Monday, October 5, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Too Busy for the Details?
Overestimating Kyle McAlarney's offensive production while undervaluing Rob Kurz's defensive contributions yielded a massive miscalculation of Notre Dame's 2009 prospects. Will observers make the same mistake two years running? Can Coach Mike Brey find those (improved/better) perimeter scorers and front court rebounders on his bench and/or among the transfers accepted back in the summer of 2008? I don't think so, but then I have been wrong about the Irish. Twice in a row. Two years running. Prognosis -- A 3rd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
A quick look at returning percentages suggest the Fighting Irish have a few mainstays to replace. The officially acknowledged 3 starters (Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland) looks about right. Luke Zeller, a rotation player of whom much was expected but little developed, chipped in some 3s and rebounds.


Returning numbers hint strongly at the role Harangody (returning) and McAlarney (graduated) have played in Notre Dame's system for the past three seasons -- large percentages of points and rebounds are coming back, but very little of the perimeter game. Coach Brey's task has been to find shooters to fill McAlarney's (and previously graduated Colin Falls'...) shoes.

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg115.219116.422119.010
Overall DRtg97.28592.44293.049
Big East ORtg108.25110.12106.93
Big East DRtg108.113103.61099.38
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%50.013152.27853.542
All Off. TOv%13.7118.23018.130
All Off. OReb%31.123535.57536.177
All Off. FTA/FGA27.033834.124040.379
All Def. eFG%47.810546.74047.259
All Def. TOv%14.434417.133020.9181
All Def. OReb%30.57830.36731.270
All Def. FTA/FGA27.21423.0430.958
Four Factors -- Big East
BE Off. eFG%49.7952.4350.85
BE Off. TOv%14.2118.2617.95
BE Off. OReb%30.91333.7832.111
BE Off. FTA/FGA26.51537.11037.98
BE Def. eFG%49.2948.0447.88
BE Def. TOv%12.91615.51519.18
BE Def. OReb%31.4332.8734.29
BE Def. FTA/FGA31.4723.4131.65
All Gms Cons26.033224.029124.7304
All Gms Luck-.042262+.03465-.025213

Reviewing Notre Dame's Big East "Four Factors", it is striking that while the Irish offense has "drifted" downward the past 2 seasons, their defense collapsed in 2009. The culprits? Look to a declining shot defense (eFG%), a nasty rise in the foul-to-FGA rate (FTA/FGA) and an chronic lack of on-ball defense (their TOv% -- turnover rate) that just got worse. If the Irish did a slightly better job in denying their Big East opponents second chance field goal opportunities, they more than gave it back with slightly worse shot defense and allowing opponents to get to the free throw line. For those who point to the drop off in Notre Dame's offense (specifically their decline in 3 point conversions), consider that had the Irish played even "average" defense last season (about 104 or 1.04 points per possession) they would have finished with a 10-8 record instead of an 8-10 record. And 10-8 would have given the Irish a 19-11 record going into the Big East Tournament; they would have been poised with 1-2 more wins, to go back to the NCAAs.

For the Record...
Big East8100.4441440.7781150.688
Post Season?NIT/Rnd 4NCAA/Rnd 2NCAA/Rnd 1

Notre Dame's Nucleus
Coach Mike Brey has Luke Harangody in the middle and pg Tory Jackson at the point. That is as good a start as any can expect.

On Offense
Tory Jackson84.4100.720.617.646.00.9730.9
Luke Harangody80.6109.234.035.547.01.0435.1
Jonathan Peoples35.297.515.714.845.00.9213.4
Tyrone Nash26.6115.716.

On Defense
Tory Jackson84.43.79.825.619.40.42.0
Luke Harangody80.610.625.414.
Jonathan Peoples35.26.110.714.618.90.91.7
Tyrone Nash26.613.719.

Jackson and Harangody will serve as the bookends, but will senior Jon Peoples or junior Tyrone Nash be ready to supply (and surpass...) the missing 3 pointers and rebounds Ayers, McAlarnye, Hillesland and Zeller took when they left the program? From his numbers Nash appears to be the more promising prospect, but his playing time (26.6% of the minutes at his forward position) suggest his rebounding, block and steal rate numbers may be distorted (they rest well at the high end for DI players). With a Shot% of 12.0 he was clearly not the 1st or 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) option on those very efficient numbers may also be overstated. He and Peoples will obviously see more time this season and have an excellent opportunity to establish their claim to starting jobs (or higher positions in the rotation). Deeper on Mike Brey's bench, juniors Tim Abromaitis (forward), Carleton Scott (forward) and Tom Kopko (guard), along with senior Tim Andree (forward), will be available for playing time.

