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Men’s Basketball

Berry: Brey will have to adapt with young rotation

| Friday, November 30, 2018

Last year, injuries to Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell offered a bleak glimpse into the future of Notre Dame basketball.

The program that had won the ACC Championship and made a deep run in the NCAA tournament was gone. The build-up of hope and potential remained unmaterialized. As the Irish grow further and further removed from the “golden days” of the Mike Brey era, the team now has a new reality — one that will be marked by growing pains this season.

I know it’s hard to criticize a team that’s started the season 6-1, but the first seven games have revealed many weaknesses and red flags. In seven games, the Irish haven’t found their rhythm defensively, have blown double digit leads, and have struggled to close games down the stretch. The worst part is that all of the teams played so far are relatively unknown and unranked. What happens when the Irish actually face real competition?

Anna Mason | The Observer
Irish senior guard Rex Pflueger dribbles down the court during Notre Dame’s 89-62 win over Chicago State on Nov. 8 at Purcell Pavilion.

Even with the a storied recruiting class that ranked 15th nationally, there’s no escaping the fact that this year’s team isn’t ready to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor. The Irish need to establish a new identity, and they need to accelerate the freshmen growth curve.

After shooting 31.5 percent from beyond the arc and giving up over 65 points per game so far this year, the Irish can no longer claim they are 3-point shooting, defensively-minded team. As of now, the Irish are simply known as a young team, which isn’t a necessarily a compliment. The Irish need to rapidly improve on both ends of the court to forge their own identity.

Brey’s highest-ever ranked recruiting class has become the team’s Achilles’ heel this season. Heralded by four-star freshmen Prentiss Hubb, Robby Carmody, Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin, the class has played a major role this season with the losses from last year’s team. The result is that Brey hasn’t had the luxury of slow and steady player development, a staple in past seasons for the program. It’s a lot to ask of four young men that are just six months removed from high school.

For the first time in recent memory, the Irish are without a prominent vocal team leader. Former senior forward Elijah Burns honed that role earlier this season, but after his departure and transfer to Siena College, senior guard Rex Pflueger and junior guard T.J. Gibbs need to step up and fulfill that role in order to speed up the learning curve.

The talent is there — it’s just going to take time.

If the Irish were in any other conference, they would be a competitive mid-level conference team, That’s not the case in an ACC conference, where Notre Dame faces run-ins with three top-25 ranked opponents and a matchup with the assumed No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Zion Williamson, and the Duke Blue Devils.

With the season still in its early stages, there is plenty of time for improvement, but as of now, it’s clear that Brey and company have a long way to go before they are potential ACC and national title contenders again.

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