Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 19, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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48 NOV. 19, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY COREY BODDEN A unique season awaits head coach Mike Brey in his 19th year at the helm of the Notre Dame men's basketball program, which started with wins over Illinois- Chicago (84-67 Nov. 6) and Chicago State (89-62 Nov. 8). The Fighting Irish graduated three of their top four scorers — including star seniors Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell — off a team that was decimated by injuries and missed the NCAA Tourna- ment last year. Brey now has a transition roster that features five freshmen with a transfer mixed in and just one player (guard Rex Pflueger) who runs out of eligi- bility following the season. It will be an intriguing storyline to see how the group jells throughout the year. The ACC media selected the Irish to finish ninth in the league, which is down from a third-place prediction a year ago. Getting back to the Big Dance would be a significant feat. Here's a look at Notre Dame's 2018- 19 schedule broken down into three sections — must haves, bubbles and steals — with each playing a role in its ultimate postseason fate. MUST HAVES This section features the contests Notre Dame needs to win to establish themselves in a position to reach their postseason goals. Non-conference (10): Illinois-Chi- cago (20-16 overall record in 2017-18), Chicago State (3-29), Radford (23-13), William & Mary (19-12), Duquesne (16-16), DePaul (11-20), Illinois (14-18), Binghamton (11-20), Jacksonville (15- 18) and Coppin State (5-27). ACC (five): Boston College (19-16), at Boston College, Georgia Tech (13- 19), Wake Forest (11-20) and at Pitts- burgh (8-24). In order for the Irish to pad their résumé for a bid to the NCAA Tourna- ment, they will need to claim at least 12 or 13 of these 15 contests — at worst. Illinois is the lone Power Five non- conference opponent, and head coach Brad Underwood will have to replace two of the team's top scorers in for- wards Leron Black (15.3 points per game) and Michael Finke (9.8). The Illini added firepower, however, land- ing Kent State big man transfer Adonis De La Rosa (11.8 points and 7.6 re- bounds per game), five-star guard Ayo Dosunmu of Chicago and Rivals100 forward Tevian Jones. The Eagles, Yellow Jackets, Demon Deacons and Panthers were predicted to finish at the bottom of the ACC, which means the Irish need to take advantage of these opportunities. BUBBLES Much of Notre Dame's toss-up games appear to reside in the ACC where the Irish may be the slight fa- vorite or underdog. Non-conference (two): Oklahoma (18-14) and at UCLA (21-12). ACC (seven): Syracuse (23-14), North Carolina State (21-12), at Geor- gia Tech, at Miami (22-10), Virginia Tech (21-12), at Louisville (22-14) and Clemson (25-10). Oklahoma ranked in the top 10 na- tionally with an average of 84.9 points per game last season — but much of that production came from freshman guard Trae Young, who became a top- five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Given this will be played in New York, it could go either way for the Irish. Notre Dame's top non-conference road contest is a renewal of the rivalry with UCLA. Head coach Steve Al- ford's team began the season ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press poll despite eight new faces on the roster. The Bruins have to replace guard Aaron Holiday (20.3 points and 5.8 as- sists per game) and forward Thomas Welsh (12.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per contest), while their 2018 recruit- ing class took a significant hit when Rivals100 forward Shareef O'Neal (heart) and Rivals100 guard Tyger Campbell (knee) were sidelined. Five- star center Moses Brown will lead in the post. Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Clem- son were picked to finish among the top six in the preseason ACC poll, but the Irish getting each of them at home increases their chances for a victory. Even though Virginia Tech forward Chris Clarke (8.2 points and 6.3 re- bounds per game) was suspended indefinitely at the outset of the sea- son, head coach Buzz Williams and company return senior guard Justin Robinson (14.0 points per contest), redshirt junior forward Kerry Black- shear Jr. (13.3) and sophomore guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (10.7). MUST HAVES , BUBBLES AND STEALS The new-look Fighting Irish aim to return to the NCAA Tournament Brey could incorporate up to six new players — five freshmen and a transfer — in his rotation this season. PHOTO BY COREY BODDEN

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