One of the hallmarks of Mike Brey’s system at Notre Dame is that, in the age of one-and-done, the Irish get players and mature them for 3-4 years. As a result, the Irish have a built-in advantage with experienced players who know exactly what they’e doing.
Not so much this year: Brey has six upperclassmen and his best returnee, senior Rex Pflueger, is out for the season.
In Notre Dame’s rotation, sans Pflueger, we see minutes going to TJ Gibbs, a 6-3 junior, Prentiss Hubb, a 6-3 freshman, John Mooney, a 6-10 junior, DJ Harvey, a 6-6 sophomore coming off of a serious knee injury, Dane Goodwin, a 6-6 freshman, Nate Laszewski, a 6-10 freshman, Juwan Durham, a 6-11 junior transfer from UConn, and Robby Carmody, a 6-4 freshman.
That’s six unproven players, to a greater or lesser extent, in a system built on seniority.
Gibb is solid and Mooney is emerging as an All-ACC level player, but even Harvey, who was also recruited by Duke and who is talented, is behind due to his injury. He is averaging double figures though and pulling about 24.2 mpg. He should continue to improve.
Durham left UConn when it was a sinking ship (Danny Hurley is quickly righting that ship) and he wasn’t a significant factor even on a bad team. To his credit, he is much more successful at Notre Dame than he was at UConn and is in fact leading the ACC in blocked shots.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, he’s recovering from an ankle injury and doubtful for Monday, which makes things that much more dicey for Brey.
Once you get past those guys it’s Hubb, Goodwin, Laszewski and Carmody.
Aside from the obvious question of experience, Brey runs a sophisticated offense that really requires some experienced players to succeed. And as we’ve seen since Notre Dame joined the ACC, it has given Duke fits although Duke has won the last four.
Although he’s having challenges this year, we love Brey’s offense. It’s player-oriented - he’s not calling plays from the bench, preferring to let his guys figure it out. It’s especially effective when it comes to three point shooting.
However, as we’ve said, it relies on experience players and that’s not an asset this team has and other than Mooney, no one else is particularly good bet from long distance.
Still, as we argued yesterday about Duke, there’s more than one way to solve a problem like three point shooting and fortunately for Notre Dame, Duke is not likely to light it up from deep either.
The Irish, we expect, will try to jam the lane up and deny Duke penetration and force Duke to shoot outside. Certainly it gave the Yellow Jackets a shot until Duke took over in the second half against Georgia Tech and Syracuse forced Duke to chuck up threes that simply didn’t go in.
Not having Durham (assuming they don’t) will make things harder to control in the lane. Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett are getting most of the attention for Duke, and the return of Tre Jones after his shoulder injury is also a big deal, but quietly, Marques Bolden has been a big factor for Duke inside. It’s a good thing since in the last couple of games Javin DeLaurier has really faded.
We’ll be looking too to see if Jack White is ready to emerge from his slump. A solid outside shooter, his shot has deserted him. We recall a study from a few years ago that found that streak shooting was sort of a misconception because no one really exceeds their percentage. You might get a bunch of it at once or might get a lot of your misses in a concentrated period, but ultimately, you shoot 31% from three point range, which White does (which is breaking even by the way) and you miss 19 out of 20, well, you’re due soon.
We also think Cam Reddish has a chance to really break out in this game. Notre Dame has no choice but to focus on Williamson and Barrett, whether it’s by zone or some other defense. Reddish, White and (why couldn’t we have a player named Blue?) Alex O’ Connell will have their chances in this game.
There’s a lot going against Notre Dame here. The Irish are 11-9/1-6, they’re inexperienced, and their best big man has not played in several game due to injury. Pflueger is done for the year and Burns is long gone (and by the way, he’s not exactly tearing it up at Siena).
However, it’s a proud program with a passionate fan base and Duke is in town. Mike Brey will have his guys ready.