My Q&A with a Maruqette blogger regarding Notre Dame basketball. Check it out here.
Don't tell Tom Crean any of this...
Mike Brey had a successful formula in 06-07, what's he done differently with this bunch to get out to a fast start?
Coach Brey relied on two freshman starters last year in Tory Jackson and Luke Harangody. Their continued improvement and Kyle McAlarney's return has helped offset the loss of Colin Falls and Russell Carter. Falls was a pretty one-deminsional player, great three-point shooter with a high basketball IQ. McAlarney's return from a semester-long suspension has made up for the lost outside shooting of Falls. Though this year's team misses the penetration ability of Carter, his erratic shot selection took us out of a couple games last year. Most importantly, Tory Jackson has shown the ability to distribute the basketball alongside McAlarney in the backcourt and Luke Harangody is growing by leaps and bounds in the post. He could be the conference player of the year by the time he graduates.
Which ND players are exceeding expectations this year?
Harangody and McAlarney have improved a lot this season. Luke lost some weight over the offseason and is showing some more versatility in the post. Kyle has stepped into the shooting guard position with ease and has turned from a distributor into a great shooter. The other player who doesn't show up in the stat book but has impressed more than last season is Ryan Ayers. Ayers was tabbed as the replacement for Russell Carter this season, a selection I to which originally objected. However, he has shown the ability to knock down open looks from outside when given the opportunity and plays great perimeter defense. He's a very smart player who never shows up big in the box score, but does the little things the team needs on the floor.
Harangody. He dominated MU last year, and leads a talented frontcourt. Can you breakdown the Irish bigs?
Luke has grown tremendously this season. Last year, he was a raw talent who could throw his weight around in the post. This season, he has trimmed up and can go to the basket with a variety of different moves. Also plays great defense. The addition of a deadly midrange jumper has turned him into an all-around player. He has shown the ability to consistently knock down any open look from within the arc. The only player who has truly shut him down this season was Thabeet from Connecticut. Luke was at least 7 inches shorter (Thabeet- 7'3", Gody- maybe 6'8") and had trouble shooting over the big man. If he lines up against anyone under 7 feet, he can dominate (see Beasley, Michael).
Rob Kurz is a terrific captain. The lone senior, he is our other post threat. Doesn't do a lot of flashy things on the floor, but can collect a double-double before you know it. Very quiet, and not the bruiser that Harangody can be, but has more of an all-around game. Can hit any open shot beyond the arc and works his way to double digit rebound totals most nights.
Off the bench, Zach Hillesland is our first option. He's more of a small forward, but can play solid interior defense when required. The Irish like to keep Kurz or Harangody on the floor most of the time, however, due to our lack of depth. Luke Zeller has been a disappointment. Now a junior, he came in as a 6'11" Mr. Basketball in Indiana. Not physical enough to play in the post, he has a great touch from outside but just has not developed as the inside threat Brey hoped he would be.
What types of teams give the Irish the most trouble?
This is a tough question, as Notre Dame played a cupcake nonconference schedule and have rarely been challenged before last week. In the two losses, Notre Dame either got into serious foul trouble or turned the ball over a lot. The common factor between the two games was the opponent's ability to take away the outside shot. Kyle McAlarney shot a combined 4-19 against Baylor and Georgia Tech. Good defense/poor shot selection on his part took away one big part of the Irish offense. Protecting the perimeter left both teams vulnerable in the middle, with Luke Harangody scoring 22 in both contests. You can't stop both McAlarney and Harangody, so teams have to focus on one or the other.
What types of teams do the Irish best matchup against?
Just do the opposite of Baylor or Georgia Tech. Harangody has 6 games of 20 points or more. McAlarney has 4. From November 24th to December 29th, both players scored in double figures and the Irish were undefeated. This included such lopsided scores as 108-62, 94-63, and 87-54. Obviously most of the contests were against inferior talent. Still, on December 4th against Kansas St., McAlarney scored 18 and Harangody had 19 points and 14 rebounds.
Notre Dame plays great defense, much improved over last season. As West Virginia found out, it can be difficult to score against the Irish. Unless you can stop McAlarney and Harangody, Notre Dame has little toruble winning.
There you have it. Bamm-Bamm and Mac are really our catalysts. Step one for an opponent would be stopping one or the other (you can't stop both). When we lost in the Virgin Islands, it was when Kyle was unable to connect on his shots. Harangody really stepped into the player he is now, but was unable to carry the team. Likewise, when 'Gody was held in check (or a headlock) by Thabeet, Kyle was able to pull out a close victory for us.