Monday, October 11, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Too Busy for the Details?
The Irish might be the most volatile program in the conference, since 2006 Notre Dame has finished #12, #4, #3, #10 and #7. Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson have moved on, and the modest uptick of 2010 over 2009 may not be sustainable. A lot depends on the 2010 bench players, rehabbed Scott Martin and an influx of freshmen back court players. Lots of questions, not many answers.  Prognosis -- A 3rd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance

Returning minutes may be just below the conference-wide average, but the Irish do return 62.4% of their points (surprising perhaps given Harangody's role in the offense), higher than the conference average (58.9%). That from the #4 ranked (for points scored) team has to be cause for hope among the Notre Dame fan-base. Defensive rebounding rates, a strength for Notre Dame for the past three or so seasons, is just below the conference-wide average of 60.9%.

According to Pomeroy...
BE Off Eff.113.51108.25110.12
BE Def Eff109.713108.113103.610
BE Def eFG%50.2T1149.2948.04
BE D TOv%14.91612.91615.515
BE Def Reb%68.4268.6367.22
BE Def FTR32.7531.4723.41

Notre Dames defense consistently ranks in the bottom third (or quarter) of the conference, which leaves their elite offense (consistently ranked in or near the top quarter of the conference) with little margin for error. Compare their efficiency numbers (conference games only, above) for 2008-09 with the seasons before and after. Count on Notre Dame ranking #6 or higher in conference offense. The question is where will the Irish defense come from. While lack of fouling is generally considered "good", note that Notre Dame also ranks at the bottom of the conference in forcing turnovers. That combination strongly suggests a passive defense with little on-the-ball defense. Should Coach Brey get no more than a #13 or #14 ranked defense from the South Benders, a step back on offense would be fatal.

For the Record...
Big East1080.5568100.4441440.778
Post Season?NCAA Rnd #1NIT Rnd #4NCAA Rnd #2

Notre Dames Nucleus
Coach Brey used a seven man rotation in 2010 that included three seniors (Harangody, Jackson and Jon Peoples) and a transfer. Although his freshmen class numbered four deep and featured three front court players, the Coach did not get much play out of that contingent last season. The first 2010 freshman off the bench, Jack Cooley (a 6-9 244 pound forward), logged only 111 minutes, or about 7% of the available playing time. Even during Harangody's four game absence Cooley's playing time tripled, to about 22% of the available minutes, but was still low enough to suggest the staff favored senior Jon Peoples and junior Tyrone Nash and others with most of Harangody's playing time.

On Offense
Tim Abromaitis78.0127.821.224.360.44.81.3036.2
Ben Hansbrough87.7119.818.216.657.22.91.2145.4
Tyrone Nash65.2111.618.113.954.210.51.1375.1
Carleton Scott45.3114.015.115.656.28.61.1615.2

The remaining four of Notre Dame's seven man rotation contain only Tim Abromaitis as a "Significant Contributor" option on offense (possession rate, "p", 19.9% < p < 25%). Look for Ben Hansbrough, the 6-3 wing transfer from Mississippi, to see his role grow in the offense, as either part of the wing rotation that will include senior Carleton Scott and rehabilitated (hopefully) Scott Martin, a Purdue transfer who tore his ACL in the 2010 preseason, or in the back court as the point guard. 6-5 sophomore Joey Brooks will compete with an entering freshman or two for some minutes on the wing as well.

On Defense
Tim Abromaitis78.012.89.811.11.11.0
Ben Hansbrough87.79.922.617.31.90.4
Tyrone Nash65.213.011.717.81.81.6
Carleton Scott45.320.110.618.56.11.6

Look for the front court rotation to include graduate student Tim Abromaitis, who returns to complete his eligibility, to team with senior Tyrone Nash, and most likely, sophomore Jack Cooley. Cooley and Nash are the two best returning rebounders available. Should the staff want to go deeper, sophomore Tom Knight, a 6-9 251 pound bfc, will be available.

Significant Additions
If 2010 was the year of the front court recruit, the 2011 entering contingent is heavy with back court recruits, and none too soon, given Tory Jackson's graduation. While 6-4 wing Jerian Grant, out of De Matha HS in Washington DC may be the best regarded among the entering guard contingent, 6-1, 170 pount Eric Atkins will, as the presumed heir to Tory Jackson's role at the point, most likely see court time before Grant. Alex Dragcevich, another 6-6 wing (Coach Brey likes to collect wings...) may see PT if he makes progress.

