Backcourt Will Be The Key To A 2021 Tournament Run
Notre Dame finished the 2019-20 season with a 20-12 record, ending the campaign with an 80-58 victory over Virginia Tech in the second round of the ACC tournament.
We didn’t get to see how the Irish would finish the season, but winning five of the final seven was a positive way to finish an up-and-down season.
Notre Dame will head into the 2020-21 season looking to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017. That will have to happen without first-team All-ACC big man John Mooney and guards TJ Gibbs and Rex Pflueger.
The Irish won’t have anyone on the roster that can match what Mooney brought to the offense, but breaking down the potential 2020-21 squad and a thought starts to creep in. Next year’s offense could actually be better, potentially much better, and the guard play will be the driving force.
Notre Dame landed the No. 9 recruiting class in the country in 2018, and that group will now be juniors, and they will dominate the backcourt. If that group turns out to be as good as it was supposed to be, and as good as it flashed this past season, the scoring output could see a jump.
Breakout For Hubb?
Hubb was a key contributor to Notre Dame’s strong finish, averaging 14.0 points and 6.7 assists per game to close out the season. His sophomore numbers compare quite favorable to those of Demetrius Jackson, and the Irish need Hubb to have the junior season breakout that Jackson and Matt Farrell had in recent years.
The Irish point guard showed flashes of being a big-time player this past season. He went for 24 points in both contests against ACC champ Florida State, dropped 22 in a road matchup against North Carolina star freshman guard Cole Anthony, scored 20 points in a win over UCLA and went for 25 in a road victory over Syracuse.
Consistency and shot selection were issues for Hubb. Twice this season he went at least four consecutive games scoring in single digits, and he turned the ball over 2.7 times per game in the final seven contests.
When Hubb is aggressive and focused he can be outstanding, and the key as a junior will be having those traits show on a consistent basis. Not just game-to-game, but within each game. If consistency can be added to the repertoire for Hubb he could emerge as one of the top guards in the ACC next season.
Goodwin Ready For The Next Level
Wing Dane Goodwin was the fourth lowest ranked recruit in the vaunted five-man class in 2018, but every Notre Dame source I spoke with would bring him up first when discussing how good that class can be.
Goodwin started to show why during his sophomore season when he emerged as one of the top sixth men in the ACC. Goodwin scored 10.8 points and grabbed 3.8 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
There were moments when you could see why the staff raved so much about him. When Goodwin is aggressive and confident on offense he can light up the scoreboard. But like Hubb, consistency, or a lack of, was the key. Goodwin had a stretch in January where he went for 14.0 points per game in six games and seemed on the verge of truly breaking out, but then he scored just 4.8 points per game over the next five contests.
I expect Goodwin to step into the starting lineup as a junior, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if he becomes a difference maker in the league. Goodwin can knock down shots from deep, he can attack the rim and he has an impressive mid-range game.
Ryan Adds To The Backcourt
Notre Dame tried to land Ryan in the 2018 class but missed out on the New York native. But after just one year at Stanford the 6-5 guard transferred to Notre Dame. After sitting out this season, Ryan will now be eligible and he’ll likely replace Gibbs in the starting lineup.
Ryan has a sweet stroke and he can get his shot off quickly. He was actually the highest ranked guard on the roster, ranking No. 61 nationally by 247Sports and No. 65 by ESPN.
Ryan scored 11.3 points per game during the first 11 games of his Stanford career, which included a 14-point, 5-rebound, 6-assist game against North Carolina, 12 points in a loss to Florida and 12 points in an overtime loss to Kansas.
At 6-5 with long arms, Ryan adds more length to the backcourt, and he can effective attack the lane, he has an impressive pull up jumper and he can knock it down from deep. If he finds his stroke next season he’ll give the offense a shot in the arm.
Just as important, he adds a second ball handler to the backcourt, which was important after losing Gibbs.
Carmody And Djogo Will Be Key
A starting backcourt of Hubb, Ryan and Goodwin should be outstanding for the Irish next season, but they can’t do it alone.
Notre Dame’s lack of depth factored into the team’s inability to finish off games, with the Irish losing eight games by five points or less. To make matters worse, the two scorers off the bench last season - Goodwin and forward Nate Laszewski - will not be in the starting lineup.
It seemed fellow 2018 signee Robby Carmody was ready to emerge as a key part of the bench rotation before he went down with a devastating knee injury in a loss to Maryland. Getting Carmody healthy and back into form is key for Notre Dame.
The Pennsylvania native brings a physicality and toughness to the backcourt that adds a unique dimension to the lineup. He will need to get and stay healthy if the Irish backcourt is going to play to its full potential.
Fifth-year senior Nikola Djogo is such an interesting player. He’s an outstanding leaper and he can handle the ball, and when I watch him shoot his stroke looks clean, but the fact is he just can’t knock down shots.
There’s a reason the staff brought him back for a fifth-season, and it wasn’t just to occupy a scholarship. The hope is he can add some key reserve minutes.
If at least one of these two potential rotation players can emerge as a legit ACC role player the backcourt could very well be one of the best in the conference, and it will carry the Irish back to the tournament.