BGI Special Preview

Blue & Gold Illustrated

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 47 of 55

48 OCT. 7, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY LOU SOMOGYI T he first time Notre Dame men's basketball suffered a losing season under head coach Mike Brey was 2014-15, when the then 15th-year head coach saw his squad debut in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 15-17 overall re- cord and a 6-12 mark in the league. The next year with a returning vet- eran nucleus, the Fighting Irish had one of their four greatest seasons in the post-World War II era, finishing 32-6, capturing the ACC champion- ship and advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time in 36 years. A similar rebound in 2019-20 is not projected after last year's 14-19 melt- down that included a 3-15 ledger for a last-place tie in the 15-team ACC, but returning to the NCAA Tourna- ment for the first time since 2017 is attainable for at least two reasons. First, Brey notes that the league lost a bevy of alpha figures, with 10 of the top 27 picks in this year's NBA Draft (and six of the top 11) com- ing from the ACC. Among the 15 on the three All-ACC teams last year, only Notre Dame's John Mooney and Louisville's Jordan Nwora return. This goes far beyond the personnel losses of the "Big Three" in reigning national champ Virginia and peren- nial superpowers Duke and North Carolina, but also the roster shifts at Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina State and Miami. "You feel there is a chance to jump up," Brey said. Second, it's because Notre Dame returns 10 scholarship players, all of whom had multiple starts, even cur- rent sophomore guard Robby Car- mody, who underwent shoulder sur- gery in December that enables him to use a medical redshirt in the future if he so desires. The Irish did lose starting junior wing D.J. Harvey, who transferred to Vanderbilt. The breakup was cor- dial and even a relief to both parties because his style with that of the pro- gram's identity did not mesh. "I said, 'I'll never take your schol- arship, but your role is going to be completely different [next year]," Brey said. "It was very amicable … I told him, 'I failed. I can't deliver on what we talked about [during his recruit- ment]. I just don't think I can do it." FOUR-MAN NUCLEUS The program's modus operandi under Brey has been to "stay old," which it was decidedly not last year with zero seniors after mid-Decem- ber and the bulk of the roster com- prised of freshmen and sophomores. This year 's nucleus will be more seasoned with fifth-year senior wing Rex Pflueger plus seniors Mooney and T.J. Gibbs at forward and guard, respectively. As has been the pattern through- out the Brey era, the 6-9, 245-pound Mooney blossomed as a junior, earn- ing third-team All-ACC honors while averaging 14.1 points and 11.2 re- bounds per game. "He was taking on ACC front lines himself, and he's still getting more confident … a pure team guy," Brey praised. Mooney is so centered on improve- ment that he did not even apply for any draft evaluation feedback, es- pecially after hearing second-hand from at least one scout that he prob- ably would not get drafted and is more of an NBA G-league figure. "He just shrugged and said, 'Well that explains that. Let me get to the weight room,'" recalled Brey with a laugh. On the flip side, Gibbs was the anomaly because his game took a step back last season as a junior — specifi- cally after Dec. 15 when Pflueger suf- fered a season-ending ACL tear dur- ing the 88-80 defeat of Purdue, which went on to advance to the Elite Eight and came within a buzzer beater of going to the Final Four. Pflueger just began to find his niche in that victory with 10 assists and On The Rebound Better seasoned team has opportunity to rise in 2019-20 Senior guard T.J. Gibbs is looking to regain his three-point shooting form this season, after watching it drop from 40.3 percent as a sophomore to 31.8 percent as a junior. Despite his shooting woes, he finished second on the team with a 13.7 scoring average in 2018-19. PHOTO BY COREY BODDEN

Articles in this issue

view archives of BGI Special Preview - Blue & Gold Illustrated