Notre Dame is set to enter year 21 of the Mike Brey era, and it is a big year for the Fighting Irish. After missing the NCAA Tournament for two straight seasons, the 20-12 Irish lost an opportunity to get back in when the 2019-20 season was cut short due to COVID-19.
The Irish will need to replace star forward John Mooney, veteran guard TJ Gibbs and captain Rex Pflueger, but the vaunted 2018 recruiting class are now the veterans and are prepared to lead this squad.
BACKCOURT READY TO SHINE?
Notre Dame has a talented backcourt, one that needs to carry this team if the Irish are going to return to their previous form under Brey.
Point guard Prentiss Hubb showed flashes of being one of the best guards in the league a season ago, his second season removed from a knee injury. Hubb scored at least 20 points eight times, and he improved his ability to lead the offense.
The key for him this season is being more consistent with his decision making and shot selection, limiting the turnovers and proving to be a force on offense on a more consistent basis, especially with the ball.
Fellow junior Dane Goodwin also showed flashes last season, but he was a more steady player. The key for him in his third season is being more aggressive as a scorer. When Goodwin hunts for his shot and plays with confidence he is quite good on the offensive end.
Notre Dame was 11-4 in games where Goodwin scored at least 13 points, and his all-around game makes the entire unit better when he's on.
The Irish welcome former top recruit Cormac Ryan, who transferred from Stanford and sat out last season. Ryan scored 8.7 points per game as a true freshman with the Cardinal, and he made such a strong impression during his sit out season that he was recently named a captain.
Ryan has the skillset to play without the ball, but he's also a good ball handler and he averaged 3.5 assists for Stanford. I would not be surprised if we saw a lot of Hubb, Goodwin and Ryan playing together this season.
Santa Clara transfer Trey Wertz is still a question mark in regards to being granted immediate eligibility. If he is cleared it would give the Irish a long scoring guard off the bench, but also a guard that can run the point at 6-5.
Wertz was a lights out three-point shooter for Broncos, and if he can bring that to Notre Dame it would give the Irish a much-needed boost in perimeter shooting.
BREAKOUT TIME FOR LASZEWSKI?
Another member of the vaunted 2018 class is 6-10 junior forward Nate Laszewski. A stretch four with easy range out to three-point territory, Laszewski has been a key rotation player for the Irish the last two seasons.
With Mooney gone, there's now a clear path for Laszewski to step into a key role for Notre Dame. Another offseason of weight training should give him the strength and endurance needed to become a more impactful scorer and rebounder for Notre Dame.
Laszewski has the range and skill to become a force for Notre Dame, but can he go from role player off the bench to standout in just one season? We'll see, but one thing is clear, Laszewski's play this season will have a major impact on just how good this Irish team can be.
QUESTIONS REMAIN IN THE POST
Veteran Juwan Durham provides the Irish with a shot blocking presence down low, and he has shown the ability to score in the post. The issue for Durham has been endurance and durability. With freshman forward Elijah Taylor out and Mooney now playing professional basketball, Notre Dame will need more minutes and work on the glass from Durham.
I'm very curious to see what 6-9 freshman forward Matt Zona can bring to the lineup this season. What Zona lacks in top-level athleticism he makes up for with an advanced low-post game and skill around the basket. Zona can also stretch the floor a bit and knock down set jumpers all the way back to three-point territory.
With the lack of veteran bodies down low, Notre Dame needs Zona to earn playing time this season.
Nov. 28 - at Michigan State - 8:00 PM
Dec. 2 - Western Michigan - 7:00 PM
Dec. 8 - Ohio State - 7:30 PM
Dec. 12 - at Kentucky - 12:00 PM
Dec. 16 - Duke - TBA
Dec. 19 - vs. Purdue (Indianapolis) - TBA
Dec. 22 - at Syracuse - TBA
Dec. 30 - Virginia - TBA
Jan. 2 - at Pitt - TBA
Jan. 6 - Georgia Tech - TBA
Jan. 10 - at Virginia Tech - TBA
Jan. 13 - at Virginia - TBA
Jan. 16 - Boston College - TBA
Jan. 18 - at Howard - TBA
Jan. 24 - at Miami - TBA
Jan. 27 - Virginia Tech - TBA
Jan. 30 - at North Carolina - TBA
Feb. 2 - Wake Forest - TBA
Feb. 6 - at Georgia Tech - TBA
Feb. 9 - at Duke - TBA
Feb. 14 - Miami - TBA
Feb. 17 - Clemson - TBA
Feb. 23 - at Louisville - TBA
Feb. 27 - at Boston College - TBA
March 3 - NC State - TBA
March 6 - Florida State - TBA
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