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ACC Preview #11 - Notre Dame

The Irish should be a tough out this year

Notre Dame v Texas Tech
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 20: Marcus Santos-Silva #14 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders competes for the ball with Blake Wesley #0 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second half in the second round game of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Viejas Arena at San Diego State University on March 20, 2022 in San Diego, California.
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Mike Brey’s Notre Dame teams are always interesting. Last year he had a very experienced group, added one-and-done freshman Blake Wesley, and Bob’s your uncle, that was a really dangerous group.

Notre Dame finished the regular season 22-10 overall and 15-5 in the ACC with wins over Kentucky and UNC as highlights although UNC was struggling at the time and no one thought they would make the Final Four much less play on Monday night.

Even so, when invites went out, the Irish only got a First Four bid. They made the most of it, beating Rutgers in a double OT thriller, then handling Alabama with surprising ease before finally losing to Texas Tech, a superb defensive team that would go on to lose to Duke in the West Regional semifinals the next weekend.

Notre Dame was probably punished for the perception that the ACC was weak. Duke, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech were also invited and the ACC proved the skeptics wrong with a dominant NCAA performance.

Duke, Miami and UNC all made the Sweet Sixteen. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels made the Final Four and played each other there for the first time, with UNC advancing, while Miami had a spectacular run, knocking off Southern Cal, Auburn and Iowa State before yielding to eventual national champs Kansas in the Elite Eight.

Notre Dame was quite credible as well. The Rutgers game was wonderfully fun and the win over Alabama was really impressive since the Irish were coming off a grueling game against Rutgers in Dayton and had to catch a late flight to Cali, only to play again with one day’s rest. They could have given in to fatigue but that game was not in doubt after halftime.

Notre Dame played Rutgers on Wednesday, Alabama on Friday and defensive nightmare Texas Tech on Sunday, when fatigue may have finally caught up to them. A brilliant run nonetheless.

Brey loses Yale transfer Paul Atkinson, who presumably graduated, both Elijahs, Tayler and Morgan, and freshman Wesley.

Atkinson was very effective, surprisingly good actually. He’s a loss.

Wesley could play out of control as a freshman, and made some poor decisions, but he was so talented that he could do something really good seconds later to make up for it. His potential was obvious, even if he was green and raw.

The Elijahs only played rarely and shouldn’t be a big loss.

And Notre Dame loses long-time point guard Prentiss Hubb, and that could hurt.

He was a great fit for Brey’s system and will be tough to replace.

On the upside, Notre Dame gets back Robby Carmody, Dane Goodwin, JR Konieczny, Nate Laszewski, Cormac Ryan, Tony Sanders, Jr., Alex Wadę, Trey Wertz and Matt Zona.

Carmody’s roster picture looks pretty glum and why not? His injury history is disastrous. As freshman, he started his first game but had a shoulder injury in late November that forced him out for the rest of the season. In 2020, he had a concussion, then hurt his shoulder again in his first game back. He returned by early December but blew out his left ACL.

Last year he suffered a broken kneecap and sat out the whole season.

In three seasons, he’s played in just 19 games. It could be bad luck or he could just be one of those guys who can’t handle the stress a serious athlete puts his body through. He has two more seasons of eligibility left so the 6-4 guard might still have an impact. We’ll have to see.

Grad student Dane Goodwin (6-6 grad student) has certainly had an impact. He was second in minutes played last year, behind only Hubb with 33.5 mpg and averaged 13.6 ppg. He also grabbed 4.7 rpg, 3.7 boards and 2.4 assists. He shot a very impressive 45.8 on threes. He’s been consistently good for his entire career.

Cormac Ryan, a 6-5 senior who we believe was an AAU teammate of Carmody’s with the New York Rens, was also quite good. He got 30 mpg, averaged 9.2 ppg, 4.8 rebounds and nearly two assists. He was a typical Brey player - seasoned and smart. He’s a great fit.

