as usual, excellent stable of shooters, which will include McAlarney.

On the wings, the Irish return a couple seniors, Russell Carter and Collin Falls. Carter spend some time in Mike Brey's doghouse, but he rebounded and had an excellent conference campaign, averaging over 13 PPG and chipping in nearly 6 rebounds a contest. Maybe the most surprising part of his season was he hit 44% from beyond the arc in the conference (27-61). The other familiar face is that of Falls, one of the best pure shooters in the college game. Last year Falls hit 58 of 146 3-pt attempts in conference play. Te only thing is, he does not bring much else to the table when he is not hitting from deep, he attempted just 32 shots inside the arc and added just 2.8 rebounds and less than 2 assists a game from the wing. The Irish were victimized by their inability to get key stops or big rebounds and that weakness from the wing did not help. Falls relies on others to create his opportunities and with Quinn and Francis gone, more defensive attention will be turned towards him.

Ryan Ayers played VERY limited minutes as a freshmen. He has a pure shooting stroke, but needs to get stronger and more active in other areas. Freshmen Jonathan Peoples and Joe Harden could also fight their way for some time at the wings. Harden is a hard-nosed player that the Irish need and will scrap for everything on the floor. Peoples offers a nother gear in terms of speed and athletic ability, he will just need to learn to pick his spots and harness that ability.

Again, it is the frontcourt that holds the hope of the Irish season in the balance. Rob Kurz also ended up in the starting line-up several times later last season. The junior who played sparingly as a freshmen contributed 6.4 PPG and almost 5 rebounds a game while playing 21 minutes a game in conference play. Kurz will try and battle underneath, but lacks the athletic ability to intimidate or gain an advantage against most frontlines. He is skilled and will step away from the basket to draw his man out of his comfort zone. Luke Zeller was the Irish recruiting coup of 2005 as Indiana's Mr. Basketball, but the 6'11 C is much more comfortable playing 20 feet away from the basket rather than battling in the Big East. Last year he saw his time nearly disappear towards the end of the conference season and he ended up averaging just 2.5 PPG and 2.3 rebounds a game in 12 minutes of action over 14 conference games. He shot just 31% from the floor and 27% from behind the arc (8-30) while only getting to the FT line 4 times in conference action. The Irish will need both Zeller and Kurz to significantly step-up their games this season and form a formidable Big East frontline. That might be a tad bit much to ask for this season, but seeing improvement from both is needed for the future of the Irish.

The other two frontcourt candidates are sophomore Zach Hillesland and freshmen Luke Harangody. Hillesland saw very little time last year. He offers skill, but to differentiate himself from the rest of the frontcourt candidates he needs to rebound and defend better. He is still probably a year away from being strong and physical enough to take time away from the others. Harangody does offer some hope and if Kurz and Zeller do not step it up he could take one of their jobs. He is a bruiser, something the Irish REALLY need, but banging in the Big East will be a tall order this year. However, I like what he brings to the table, although the adjustment period in this conference might take some time, eventually Harangody is going to be a nice player for the Irish in the Big East. Irish fans will hope that it comes sooner, rather than later.

The Irish added two nice freshmen in Harangody and Jackson that bring some physical needs to the table for the Irish that they were desperately lacking last year. Unfortunately, they also lose Quinn and Francis, two players that have some of the very attributes they will be needing more of this season. They lost a lot of close games last year on their way to a 6-10 mark in the conference. With their style, which is much more finesse than punch, they will need to be at the top of their game to win more this year. Their 3-pt shooting will keep them in games and always allow them to hang around, but until the find someone to create their own offense inside and be able to get the tough rebounds, I see them falling just short of last year's accomplishments. Of the teams they competed with to make the Big East tournament last year, it looks like the Irish lost the most and gained the least, even though their incoming class is decent. Their sophomore class will have to take a BIG step up this year.

It is a big year for Mike Brey, missing the Big East tournament as they work to get funding to improve the facilities on the basketball side could cause his seat to be red hot. Coach Brey is the type of coach you root for and his players are always good kids, but sometimes you wonder if his style and recruiting areas are not right for the Big East. We might get the final answer this season...

Read more!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Notre Dame Improving the Interior from Within?

September 5, 2006

The last couple years, toughness in the paint, especially when rebounding and defending, has been a big reason the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have been playing in the NIT and not the NCAA Tournament. With the graduation of Torin Francis and Rick Cornett, the focus inside will now shift to junior Rob Kurz and sophomore Luke Zeller. Mike Brey and many around the Big East will be focusing on these players early on as the Irish test themselves in the Preseason NIT and the Paradise Jam to see if their is improved interior play. Coach Brey will be hoping that Big Man Camp Pays off for Zeller and Kurz (South Bend Tribune) and their interior play improves on both ends of the floor. If not, they will find things tough, once again, in the Big East.

Read more!