Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Senior Week- Zach Hillesland

Of the four seniors, Zach Hillesland had the most disappointing final year.

Brought on as a three star recruit, Zach was known as a point forward with good ball handling skills and above average athleticism. A true small forward, he quickly become a fan favorite during his sophomore year.

After playing only 2.2 minutes per game as a freshman, Zach quickly achieved sixth man status in 2007 with 19.6 minutes per game. He scored 5.8 points and grabbed 4.8 rebounds a contest and nearly became the second Irish player to earn a triple double with his effort against Seton Hall (12 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists). Needless to say, great expectations were set for Hillesland's remaining two seasons.

Junior year Zach regressed a bit, but the overall success of the team overshadowed his falling stats. After the Georgetown game, Hillesland was placed into the starting lineup in place of Ryan Ayers and the team finished the season 11-3. Hillesland played the small forward position reasonably well and led the Irish in rebounding in a Big East Tournament loss to Marquette.

This season, Zach moved to the power forward slot, a position for which he clearly was not suited. In spite of a two minute per game rise in playing time, Hillesland's average points and rebounds per contest have decreased. He has managed more than 6 rebounds just once in conference play and has not demonstrated the improved jumper that was shown in Ireland before the season. His ability as a ballhandler has decreased, resulting in multiple possessions in which his dribbling has killed the flow of the offense. Never a good free throw shooter, Hillesland has dipped to 55% from the line (a year ago it was 69%).

The Irish clearly miss Rob Kurz in the high post this season and Hillesland's inability to adjust to the new position exemplifies Notre Dame's struggle. He is clearly out of position and playing more minutes than he has earned. Best case scenario for the individual and the team would be a return to the sixth man role of two years ago with Hillesland coming off the bench to play small forward.

It's a shame. Zach was one of my favorite players two years ago, but has quite obviously regressed as a result of additional playing time and playing out of position. His tempo-free points per shot (1.52, 1.35, 1.14) has significantly declined since sophomore year and he has never developed the ability to play down low.

Though, like Zeller, he has not been able to develop as hoped, I want to thank Zach for the time and effort he has put into the program. Best wishes after graduation.


Doc Hoople said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Zac was out of position right from the start this year. Was it that hard to figure out?

How many players that had a good amount of playing time as fresh or soph improved under Brey? I can't think of many?

Anonymous said...

Zach showed as much, if not more, heart than any player this year. Quite simply, the guy played hurt all year with the plantar fascitis. I respect him for that.

BlackandGreen said...

Absolutely. Plantar fasciitis is pretty awful to play through. I'm not sure how much that impacted his game, but the black eyes and bruised sternums haven't helped either.

Anonymous said...

Zach was never appreciated by the casual fan. His true contributions will be missed next year.

BlackandGreen said...

I have to respectfully disagree. As a small forward, sure he plays solid defense and moves well without the ball. However, this experiment with Zach at the 4 has been an utter disaster.

He gets very few points in the paint, doesn't crash the boards, and kills offensive flow with the ball in his hands. Watch him next time he gets a touch in the halfcourt. He'll dribble three or four times as soon as possible, pick it up, and then give the ball back up to a guard. At least that's an improvement over the one or two times each game he puts his head down and dribbles straight into a turnover.

We missed Rob Kurz tremendously this year. Next season we should have a few better options in the high post that will allow us to match up opposing teams on the glass and get more offense from the power forward position.