November, December, January, February, March... it's been a long five months.
I predicted a 22-8 record for the Irish through the regular season. They would finish 24-6, a two game improvement. Losses to Baylor and Georgia Tech at the Paradise Jam started the season off roughly, but the team rebounded with a neutral site win over Kansas State. The rest of the cake nonconference schedule rolled by without incident.
In the Big East, the Irish took on an 18 game schedule for the first time and were very successful. A 14-4 record landed the Irish in a tie for second in the conference. After lopsided losses at Marquette and Georgetown, Notre Dame closed out the season 11-2. Another unbeaten year at home kept the winning streak alive for another summer.
In the Big East Tournament, another disappointing finish sent the Irish home after a quarterfinal loss to rival Marquette. Notre Dame picked up a 5 seed in the NCAAs and used solid defense to send first round opponent George Mason home early. Unfortunately, the Irish came up short of their Sweet 16 goal by losing badly to Washington State.
Coaching Staff- B
This could have been an A two weeks ago. Mike Brey picked up his second straight Big East Coach of the Year award in the leading the Irish from a predicted bottom half finish to a tie for second in the league. However, another early exit from New York and a blowout loss to Washington State ended the year on a sad note. Overall, a great performance in the regular season, but marred by another disappointing end of the year.
Rob Kurz- B-
Brought leadership to a team that desperately needed it after the graduation of Colin Falls and Russell Carter. However, he seemed to disappear in some close games. Rebounding dipped a bit due to the emergence of Luke Harangody, but also turned the ball over more than in the past. Shooting percentages were down considerably as well. Made most of his impact off the court and as a leader on the floor.
Kyle McAlarney- B+
Welcome back. He was expected to make an impact as a three-point shooter, but no one knew how he would play side-by-side with Jackson in the backcourt. It turned out very well. In 36 minutes a game, he scored 15 and dished out 3.5 assists. A shooting percentage of 44% from beyond the arc placed second in the conference with the most threes made. Became a scorer from the oustide that was definitely needed. Had a few cold shooting nights that really hurt the team but should improve even more with a second year playing the 2.
Zach Hillesland- B
Came off the bench to the starting lineup halfway through the year. Added life in a squad that looked flat out of the gate far too often. Not a big stat guy, 6.2 PPG/5.3 RPG/2.5 APG, but does a lot of little things. Was the only attacking wing, a problem that should be remedied with Nash and Scott next season. Shot 51% from the floor, a product of his ability to get to the basket for layups. Biggest problem is lack of an outside game. If he can develop a consistent mid-range jumper with some threes, he will have more opportunities to get to the basket.
Tory Jackson- B
Played well with McAlarney in the backcourt. Proved that he deserved the starting PG role. Scoring got a little bump from last year, but rebounds and assists shot to new heights. 3.2 turnovers a game is a little high. Still not a great shooter, but got smarter from outside as the year wore on. Though he was 30% from three, his shot selection became more surgical as we went 12 for 27 (44%) from the end of January until the first round of the tournament. Still needs to cut down on mistakes and continue to develop his finishing ability when driving, but made some strong steps forwad.
Luke Harangody- A-
What do you say about this guy? Went from unknown to Player of the Year over the course of the season. Averaged 20 and 10 and showed the ability to knock down outside shots. 22 rebounds in the final game demonstrates his ability to control a contest even while being terrible offensively. Needs to play within himself next year. He got a little frustrated at times and forced shots. Also needs to stay on the block and limit his touches 7-10 feet from the basket. Overall, he is still not ready for the NBA (good for us) due to his size and still unpolished style. The thought of him improving even more is scary.
Ryan Ayers- B-
Took his benching with dignity and was able to contribue off the bench. Can be a dead-eye shooter when he looks for a shot. Became more confident as the year went by. Still needs to be able to create scoring opportunities and become more of a part of the offense on the floor. Can grow into a Colin Falls-type scorer with very good defensive skills.
Luke Zeller- C+
Some flashes of improvement, but still not where we was expected to be at this point. Will never be a force down low, but could provide meaningful minutes on the outside. Shot 39% from three and had a very good rebounding games down the stretch. Must continue to develop with the departure of Kurz due to his extended minutes next year.
Jonathan Peoples- C
He and Zeller didn't get a lot of chances to show their stuff this year with 12 minutes a game. Partly due to Coach Brey's strategy, but their ability certainly plays a factor. Peoples showed a little range with 36% beyond the arc, but didn't get enough looks per game to really prove himself as a scorer. Has been a steady hand at the wheel when Jackson needs a break, but not much more than that. Needs to improve his scoring ability or defense or will continue to be used sparingly.
Coach Brey decided to go with an eight-man rotation this year. Should Nash and Abromaitis have been used more? Probably. Should they have been reshirted? No. Although the freshmen were very small parts of the lineup, they picked up valuble experience off the bench. Scott has the upside to be a five-year guy, but the others do not look like candidates for a fifth year, so the redshirt was probably well played. In the end, the lack of depth was not the cause of their final defeat, so Coach Brey's strategy worked well enough.
It will be interesting to see who of the four scholarship freshmen breaks from the pack to merit serious playing time (even a starting spot?) next year. Nash gives the team a playmaker that we were lacking. Scott is even more talented towards that end, when healthy. Abromaitis and Proffitt were less heralded recruits who could enter the rotation as well.
That should put a cap on this year. Later today or tomorrow I will look forward to the next season.