Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 9, 2019

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

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Page 6 of 55 NOV. 9, 2019 7 UNDER THE DOME No Place To Go But Up For The Men By Lou Somogyi What defines "better" is a relative term. After a phenomenal 2010-19 de- cade that included eight straight regular-season conference championships, seven Final Fours, six national title game appearances and the epic 2018 na- tional championship, the Notre Dame women lose 92.7 percent of the points scored last year. No one just "reloads" from that. Furthermore, Notre Dame also scheduled with the anticipation that No. 1 overall WNBA pick Jackie Young would return for her senior year. A top-four placement in the ACC with a Sweet 16 is the ceiling this year. Head coach Mike Brey and the 2019-20 Fighting Irish would sign up for such a season immediately after last year's attrition-ravaged, youth-laden 14-19 campaign. The last time the Irish were under .500 was 2014 (6-12 in the league), and then a more veteran cast responded with an ACC title and the first Elite Eight in 36 years. No, we are not anticipating such a turnaround this year. Still, with five seniors or fifth-year seniors, the Irish have the "old" look upon which Brey thrives. Notre Dame also has a more battle-tested five-man sophomore corps to augment the experience — and an overall hunger to return to NCAA Tournament action. Thirteen of the top 15 ACC players from last season have departed, and one of the two returning is double-double machine John Mooney. On paper, Brey has seven former top-110 recruits on his team, and better cohesion and chemistry than last year. Staying healthy will be pivotal. In relative terms, it should be a better season for the men. No Point In Arguing Against The Women By Todd D. Burlage From the outside looking in, believing that the sky has finally fallen on Muf- fet McGraw's women's basketball program is forgivable. The Irish head coach lost all five starters from last year to the WNBA Draft. And those five players combined for a remarkable 10,230 points during their careers, easily an all- time NCAA record for any men's or women's team. Of the 3,454 points the Irish scored last season, this year's returning players combined for only 253 of those, or just 7.3 percent of the team's total. But never underestimate the sustainability of the four-time Associated Press Coach of the Year who has taken her team to the Final Four in seven of the last nine years and the NCAA Tournament 24 straight times. The gap between the have and have not in wom- en's college basketball is much wider than it is in the men's game. There are still four former McDonald's All-Americans on the roster, led by 6-2 freshman and top-five prospect Samantha Brunelle, and a veteran presence at point guard with Stanford graduate transfer Marta Sniezek. Notre Dame women will have no problem making the NCAA Tournament for a 25th consecutive season. Hard to make such a guarantee for the Irish men, who at 3-15 finished last in the ACC last season and missed the Big Dance for the second straight year. Growing pains? Sure, the Notre Dame women are picked to finish only fifth in the ACC. But by the time the season ends, McGraw's Irish may not be all the way back on top, but not too far below it. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHICH NOTRE DAME BASKETBALL TEAM WILL HAVE THE BETTER SEASON, MEN OR WOMEN? MIKE BREY MUFFET MCGRAW Notre Dame senior forward John Mooney finally received some just rewards last month when he was named to the 2019-20 Preseason All-ACC First Team. The good news is that Mooney earned that honor after last season when he became one of the top breakouts and most improved players in the country, leading all ACC players with 20 over- all double-doubles in points and rebounds, 13 of which came in conference play. The bad news is that even with all of Mooney's efforts in 2018-19, his Irish still finished only 14-19 overall and 3-15 in league play, missing the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season. Mooney's 13 double-doubles and 12.6 re- bounds per game in league play last year were the second best single-season marks in ACC his- tory, trailing only the records set by Tim Duncan in 1996-97 when he recorded 15 double-doubles and averaged 14.9 rebounds at Wake Forest. Notre Dame begins its 2019-20 regular season at No. 9 North Carolina Nov. 6. BGI: What were you most proud of from last season? Mooney: "It was just the consistency. My soph- omore year, I had some good games and I had some games when I wasn't at a high level. But all of that aside, we want to win and that's the bottom line. "We didn't do that last year, so my one goal is to get back to the NCAA Tournament. That's what I'm working toward." BGI: Head coach Mike Brey has challenged you to carry yourself more like the league's best player. What goes into that? Mooney: "I'm always confident in my game, but the thing he has been stressing is that the more confident I am, the more confident the rest of the team will be. "I kind of have to set the tone each and every day and embrace that role because it's a team game and I want to win, so having everyone on board is definitely important." BGI: Does the success you had last year make it easier to carry yourself that way this season? Mooney: "I think so. When you play well and you see your game improve, your confidence just kind of goes up naturally and it's only going to improve even more, so I'm excited about that." BGI: What did you notice about this team dur- ing the preseason that gives you confidence for improvement? Mooney: "We're just playing better together. We kind of know each other's game more. It's cool to see us come together." BGI: Would you expand on that, what is the biggest difference on the team heading into this season? Mooney: "The guys are playing at a higher level, sharing the basketball and feeding off each other. Coming off last year, no one's giving us a shot, so we have to play with a chip on our shoulder to get the job done and prove these people wrong." — Todd D. Burlage Five Questions With … MEN'S BASKETBALL SENIOR FORWARD JOHN MOONEY Mooney's 13 double-doubles and 12.6 rebounds per game in league play last year were the second-best single-season marks in ACC his- tory, behind only Wake Forest's Tim Duncan in 1996-97 (15 and 14.9). PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA

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