Our friend Chaz Rich from AOL Fanhouse and PittBlather.com has asked me to do a write-up for the Irish. They are putting together previews for the top 25 teams. The Irish are ranked 15th in their poll. Check the Fanhouse later to see the other team previews.
The Irish enter the 2008-09 season with their highest expectations since Digger Phelps roamed the Joyce Center sidelines. With an offensive juggernaut led by All-American Luke Harangody and sweet shooting Kyle McAlarney, Notre Dame can outscore just about every team in the country. Supremely talented point guard Tory Jackson grows into an upperclassman with the expectation that he will keep the scoring machine running smoothly. Wings Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland enter the starting lineup to make up for the loss of last year's lone senior Rob Kurz.
Notre Dame can score from all over the hardwood, with McAlarney and Ayers knocking down threes and Harangody getting 20 points a game in the paint. The big question mark is how the team will defend. Last year ended in disappointment when Washington State was able to limit the amount of possessions in ND's second round tourney defeat. In such a low scoring game, lackluster defense shone through. Coach Mike Brey hopes that defensive stoppers Jackson and Ayers will be able to shut down the opposing team's top scorers and Harangody will develop into a better post defender.
Why they are ranked here:
Returning Big East Player of the Year Harangody can carry the team in spurts and some young athletic players in Carleton Scott and Ty Nash enter the lineup to give some more spunk to an overall very talented team. They have gone unbeaten at home the last two years and have finished in the top 4 two years in a row in a scary-good Big East. They will get beaten up a few times with a strong nonconference schedule and lots of competition within the league, but should be battle hardened once May comes along.
Why they should be ranked higher:
On a good night, this team can beat any team in the country. Both Harangody and McAlarney can drop 20 a night, with as many as five or six others contributing double digits from time to time. The balance on offense, with Harangody on the inside and Mac on the wing, is very difficult to stop. Often teams have to focus on one and pray that the other just has a cold night. Jackson's ability to break down a defense adds another deminsion to the Irish attack. With everything running well, Notre Dame is an 80 point team even against good opponents.
Why they should be ranked lower-
Harangody can be stopped with double and triple teams. This places an emphasis on shooters like McAlarney and Ayers who will be given open looks. Kyle has a streaky history and can go 1-9 if he does not find his stroke early. Ayers has a similar problem if he does not get enough looks to find his rythm. Defensive problems in last year's NCAA Tournament are a worry if Irish shooters cannot get going early. They will need to prove an added emphasis on D in the Maui Invitational to relieve those fears.