Notre Dame kicks off the 2020-21 women's basketball season on Friday when the Fighting Irish take on the Ohio Bobcats. That will mark the beginning of the Niele Ivey era in South Bend.
Ivey is a former point guard and assistant coach at Notre Dame, and she begins her first season in charge of the program. Ivey, of course, was part of a Notre Dame national championship as a player (2001) and coach (2018).
Ivey now gets a chance to build a title contender of her own at Notre Dame. It would be unrealistic to expect that this season, but the Irish should bounce back from the disappointing 13-18 finish from a season ago.
The question is how far will the Irish bounce back this season. We start to get our answer on Friday. Key number one will be getting much better at scoring. The Irish led the ACC in scoring (88.6) by almost 11 points in 2018-19, but that number dropped to 64.9 a season ago.
There are a number of key questions and factors that will tell the story.
Notre Dame landed two of the nation's best recruits in the 2019 class, and both were impact players for the Irish last season. Seeing them become stars in the ACC is needed for the Irish to get back on track.
Forward Sam Brunelle was arguably Notre Dame's best player last season, and her scoring presence was felt immediately. The 6-2 sophomore returns as the team's second leading scorer (13.9 PPG), and her inside-out game should take a big step forward this season.
Brunelle can score in the post, she can dish from the high post and she has impressive range. Brunelle led the Irish with 58 made three-pointers last season. The talented forward led all ACC freshmen in scoring last season, and she is expected to become one of the league's top players this winter.
Classmate Anaya Peoples earned All-ACC freshman honors last season despite playing just 19 games due to a shoulder injury. She is healthy now, and the expectation is that she becomes a force for the Irish on both ends.
Peoples scored 12.6 points per game and grabbed 8.1 rebounds per contest. She had three double-doubles in the six games prior to her injury. Peoples is a powerful athlete that can run the floor, attack the rim and her handle is impressive.
If she can improve her perimeter shooting and free-throw shooting (41-83) she could become one of the league's top guards.
Guard Destinee Walker was a solid player in her first season after transferring from North Carolina. She set a career-high with 14.5 points per game. She'll need to improve on her assist (56) to turnover (65) ratio this season.
Junior Katlyn Gilbert was injured early in the 2018-19 season, so last season was considered her freshman season, and she was named to the ACC All-Freshman squad.
The former McDonald's All-American showed she can be a volume scorer last season, and she's a good perimeter rebounder. The key this season is becoming a more efficient scorer. If she can do that she'll be a key reason in the offense making the necessary improvements that are needed for the Irish to compete for the top spot in the league.
Senior Mikayla Vaughn is Notre Dame's only true returning post player. She went down after the first game of the season and was out almost two months. She was a quality player when she returned, averaging 10.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, and she led the team with 31 blocks.
Last season was Vaughn's first as a full-time rotation player, and if she can stay healthy this fall her game should see another jump.
Notre Dame welcomes back guard Abby Prohaska, who missed last season with blood clots in her lungs. Prohaska isn't a stat. stuffer, she's a grinder that can defend and give quality minutes, just like she did in the 2018-19 season.
Notre Dame welcomes one of the nation's top recruiting classes for the second year in a row, and a transfer guard should boost the perimeter shooting. The Irish freshman class is forward heavy, which is exactly what the roster needed.
Getting junior guard Dara Mabrey immediately eligible was huge for the Irish. Mabrey knocked down 155 triples the last two seasons, and she became Notre Dame's best deep shooter the moment she stepped foot on campus.
She lacks the size that her sister Marina brought to the game and she's not the all-around player, but she's every bit the three-point shooter.
The top freshman newcomer is 6-3 forward Madeline Westbeld, a former McDonald's All-American. She can hit threes, but her game is best when she's in the post and attacking the rim. She's an underrated athlete with a strong low-post game, and she handles the ball like a guard.
Westbeld gives the Irish length and scoring talent around the basket. If she can make an immediate splash it would expand the offense by allowing Brunelle to play more away from the basket when they are on the court together, or she can give the offense a different scoring threat when she subs in for her sophomore teammate.
Fellow freshman Natalija Marshall is Notre Dame's tallest (6-5) and longest player. She will need to add strength, but hopefully she can provide valuable low post rebounding and shot blocking as her offensive game develops.
Freshman guard Alli Campbell is a pure scorer. She has good size on the wing (6-0), and her offensive game is outstanding. Campbell averaged 28.3 points per game as a senior and her perimeter stroke is extremely quick and smooth.
The addition of Mabrey and Campbell should give the perimeter scoring a major boost.
Nov. 27 - at Ohio - 12:00 PM (all times Eastern)
Nov. 29 - Miami (Ohio) - 4:00 PM
Dec. 3 - Michigan - 6:00 PM
Dec. 6 - IUPUI - 2:00 PM
Dec. 13 - Georgia Tech - 2:00 PM
Dec. 17 - Virginia Tech - 6:00 PM
Dec. 20 - at Clemson - 3:00 PM
Dec. 31 - at Miami (Fla.) - 6:00 PM
Jan. 3 - Georgia Tech - 4:00 PM
Jan. 7 - at Boston College - 8:00 PM
Jan. 10 - at Syracuse - TBA
Jan. 14 - Pittsburgh - 6:00 PM
Jan. 17 - Boston College - 12:00 PM
Jan. 21 - at Virginia Tech - 7:00 PM
Jan. 24 - at North Carolina - TBA
Jan. 28 - Wake Forest - 6:00 PM
Jan. 31 - Duke - 4:00 PM
Feb. 7 - at Louisville - TBA
Feb. 11 - Virginia - 7:00 PM
Feb. 15 - at NC State - TBA
Feb. 18 - Syracuse - 8:00 PM
Feb. 22 - at Pittsburgh - 8:00 PM
Feb. 25 - Florida State - 7:00 PM
Feb. 28 - Louisville - TBA
March 3-7 - ACC Tournament (Greensboro, N.C.)
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