Last season's review is here.
A season with such high hopes got off track early in the Big East season and pretty clearly failed to live up to expectations. Throughout the season I said that the year would be judged on our ability or inability to make the Sweet Sixteen. Less than that would be a failure. Not making the Tournament constitutes a disaster.
This should have been a much better team. We lost a lot more than I predicted with Rob Kurz's departure and I'm sure Gene Cross leaving was also a factor. This team was simply not built to contend with the best teams in the country on a nightly basis. After the best player in this vaunted senior class became the #1 priority for opposing defenses, no one was left to consistently help out Luke Harangody on offense. And defense, well, it was just horrendous all year.
The team started well with a win over a top ten opponent in Texas at the Maui Invitational and a decent showing against #1 North Carolina. Losing to Ohio State was a disappointment, but most people wrote it off as just one tough non-conference game too many. After the St. John's disaster, the writing was on the wall for a disappointing year, but few realized it at the time.
Going into the first Louisville game, we knew the Irish would face an eight-game gauntlet that would challenge the viability of Notre Dame as a premier Big East program. Losing in overtime at Freedom Hall seemed to be a decent start, but a lack of leadership allowed the loss to affect the next several games. Before we knew it, the Irish had lost seven straight and were well out of NCAA Tournament contention.
A big win in the rematch with Louisville breathed a little life back into the program and the Irish played well down the stretch until a make-or-break game against Villanova in the second to last contest of the year. The loss to a future Final Four squad killed pretty much all hope of an at-large bid.
After two games in the Big East Tournament, the Irish returned home for the NIT. They rolled off three close wins against good competition at the Joyce Center to return to Madison Square Garden, but ultimately fell to Penn State in the semifinals.
Coaching Staff- F
This would have been at least a D had the Irish simply failed to make the Sweet Sixteen. However, finishing in the NIT after spending the beginning of the year in the top ten is simply unacceptable. Coach Brey is back on the hot seat (justly), but will reutrn for at least one more year. With Virginia hiring Tony Bennett, there's very little chance of him taking another position as well.
I like Coach Brey a lot personally and he is a pretty good coach. Unfortunately, "pretty good" gets you to the NIT half the time with Notre Dame's resources. If the athletic department makes some strides to show faith in the basketball program (i.e. a practice facility and similar academic requirements to football), Coach will need to do his part to take this program to the next level. If we go to the NIT again next season, I think it's time to move on.
Kyle McAlarney- B-
Kyle finishes his career as my favorite Irish player of recent memory. The best pure shooter I have ever seen, K-Mac carries with him a good story and will graduate in May, something many people would not have predicted two years ago. Kyle showed a lot of heart in returning to school after his suspension and was a very effective player most of his career. Unfortunately, teams discovered him after the Ohio State game and kept Mac in check the rest of the season. When we was open, he was a terrific scorer. He just didn't get a lot of open looks this year. He gets a bit of a better grade because I don't want to give out all bad marks and I really think he would have succeeded with more help from his teammates.
Ryan Ayers- C
Ayers really strugged during the Irish losing streak and never came into his own as a reliable third scorer. His rebounding from the small forward position was never that great and he never developed to be more than a one-deminsional player on offense. On the other side of the ball, his wingspan allowed him to make up for a lack of athleticism and become our second best defender. Down the stretch, he stepped his game up a bit with consecutive double figure outings, but was unable to put up the kind of numbers we needed.
Zach Hillesland- F
In fairness, Zach played out of position all year. He is a 3, not a power forward. However, by the end of the season he clearly did not deserve to be on the floor. A poor shooter with a tendency to make bad decisions dribbling the basketball, Zach created heart attacks for Notre Dame fans when he touched the ball. His post defense left plenty to be desired and he never rebounded well enough for a 4. With all of his shortcomings, you have to have some respect for a guy who played through pain all year (plantar fasciitis, black eyes, multiple shoulder separations).
Luke Zeller- D+
The former McDonald's All-American played his way out of the rotation by the end of the season. He never developed as a post player and was a good, but not great, three point shooter this year. Played single digits after the losing streak and never lived up to expectations.
Tory Jackson- B-
The junior point guard improved his assist/turnover ratio to over two and shot better this season. His free throw shooting has improved with practice and he became a viabile three point threat over the course of the year. Though he still continues to make the dumb decisions with the basketball that have plagued him from time to time since his freshman year, he has grown into one of the better point guards in the conference.
Luke Harangody- B
It's hard to get a bad grade when you're a second team All-American. Luke put up more gaudy numbers this season, but his percentages dropped significantly. I attribute this to an attempt by the big guy to carry the team during long stretches of games. He works as hard as anyone and has developed a really good shooting touch to go with his inside game. Needs to quit complaining to refs and diving to get fouls, however. If he plays within himself next season and gets help from other guys on the roster, his stats may not be as good but he will be a more effective player. First on the to-do list is an emphasis on following his own shot and giving greater effort on defense.
Jonathan Peoples- C-
The backup point guard did his job this season and improved his assist/turnover ratio. Unfortunately, the shooting was down significantly and he finished with only one game in double figures scoring. When you're playing sparingly, it can be tough to get into a rhythm. That seemed to be the case this season.
Carleton Scott- INC
Really don't understand why this guy was kept under wraps all year. Five or six minutes a game could have been beneficial, but he never saw any real competition. Hopefully he will make his way into the rotation next season.