Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 9, 2019

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 45 of 55

46 NOV. 9, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY TODD D. BURLAGE M ike Brey enters his 20th sea- son as Notre Dame head coach having built the success of his program on "staying old," by making his guys pay their dues, develop and wait for their time to shine. Injuries and transfers threw Brey's plan off last season — in a big way — forcing the Fighting Irish mentor to change his strategy and take his lumps as he tried to mix in five new faces from his freshman class. Notre Dame wasn't projected to contend for an ACC title last season. But a team that always thrived on con- sistency and routinely found its way through the toughest league in the country also didn't expect to win only three conference games and finish dead last in the final ACC standings. The Irish lost eight home games and muddled through losing streaks of five and seven games in 2018-19. A year older, and hopefully a year better, Brey's charges enter 2019-20 hoping to right the wrongs of last season, and make a return to the NCAA Tournament after missing it the last two years. "We're older, we're more mature," senior guard T.J. Gibbs said. "Last year was an eye opener for us. We had some guys who were not neces- sarily weak-minded, but immature." Brey agrees. "We're older, we're healthier, we're better," he said. "Now, what's that mean in the league we signed up for?" That ACC mission changes this season. For the first time in confer- ence history, its members will play 20 games, and that includes a sea- son opener for Notre Dame at No. 9 North Carolina Nov. 6. Power forward and team captain John Mooney believes this team is ready. "We're just playing better to- gether," said Mooney, whose league- best 13 double-doubles in conference play last year earned him preseason first-team All-ACC honors. "We kind of know each other 's games more. It's cool to see us come together." The ACC media predicted the Irish to finish seventh in the league this season, which if that holds together, would likely get them back into the NCAA Tournament. Seventh is two spots higher than Notre Dame was predicted to finish last season. So here's a look at what lies ahead for the Irish in 2019-20 — broken down by must haves, bubble wins and steals — and what it will take to re- bound from the misery of a year ago. MUST HAVES This section features the 16 games Notre Dame needs to win to posi- tion itself for an NCAA Tournament berth. Bids are not earned in this seg- ment, but certainly they can be lost. Non-conference (nine): Rob- ert Morris (18-17 overall record in 2018-19), Howard (17-17), Marshall (23-14), Presbyterian (20-16), Toledo (25-8), Fairleigh Dickinson (21-14), Detroit Mercy (11-20), Alabama A&M (5-27) and UCLA (17-16). ACC (seven): Boston College (14-17), Syracuse (20-14), Wake For- est (11-20), Georgia Tech (14-18), at Wake Forest, Virginia Tech (26-9) and Pittsburgh (14-19). Notice that all but one of these above must-win games is at home for Notre Dame; that's the good news. The bad news is that the Irish went only 11-8 last season at Purcell Pavilion. A mid-November home loss to Radford a year ago might have fore- shadowed fortunes to come, and there are plenty of "Radford-esque" opponents on this year's early non- conference schedule. In the 12 days from Nov. 15-26, the Irish play four non-conference oppo- nents at home — Marshall, Presbyte- rian, Toledo and Fairleigh Dickinson — that all won at least 20 games last season. This stretch could forecast what kind of Notre Dame team and season lies ahead. BUBBLES If Notre Dame can hold up with no more than two losses in the "musts" category, this is where its season might be made or broken. Non-conference (one): Indiana (19-16). ACC (five): at Syracuse, at Georgia Tech (14-18), Miami (14-18), at Boston College and Florida State (29-8). Indiana provides an opportunity to go out of conference and secure a neutral-site win at Banker 's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The other five are ACC games with three on the road against teams that not much is expected from this Senior guard T.J. Gibbs believes a more mature Fighting Irish team will be able to end a two-year NCAA Tournament drought. PHOTO BY COREY BODDEN MUST HAVES, BUBBLES AND STEALS Notre Dame is trying to rebound from a last-place ACC finish in 2018-19

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - Nov. 9, 2019