Charlotte native Trey Wertz, a 6-3 grad student - there are a bunch of them on the roster this year - was also solid. He got 19 mpg and averaged 4 ppg, 1.8 rebounds and two assists. At a minimum, he helps as a rotation player.

Nate Laszewski is back as well. The 6-11 grad student is a fine outside shooter and we thought he’d be further along but he wasn’t. His overall FG percentage declined from 58.9 percent to 51.4 percent. His rebounding went down from 7.3 to 6.5 per game. He scored five or less on 10 occasions and seemed to disappear for stretches. Part of that may be that Atkinson had such a solid year and took over a lot the post duties, but Laszewski just disappeared at times. He could still be a major factor but he’s a fifth-year player. He’s probably what he’s going to be already.

Matt Zona, whose parents could have named him Ari if they had a cruel sense of humor, is also back. He’s 6-9 and 242 so he can at least bang. He only got into eight games last season.

Sophomore JR Knoieczy (6-7) is back as well. He didn’t play much, but that’s not unusual for a freshman in Brey’s system. Jury’s out until he shows something.

Junior Tony Sanders (6-7) is also back but he only played 15 minutes last season, and his minutes actually declined from the previous year. Maybe he turned into Scottie Pippen over the summer, but we’ll have to wait to see. He looks like a career reserve.

Brey brings in one transfer, Marcus Hammond, who was coached at Niagara by former Duke guard Greg Paulus. A 6-3 grad student, Hammond had a solid year for the Purple Eagles last year. Hammond led the nation in three point shooting as a freshman with 52.2 percent, something you can be sure Brey is aware of. He put up 18.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists last year and he can play point.

His high school coach Ron Naclerio said this, which is interesting: “Physically, his body is finally maturing.” If you look at his earlier photos, he really was quite slim earlier in his career. He’s also said to be very sound and Naclerio also said that when he makes a mistake, he learns from it.

Interesting trivia about Hammond: Niagara was the only school that offered him a scholarship out of high school and Brey will be his fourth college coach.

Notre Dame has three freshmen: Dom Campbell, 6-9/268, Ven-Allen Lubin, 6-8/225 and JJ Starling 6-4/200

Campbell is really intriguing. He’s seriously thick for one thing. For another, he’s been compared to Bonzie Colson, who you may remember was a supreme pain in the ass.

Campbell has also developed a three point shot, so he may end up being a load.

Ven-Allen Lubin is out of Orlando and frequently described as positionless. Like Campbell, he has three point range, and like Campbell, he also has a high basketball IQ. We’re wondering if he can play some point. That would be a major asset for the Irish if so. Brey has suggested he may start.

Those two are very intriguing but Brey’s best recruit this year, and highest rated recruit he’s ever had in South Bend, is 6-4/200 lb. JJ Starling. He hails from Baldwinsville, New York, a tiny town on the banks of the Seneca River and within easy biking distance of Syracuse. If you haven’t noticed, several reasonable prospects from the area have opted not to play for the Orange, which is interesting but a topic for another time.

Starling is a combo guard, which means that Brey has two and possibly three guys, counting Hammond and Lubin, who could run the point.

He shoots well (surprise), can penetrate and, apparently a bit to Brey’s surprise, he passes very well.

The key thing about him may be his personality though. He’s very upbeat and the descriptions are a bit Magic Johnson like (personality, not game). He says he’d rather help someone else score and he’s excited to learn from the older guys. He’s likely to start as well.

So if you look at the roster, a starting lineup of Goodwin, Laszewski, Ryan, Starling and Lubin could be really good. Campbell might be a nice counter to Laszewski, if he is unwilling to bang inside. Hammond could start and Wertz has been reliable. It’d be nice if Carmody can get past his traditional, season-ending November injury and be a factor but at this point, that’s lagniappe.

This is a really intriguing group and good luck defending them. Brey can put out a team of shooters who will open the floor and as we have seen in the past, very few coaches can use three point shooting to exploit the inside like Brey does. His offense, in peak form, is amazing.

In short, this looks like a team that no one will want to play but everyone will want to watch.