Significant Additions
Notre Dame will introduce 4 true freshmen (assuming no one redshirts) this season, but, Jack Cooley aside for a moment, the biggest impact from new players will come from Notre Dame's incoming transfer, 6-3 shooting guard Ben Hansbrough, a senior (with 2 years of eligibility left) transfer from Mississippi State. Scott Martin, a 6-8 junior (with 3 years of eligibility left) guard/forward who transferred in from Matt Painter's Purdue program, but will sit a second consecutive season (2009-10), as he tore his ACL in an early fall team workout. Scott will be missed this season, as he logged 700 minutes in 32 games for the Boilermakers in the 2008 season. While Scott was assertive on offense (%Poss & %Shot were > 23.0), he was not particularly efficient (eFg% < 50.0), he showed aggression with the ball, getting to the line nearly once for every two FGAs. Better still were his contributions on defense. Pomeroy ranked Martin in his Top 500 in block and steal rates (steals in particular would be especially valued by the Irish), and his rebounding, while not top 500 worthy (lacking minutes to be ranked), Martin's rebounding numbers, comparable to departed Zach Hillesland's, would have helped to shore up Notre Dame's presense in the paint.

Ben Hansbrough played over 1800 minutes in his two seasons in Rick Stansbury's program, averaging 10.8 points per game his sophomore season (2008). While not the 1st (or 2nd) option in the Bull Dog offense, Hansbrough was a very efficient scorer (PPWS 1.16), largely from the perimeter. He took nearly 60% of his FGAs from beyond the arc, hitting 35.8% of the time. Using Pelton's inside/outside stat, Hansbrough scored a -43.2 -- decidedly outside. Hansbrough will step into McAlarney's role, patrolling the perimeter, looking for an opening (and a kickout from Harangody?) to take a shot. Hansbrough will help with assists, but given his turnover rate, this part of his game was a wash for his first 2 seasons. His contributions on the defensive side of the ball may be minimal if his history with Mississippi State holds through his tenure at South Bend.

Incoming power forward Jack Cooley (Glenbrook South HS, Glenview, ILL) heads the incoming class of four true freshman. He is, according to scouting evaluations, the best of the lot. Others include 6-5, 205 lb #3 Joey Brooks out of Strake Jesuit College Prep (TX), Mike Broghammer, another 6-8 #4 out of Minnesota and Thomas Knight, a 6-8 wide body (260 lbs) #5 from Maine.

Explode If...
1. Coach Brey can find a pair of sharp shooters who can replace the departed McAlarney and Colin Falls. Best candidates are Jon Peoples and Ben Hansbrough, but with conversion rates in the mid 30s, both will have to become more accurate, even as they become more prolific.
2. Coach Brey can find a Rob Kurz clone in Tyrone Nash or Jack Cooley (or any of the others). There is a chance, with defensive eyes focused on Harangody, for a less than completely polished forward to operate, converting on interior passes and grabbing rebounds.

Implode If...
It is a little difficult, with Harangody and Jackson on board and a half-way decent McAlarney replacement (Hansbrough? Peoples?) roaming the perimeter, to see a floor much lower than where the Irish landed last season. What would have to go wrong for Notre Dame to lose ground on their 8-10 2009 finish?
1. Harangody and Jackson cannot run the offense by themselves. When an opponent shut down (and frustrated) Harangody the Irish foundered looking for shots and second chance opportunities.
2. Take either Jackson or Harangody out of the picture and the Irish are in trouble. Really bad trouble.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The Chicago Invitational Challenge, along with the long standing series with UCLA, appear to be the most challenging parts of Notre Dame's OOC. The Irish will host 2 mid/low major Chicago Invitational participants, Kennesaw State (Atlantic Sun) and Liberty (Big South) before heading out to Chicago to face Northwestern (Big Ten) in the semi-finals. Northwestern returns virtually all of their roster from 2009, and should be in the conversation for an NCAA bid in March 2010. The second game in Chicago will match Notre Dame with either Iowa State (Big 12) or St. Louis (A10), both of whom will be middling teams in their respective conferences. UCLA however, will most likely be Notre Dame's highest regarded opponent. Before the Big East schedule gets underway. The entire OOC may not be set at this point, but of the 6 teams they will face that have not been identified, 3 had RPIs >= 295 last season, while 2 others had RPIs > 200. Of the 12 known games, taking a 10-2 record into the Big East season may not be reason for optimism.

Few Big East teams are as bi-polar in their home-away play as Notre Dame. The Irish have done 0.500 or better on the road only twice in the last six Big East seasons, while they have run their home Big East slate twice over the same period, and finished as low as 0.500 only once. January will be the month for Irish road games as they play 5 of their games before 1/31 (Connecticut, South Florida, Cincinnati, Villanova and Rutgers in that order). 2-3 (or better) in those games would be good news in South Bend, as they will likely pick up another road win (Louisville? Marquette?) before they head off to Madison Square Garden and the BET. Notre Dame will play only four home games during that stretch (12/30 - 1/30) -- having a 0.500 record (+ or - one) on February 1 would be very good news for the Golden Domers. A 3-6 record (but no worse) would not preclude their getting to 9-9 by season's end, as they open their 2nd half with a two game homestand of Cincinnati followed by South Florida. But they would have to sweep those two games, pick a road win and while holding serve at home, to squeeze six wins out of the second half of the season.

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