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Men’s Basketball

DelVecchio: Mooney’s emerged as a clear front runner for conference award

| Thursday, January 17, 2019

Coming off a 65-59 defeat to the Tar Heels on Tuesday night, the Irish have now lost three out of their last four and sit at 11-6 overall and 1-3 in conference play.

The loss overshadowed yet another huge performance from junior forward John Mooney, who has proven himself to be the most improved player in the highly touted Atlantic Coast Conference. Mooney recorded his conference-leading ninth double-double for points and rebounds so far this season, and finished with 16 points and career highs in rebounds and blocks with 19 and four, respectively.

Annie Smierciak

Irish junior forward John Mooney prepares to defend during Notre Dame’s 63-60 loss to Radford at Purcell Pavilion on Nov. 14.

Mooney’s big night in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, came just two days after the 6-foot-9, 242-pounder from Orlando, Florida, dropped a career-high 27 points to go along with 12 rebounds in a victory over Boston College.

Year in and year out, the ACC is widely regarded as the best conference in college basketball. Whether or not this is factual is up for debate, but what is undeniable is the talent and large number of draft-ready players that can be found in the ACC. With that being said, no player in the ACC has made the improvements over just a single season that Mooney has made.

As a sophomore, Mooney shot 48 percent from the field, averaged 5.6 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game. Now, as an upperclassman midway through his junior season, Mooney is averaging 13.7 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game on 54.2 percent shooting from the field. The big man is even shooting an impressive 45.9 percent from beyond the arc this season, and has seen his minutes increase drastically.

Not only does Mooney lead the ACC in double-doubles, but, after Tuesday night, he now leads the conference in rebounding as well, passing Tar Heel forward Luke Maye on a night the two went head-to-head.

After the departure of former Irish forward Elijah Burns four games into the season, Mike Brey and the Irish coaching staff were quick to promote Mooney to captain, and it has clearly proven effective. In seven games playing as a captain, Mooney is averaging nearly 16 points and 12 rebounds.

Through so much uncertainty and adversity, Mooney has been the one Irish player who has not been hurt, sick or inconsistent. The Irish have been undermanned and lacking leadership, especially with the loss of captain Rex Pflueger to a torn ACL, and Mooney has been the guy who has provided Notre Dame with the steadiest play and the strongest voice, surprising some in the process.

It is no question that Mooney has served as a model of consistency for the Irish this season, and is an example that if you put in the work, the results will come. Irish head coach Mike Brey could see the strides Mooney had made all the way in the summer. He makes shots, grabs rebounds and competes day in and day out, and that is all you can ask for as a coach or a teammate.

Mooney should have won conference player of the week after his performance against Boston College, but he was snubbed for Dwayne Sutton who played a big part in Louisville’s upset win over UNC. Yet, when it is all said and done, if the big man keeps doing what he’s doing, nobody will be able to take away the honor he deserves to this point in the season, and that is the ACC’s 2019 Most Improved Player award.

Last year’s winner was UNC’s Luke Maye, who finished with numbers similar to where Mooney is right now. After Tuesday night’s game, I’m sure Luke Maye would be able to tell us all just how much better Mooney has gotten over the course of a year from first-hand experience.

Mooney is in the midst of a breakout junior season, and has unexpectedly become Notre Dame’s go-to guy. It’s time he receive the recognition he deserves.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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