Welcome back. With Midnight Madness around the country a couple nights ago and the football team idle this weekend, it's time to start thinking about basketball again. Sounds like fun.
In this first post of the season, let's get a few things out of the way:
We will not win the national championship.
Not that I lack faith in our players or coaching staff. This team has the potential to be very, very good this season. However, I have to learn more towards Sporting News' preseason ranking (12th) over Athlon (5th) or even Lindy's (9th). I think we can expect a Sweet 16 performance this year. Moving into the Elite 8 and further depends mainly on matchups, something that cannot be predicted this early.
We could finish with double digit losses and be better than last year.
The Maui Invitational is always stacked. One, maybe two losses possible there. Ohio State on a neutral court, UCLA on the road, an always tough Big East schedule, plus the conference tournament all combine to create a less than smooth road to March. Ohio State is not the 35 win team from two years ago, but is still well-coached and should provide a Kansas State-style test. Going to Pauley Pavilion in the middle of our conference schedule may not have been the best move. Players get worn down from the Big East season as it is, adding a very tough road game will be an extra fight just five days before coming home to host Final Four hopeful Louisville. Winning that game could launch the Irish to a two seed in the Tournament, but requires that the Irish are on and play strong defense for forty minutes.
The Irish will have plenty of stretches where they look NIT caliber.
Following with the negative mood of the last two points, Notre Dame has to prove it can bounce back from the bad ending to last year and win against Washington State-style defensive teams. Luke Harangody has to be able to produce against the double teams he will clearly draw, Kyle McAlarney has to be consistent from beyond the arc, Tory Jackson has to grow into the director of this offense and eliminate bad decisions. Hillesland, Ayers, Zeller, Nash, and Scott all have to produce to draw defenders away from Mac and Gody. When defenses can shut Luke down and Kyle is not hitting his shots, we end up with a result like last March 22nd. Prove to me that we can win those games, and I'll start feeling more confident about our ability to win big games away from the Joyce Center.
This team will be fun to watch.
Finally, enjoy this year. This is our last chance to watch a very special senior class (and possibly Harangody). Kyle McAlarney was fantastic both on and off the court following his suspension sophomore year. He will graduate as a person of which Notre Dame can be proud. Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers have grown into very good players and should improve playing alongside each other for extended minutes. While Luke Zeller never showed the talent that made him the top high school basketball player in the state, the coaches are confident that his senior year will bring an added rebounding ability that will give the team's tallest player a low post game to help his perimeter attack.
Tory Jackson should continue to grow and become a leader on both sides of the floor. Ty Nash and Carleton Scott enter the rotation and will add a different look. If they can contribute, Coach Brey will have good teams the next couple of years as well.
But this season is what matters right now. Our most talented and seasoned collection of players since the Sweet 16 team, the 2008-09 Irish could go down as one of the best in program history. Showing an ability to win on the road and in low-scoring games is key, but if they can pass those two tests the ceiling is extremely high.