Notre Dame Basketball: Irish to Count on Blend of Experience and Youth in 2018 Season

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: head coach Mike Brey of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish shouts instructions to his team against Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 13, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: head coach Mike Brey of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish shouts instructions to his team against Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 13, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

The 2018-19 Notre Dame basketball season is roughly two weeks away. To get you guys amped up, I wanted to give you one final primer on what to expect from this team during the 2018-19 season.

There are five thoughts that I feel the most confident about regarding the 2018-19 Notre Dame Basketball Season: Three pros and two cons. I have the Fighting Irish finishing ninth in the ACC and I also having them making the tournament, the last team in the ACC to do so. Here are the reasons why:

1: Mike Brey is a great coach.

Flat out, it needs zero explanation. Duke fans are hoping and praying that he is the one that succeeds Coach K in Durham. Sorry boys and girls. That’s not happening.

Coach Brey has been a head coach since 1995 and since that time he has compiled 17 twenty-win seasons, 14 NCAA tournament births (2 with Delaware, 12 with the Irish), three sweet 16’s, and two elite eights. He has a 66.4% career winning percentage and over 500 wins. At Notre Dame, he has averaged 22 wins per season. Before Coach took over in South Bend in 2000, the Irish had won 20 games only once since 1989-90.

Coach Brey surpassed Digger Phelps last season as the Irish’s all time winningest basketball coach. He has won 9 more games after setting the record. If he continues to win at the pace he has set through his recent contract extension, he will be 163 wins ahead of Phelps by the time he retires.

2: Youth. Notre Dame has long since lived by the mantra of “get old, stay old.”

Coach Brey has built his success by stockpiling both talented kids with specific skill sets as well as kids that fit his system. “Coachability” is something that sometimes gets lost in the recruiting side of college basketball. There is simply too much reliance on the “star” system.

Stars get coaches fired.

Recently, Notre Dame has been led by quality juniors and seniors who led the Irish with both experience and talent:

2017-18: Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell and Martinas Geben.

2016-17: VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia along with those above.

2015-16: Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson, Beachem, and Vasturia.

2014-15: Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Auguste.

Brey was able to establish this philosophy and for years it has brought success to Notre Dame.

This year it is different. While Temple Gibbs and Rex Pfleuger certainly logged heavy minutes last season, the rest of the pivotal players did not.

Juwan Durham sat out last season due to transfer rules and the season before that he only averaged 8.3 minutes per game at UConn after suffering a knee injury during his senior year in high school. He will be leaned upon this season to be a rim protector and glass cleaner. The former five star recruit has the talent to be an effective player in the ACC, if his knees hold up.

Along with Durham comes five freshman who have zero college experience. Two or three of them project to receive heavy minutes immediately. Prentiss Hubb, Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin could all be major contributors this season in terms of minutes. Hubb and Laszewski especially will need to be productive offensively for the Irish to be successful.

The one thing I truly believe when it comes to freshman in college basketball: They don’t play defense. Or at least they rarely do. The inexperience of this group, will be evident in the ACC, especially on the road. DJ Harvey will also be heavily relied upon if he proves to be healthy. He only appeared in 19 games last season, averaging 18 minutes per contest.

Notre Dame’s success will depend upon how fast it’s youngsters can grow up.

3: Quality Depth

Anyone who listens to the other works I do knows, I love quality depth. College basketball is run by guard play, but right behind that is depth. Last year’s champion, Villanova, played eight players 11 minutes per game or more.

This year, that will be a strength of the Fighting Irish. There will be a quality backup behind every position for the 2018-19 season. Some of that quality/talent will be unproven, but talented nonetheless.

In a couple of instances, there isn’t so much talent as much as dudes. I am not sure I want Elijah Burns playing more than 10 minutes per game, but he is a guy I’d wanna bring to a fist fight. He knows the system, and he is Notre Dame through and through. He plays hard whether he received a “DNP” the day before, or scored 8 points and snagged a handful of rebounds. Any game, either result is on the table.

Juwan Durham is a player that I am really high on to break out on the national stage, but if he is unable to do so, John Mooney proved last season he is capable of providing quality minutes. After the new year last season, Mooney logged double digit points in 8 games and snagged 6 or more rebounds six times.

Nikola Djogo. What do you want me to say? He wasn’t bad. The 6’7 Canadian played roughly 16 minutes per game last season. While he wasn’t spectacular as far as counting statistics go, he wasn’t a glaring weak spot either. Djogo is another Mike Brey type piece that he will get something out of.

Like Frank Costello said in “The Departed”: “You give me a ****ing tuba, I’ll get ya something out of it.”

If DJ Harvey is indeed healthy, that makes six returning players who logged 10 or more minutes per game to go along with a former five star prospect and 4 top 100 incoming freshman.

I like it.

4: Health

This could be a concern every season, correct? True. Sometimes however, that concern is amplified due to history. That is what we have here.

Three of the Irish’s top seven players have a history of knee problems. Two of those players, Prentiss Hubb and D.J. Harvey experienced those issues within the past year.

Juwan Durham, who is expected to start at for the Irish, suffered his knee issue while still in high school. He has actually torn the same ACL twice, with the most recent incident being a little over three years ago. Once a five star recruit, Durham only played 8 minutes per game during his lone season at UConn. It will be interesting to see how many minutes Juwan can log this year.

Harvey, who was recently cleared for basketball activities, is recovering from microfracture surgery. Hubb missed his entire senior season after tearing his ACL in November of 2017. If Harvey is fully recovered, he will be relied upon heavily to provide a scoring punch along side Temple Gibbs. I expect Prentiss to eventually take over point guard duties and allow Gibbs to play off the ball. Reports out of practice are that he looks really good.

Practice has been going on for roughly three weeks and we have yet to hear anything concerning, so that is great news. If all three are fully healthy and ready to go, I expect Brey to have his dance card punched again in 2018-19.

5: Temple Gibbs is a star and Rex Pflueger is a stud glue guy.

If there was a silver lining to last season, it was that Gibbs received his opportunity to lead the team and rose to the occasion. In his sophomore campaign, he more than tripled his scoring output from his freshman season. In 36 games, he averaged 15.3 points and shot north of 40% from deep. He scored 18 or more points 14 times last season and was actually better in conference play, averaging 16.6 points per game.

With both Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell moving on from the program, this is now Gibbs’ team. He is the alpha dog and I think he is ready to handle that responsibility full time.

Gibbs comes into the season as the number 3 returning player in triples made among ACC players last season, behind only Jordan Chatman (Boston College) and Kyle Guy (Virginia). He is the number six returning scorer from last season with 552 points scored. He is also an iron man, playing the fourth most minutes in the conference last season.

Pflueger was thrust into a role last year that didn’t suit him. A stat sheet filler, Rex was leaned upon last season to do some more scoring due to the injuries. The result was a drop in efficiency across the board.

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This season, the Irish are sporting a tremendous amount of depth and Rex should be able to return to that “glue  guy” role. Hopefully, this results in the return of the player that shot 40% from deep and 49% inside the arc. Pflueger has also played in 100 games in his career and will provide invaluable experience to the youngsters.