Atkins is a penetrator who can either finish or draw and kick to the perimeter. Coach Brey will most likely experiment early with a line-up that starts both Hansbrough (who has some point skills himself) alongside Atkins in an offensive scheme that could use both interchangably. Atkins and Hansbrough, along with wings Scott & Abromaitis, with Nash in the paint, will most likely be the starting line-up early. Filling out the rotation, Cooley, Martin, Grant will most likely emerge with consistent minutes, with Brooks, Knight, sophomore Mike Broghammer, senior Tom Kopko and Dragicevich getting the call to clean up.

Explode If...
Believing Coach Brey will embrace a defense-first philosophy is out of the question, but ND's performance in the Mike Brey Era has consistently shined when the squad can post decent (ie Top 100) level defensive numbers. Better finishes follow better defensive showings, while poorer showings follow middling offensive showings (compare the "According to Pomeroy" and "For the Record" tables above).
1. Cooley works himself into the regular rotation and can team with Nash to establish a strong low post presence. Most likely both will have to show better offensive presence than they did last season, but should they provide the level of defense the Irish have lacked since Harangody's freshman year, Notre Dame can make a very big jump in the Big East.
2. Atkins proves he can handle the point, and can play well in tandem with Hansbrough. Atkins won't have to be an offensive "engine", as Hansbrough, Abromaitis and Scott should be effective from the wing and into (say) 10 feet or so. But Atkins does have to shoot (and penetrate) enough to require a defender. His passing may be the most valued asset this season.
3. Abromaitis proves that 2010 was not a fluke. If the Euro-style forward can continue to hit from the outside and also come in enough to rebound (at both ends of the court), the Irish could find themselves with three competent rebounders on the floor at the same time. That would be especially helpful for the offense (which does not miss much to begin with).

Implode If...
1. Atkins needs an extra year to mature and Hansbrough has to take the point consistently. While that would create another opening on the wing (Grant perhaps?), it would also wear down ND's most efficient scorer. Hansbrough is not a consistent penetrator, so any low post attack would have to come from passes 10 or more feet out.
2. The offense does not get out of "stand and watch" mode. Harangody provided nearly 35% of the shooting when he was on the court. The returning players, Hansbrough excepted, served as extrememly efficient complement scorers to an offense that revolved around Harangody (and Hansbrough). This season the attention will be squarely on Abromaitis, Scott, Nash (the complementary contingent) and Hansbrough. If they cannot maintain their efficiency even as their offensive roles grow, the Irish will struggle to score. And the staff will have to look to the freshmen (and deep bench) for answers. That could take time.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The high notes on Notre Dame's early out of conference (OOC) schedule include an opening round game versus Georgia at the Old Spice Classic. The Bulldogs, the first of two SEC teams Notre Dame sees this season, are considered (by some) a Top 25 team going into the season, which if true, would give the Irish a good neutral court test early in the season. The Old Classic second round could match NDU with either Temple, favored to win the A-10, or California, a lower division finisher in the underachieving Pac-10 last season. The third game opponent will come from a pool that includes Boston College, Texas A&M, (tournament favorite?) Wisconsin and (tournament host) Manhattan. If the Irish run the table in Orlando, throw this preview in the trash...a 2-1 record, with wins over Georgia and their second round opponent (most likely Temple) would be a very good outcome. Notre Dame meets Kentucky (the Big East-SEC Invitational) at semi-away Freedom Hall in Louisville, followed 48 hours later with a visit from perennial WCC-power Gonzaga at the Joyce Center. Those five games should give the fans a good idea of where the Irish are headed going into the Big East season (which starts early with a December tilt versus Georgetown). An OOC record of 10-2 or better will hint at a resurgent Notre Dame program in the Post Harangody Era, while a record of 8-4 (or worse) would suggest there are kinks still to work out. Debugging the line-up while the program is "running" is not the best of situations.

Notre Dame in the Brey Era tends to win at home and lose on the road. Last season the Irish were 7-2 at home and 3-6 on the road. An "off script" home-road record would suggest a good/great season (some unexpected road wins) or a poor/terrible season (unexpected home losses). Their first six games are evenly divided between home and away, with two games against mirror opponent St. John's, and (other) home games against Georgetown (their conference opener) and Connecticut and (other) road games against Syracuse and Marquette. A 3-3 record would suggest a middle of the conference finish. Notre clears half of their conference schedule by the end of January (five home, four road games), with an especially home-road pair (Marquette followed by Pittsburgh) going into the far turn. A 5-4 record would track with a 0.500 or so finish, but even 4-5 would not be cause for great concern. A 3-6 or worse record should set off alarm bells, while a 6-3 record should have folks talking about the "Ewing Theory" as they speculate on the BET and NCAA seeds for Coach Brey's squad. Notre Dame's longest road trip, taken in mid-February, will include stops in South Florida, West Virginia and Providence. If the Irish are on script, that should yield a 2-1 record. Anything lower could spell trouble.

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