Blue and Gold Illustrated

BGI April 2019

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 42 of 55 APRIL 2019 43 MEN'S BASKETBALL would have fit right in with the 2018‑19 Fighting Irish. Forward Elijah Burns, named a captain, left the team in Novem‑ ber after four games because of the growing youth movement and a bet‑ ter opportunity to play at Siena. Guard Rex Pflueger was just begin‑ ning to find his niche and stride during the team's one shining moment this year, an 88‑80 victory Dec. 15 versus Purdue, which went on to share the Big Ten regular‑season title. Pflueger handed out 10 assists and had only one turnover in that game before tearing his ACL in the closing minutes. No more senior class in 2018‑19, which is totally antithetical to Brey's modus operandi of "staying old." • In addition to Pflueger's injury, freshman guard Robby Carmody was lost that same month because of shoul‑ der surgery, and in the ACC opener at Virginia Tech Jan. 1 a knee injury to junior center Juwan Durham sidelined (five games) or limited him significantly for the better part of six weeks, and he was never quite the same thereafter. By the final week of the season, ju‑ nior forward Nik Djogo had labrum surgery while sophomore forward D.J. Harvey — who underwent mi‑ crofracture surgery on his knee in February 2018 — was sidelined with a hamstring injury. • Because Notre Dame signed only Harvey in the 2017 recruiting haul — on the heels of two Elite Eight finishes — the recruiting imbalance began to manifest itself by having to turn more and more toward the five‑ man freshman class, which is not the ideal formula in the Brey operation. While this year's rookie class is con‑ sidered his strongest harvest overall, it is not a game‑changing one from the outset and lacks the athletic ex‑ plosiveness of so many ACC brethren. There is a time‑tested develop‑ mental process in the Brey era that usually sees the athletes begin to blossom as juniors, i.e. John Mooney earning third‑team All‑ACC notice this year with his 14.1 and 11.2 re‑ bounds per game after averaging 5.6 and 3.9, respectively, the previous year as a sophomore. Unfortunately, regression occurred with junior guard T.J. Gibbs, whose 13.7 scoring average was mitigated by shooting only 35.5 percent from the field and 32.0 from three‑point range while trying to take on a much more expanded role in place of the lost senior class. • The shooting was hands down the worst in Brey's 19 seasons. Among 351 Division I teams and prior to entering the ACC Tourna‑ ment, Notre Dame was No. 343 in field goal percentage (39.5 percent), 303rd in three‑point shooting (31.8) and 275th in scoring (68.9, including only 60.7 in the 18 ACC games). A hallmark of Brey teams has been excellent ball movement, but the Irish had a proclivity to over‑dribble while missing open cutters off ball screens. It was 214th in assists — oftentimes because one can't record an assist if the ball doesn't fall through the rim. Freshman Prentiss Hubb made marked improvements as the sea‑ son progressed and will need to be a strong foundation for the future with his passing and quickness that is in relatively short supply on the roster. CRISIS IN CONFIDENCE/ THE FUTURE Lost in the rubble of the collapse was that Notre Dame often was com‑ petitive down to the final minutes against some of the top teams in the land. On the road, the Irish took two potential No. 1 NCAA Tournament seeds down to the final minute be‑ fore losing at North Carolina (75‑69) and at Virginia (60‑54). It also led much of the second half at top‑20 Florida State before falling 68‑61. "That's kind of been a little bit of the story of us," Brey said. "Just maybe not mature enough or men‑ tally tough enough yet to finish against a really good team." The problem was that those gut‑ wrenching losses to the better teams carried over to the Wake Forests, Clemsons and Pitts, who were more on Notre Dame's level. The Irish led Clemson 58‑54 with less than four minutes remaining at home on Senior Night March 6, be‑ fore losing 64‑62. Freshman forward Nate Laszewski had a chance to tie it in the closing seconds from the foul line, but missed the second attempt in a game where Mooney had 18 points and 20 rebounds. Three days later at Pitt, where the Irish led by 12 at one point, it was Mooney who was 1 of 11 from the floor while Laszewski tallied a career‑ high 23 points, shooting 6 of 9 from three‑point range. It was another mi‑ crocosm of the season — not having three or four players playing well to‑ gether at the same time. The inability to close games also has wreaked psy‑ chological havoc on the team. "We're just not a very confident group," Brey said. "You can't manu‑ facture confidence. You've got to win a little bit. We have not. So we wonder." Next season, Notre Dame is in a unique position where all 11 scholar‑ ship players — including Pflueger — return, although no freshmen were signed this past recruiting cycle. Five short years ago, Brey was in the throes of a 15‑17 finish (6‑12 in the ACC) — and turned it around with a phenomenal 32‑6 season and the program's first Elite Eight ap‑ pearance in 36 years. There is no guarantee of return‑ ing to an NCAA Tournament level without some significant upgrades all around, but the track record over the past two decades has demon‑ strated that the collapse in 2019 can be rebuilt — provided good health, continued development and commit‑ ment return and remain. ✦ THREE-POINT PLAY 1. Almost Most Improved — Junior forward John Mooney's marvelous effort this year earned him third-team All-ACC honors, and he was the runner-up to Louisville's Jordan Nwora as the league's most improved player. Such acclaim doesn't always occur on a 3-15 team, but Mooney's warrior-like efforts consistently earned plaudits throughout the conference. 2. In Need Of Assistance — There isn't a bet- ter athlete on the team than sophomore wing D.J. Harvey, whose season was in question over the summer after undergoing microfrac- ture surgery. He averaged a solid 10.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, but 19 assists in 718 minutes of action is just part of the story of the ball movement or finding the open man that was lacking. 3. Freshman Orientation — With guard Robby Carmody (shoulder) sidelined and cen- ter Chris Doherty limited to 30 minutes this season, the remaining freshman class of point guard Prentiss Hubb (8.2 points per game and a team-high 124 assists), forward Nate Lasze- wski (6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds) and guard Dane Goodwin (6.2 points and 3.1 rebounds) took their lumps, but are projected to be the better for it. A lot will be riding on this group to define the future. — Lou Somogyi

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - BGI April 2019