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ACC Preview #14 - Notre Dame

We love Mike Brey, but Micah Shrewsberry could be far better in South Bend

Penn State v Texas
DES MOINES, IOWA - MARCH 18: Head coach Micah Shrewsberry of the Penn State Nittany Lions gestures against the Texas Longhorns during the first half in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena on March 18, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

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Here’s a factoid you may not have realized: three former Brad Stevens assistants are now ACC head coaches: Damon Stoudamire at Georgia Tech, Kara Lawson at Duke and Micah Shrewsberry at Notre Dame.

Shrewsberry, who played for D-III Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana, assisted Stevens at Butler (2007-2011) and with the Boston Celtics (2013-2019). He also worked for Matt Painter at Purdue (2019-2021).

You have to admit that’s a pretty good basketball education.

He was at Penn State for two years before returning home to Indiana.

He’s got his work cut out for him - Mike Brey’s career ended with a thud as the Irish finished 11-21 and just 3-17 in ACC play.

And as bad as that team was, only three players are back, and of those, only two played and one redshirted.

Matt Zona is a 6-9/252 lb. senior who averaged around six minutes and put up 1.7 ppg and 1.4 rebounds. He actually played in 20 games but as you can see, wasn’t a big factor.

Tony Sanders, a 6-7 senior, only got into five games and didn’t score at all. He looks like a practice player.

J.R. Konieczny, a 6-7 sophomore, redshirted last year but has impressed Shrewsberry. Brey saw him as a future starter and he may be. Shrewsberry’s squad shot a lot of threes last year and Konieczny could find a role as a sniper.

The Irish lost a lot of decent players from last year. Cormac Ryan is a Tar Heel now. JJ Starling is at Syracuse. Robby Carmody, the poster child for hard luck basketball players, is off to Mercer for one last attempt at a healthy season. Ven-Allen Lubin is at Vanderbilt now. Dom Campbell is playing for Kenny Blakeney at Howard.

We think - it’s hard to know for sure these days - that Marcus Hammond, Dane Goodwin, Nate Laszewski and Trey Wertz have all graduated.

The portal era means there is always hope for a quick fix, so Shrewsberry hit that hard and came away with Julian Roper (Northwestern), Kebba Njie (Penn State), and Tae Davis (Seton Hall).

Roper didn’t play as much as he might have last year due to injury but he’s athletic and a promising guard. He’s a really good pickup, assuming he can stay healthy.

Shrewsberry spent a lot of time with Stevens as noted above, so you won’t be surprised to learn that he has a big focus on defense and he sees Roper as a major key to that. He also likes his toughness.

A 6-4 junior, Roper gives Shrewsberry a critical building block as he gets his new program started.

So does Njie.

A 6-10/254 lb. big man, Njie’s high school coach raves about his heart and desire. He has a reputation as a gym rat and a high-character guy.

One possible example of his work ethic: he is up 17 pounds from the 237 he played at last year at Penn State. That’s a big move up weight wise and suggests that he either hit the buffet or the weight room hard. We’re betting on the latter.

Although he didn’t put up huge numbers (3.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 14.3 minutes), Njie started 26 times.

Like Roper and Njie, and for that matter his coach, Davis is a native of the Midwest. A 6-9 sophomore out of Indianapolis, Davis brings some much-needed size to the Irish front court. He originally committed to Louisville before shifting to Seton Hall.

Davis had two starts and a minimal statistical impact as a freshman. We don’t have any idea what kind of defender he is but that could be a place to carve out a role on this team.

Freshman Markus Burton committed to Notre Dame before Brey resigned and surprisingly stuck with the Irish. He’s very promising. He averaged 30.3 ppg in his senior year, along with 5.4 boards, 5.1 assists and 3.8 steals. He was also named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball and that is a very big deal in the Hoosier state.

Having a point guard is a really big deal for any program, but especially one that is in a major rebuild. Shrewsberry might have an outstanding backcourt out of the gate, and that would be a real coup.

We’re sure Penn State is grateful for what Shrewsberry did there, but he took several players with him, including freshman Carey Booth, who originally committed to the Nittany Lions.

Worse, at least from Penn State’s point of view, he’s a legacy: his dad, Calvin Booth, is the school’s greatest shotblocker. He’s also the much admired GM of the NBA champion Denver Nuggets.

At 6-10 and 195 Carey is thin, but that will eventually change. He’s a high-energy guy and another player who should help on defense. He’s basically seen as a 4-star/Top 100 player and should help.

By the way, a common thread with a lot of the players that Shrewsberry picked up is that they’re really excited about playing for him. That’s true for Booth. It’s also true for Logan Imes.

A 6-4 freshman, Imes wasn’t that highly regarded in high school, but that can be misleading and it looks like he can play. His main talent is as a shooter but he says he is solid in all aspects. So we’ll see. He might take a year or two to develop.

Not surprisingly, Braeden Shrewsberry is yet another former/would be Penn State guy who followed his coach to Notre Dame. However, he’s not just a coach’s son; he’s a decent player. Even if he doesn’t play a lot in his first year, he knows the system and he’ll certainly help in practice because he knows stations and expectations.

Finally, a walk-on isn’t normally a big deal and in this case he may not be either, but Brady Stevens is Brad’s son and that’s worth noting. Like young Shrewsberry, Stevens will help get the program off the ground. Seventeen-year old lifers - gotta love it. Correction - he’s committed but still in high school.

After he took the job, Shrewsberry’s first concern was having enough players to practice. He’s accomplished that. And while our initial thought was train wreck, it may not be as bad as all that.

First, given his background with Stevens and Painter, he’s certain to emphasize defense, which he did in Happy Valley, where his team had the best defense in the Big Ten. And as we’ve seen many times before, notably with Virginia, if you can dictate the terms on defense, offense becomes much less critical.

And keep in mind that winning at Penn State has always been difficult. Shrewsberry was there for two years and finished 14-17 in his first season and 23-14 in his second, when he took his team to the Big Ten tournament finals before falling to Purdue 67-65.

In the NCAA tournament, Penn State took out Texas A&M 76-59 before losing to Texas 71-66. He had a very impressive run there.

He also recruited very well, getting two of the best classes in the history of the school (and bringing several of those players to Notre Dame with him too).

Shrewsberry should have a very good backcourt and Njie’s work ethic suggests there’s at least a chance that he could blossom suddenly, a la Clemson’s PJ Hall. If he can find a solid defender between Booth and Davis, or someone unexpected, the front court could be surprisingly good as well.

Still, there is a lot to work out and depth will be a concern. This team has a very thin margin of error when it comes to injuries and it’s fairly young, which might not hurt but probably won’t help.

Bottom line: Barring serious injuries, Notre Dame this year will not be Louisville last year. That was a train wreck. It’s quite striking how excited Shrewsberry’s players are to suit up for him. Clearly he has their respect.

Our guess is that Notre Dame will exceed expectations this season and lay the foundation for a very bright future. The Shrewsberry era should be a lot of fun for Irish fans.