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‘Something to build off of’: Irish eye March Madness return

Notre Dame Men’s Basketball begins their regular season this Thursday against Radford. The Irish will play two out-of-conference games and four Gotham classic games before beginning the 2022 ACC/Big 10 Challenge on November 30th.

Notre Dame has one preseason game under their belt as they head into the regular season. The Irish played Xavier Louisiana in an exhibition game last Wednesday, winning 67-52. It’s always good to win, but Notre Dame’s performance was lacking last week considering Xavier LA is an NAIA team. The Irish had 12 turnovers and shot less than 27% from three. Fifth year guard Dane Goodwin had a solid performance with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Fellow fifth year forward Nate Laszewski also had a strong game with 12 points. Highly recruited freshman guard J.J. Starling added only two points.

Based on this performance, it seems the Irish will rely heavily on its superseniors this year. The team consists of six graduate students, four of whom started in the game against Xavier LA. The team relied almost entirely on its upperclassmen for scoring last week: grad students scored 59 of Notre Dame’s 67 points. Notre Dame’s graduate students, especially Dane Goodwin and Nate Laszewski, will have to consistently post high scoring performances for Notre Dame this year in order for the Irish to win games.

J.J. Starling was unexpectedly quiet in his first college game, scoring only two points in almost 32 minutes of play. He finished 1-7 from the field and 0-5 from three. However, his stat lines last week are not indicative of Starling’s skill or potential. At 6’4” and 200 lbs, Starling is a well-sized guard and physically ready to break into the college game. With his speed and size, Starling is a difficult opponent to guard. He should have no problem scoring and helping run the offense this season. It appears that Starling simply had a bad shooting night and is expected to improve as the season picks up. Glenn and Stacey Murphy Head Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Brey said of Starling’s performance:

“J.J. had one of those ‘first time in a uniform’ nights, but he got some great looks…and we’re gonna keep shooting ‘em.”

Starling was the eighteenth-ranked player in his high school class in the ESPN 100 rankings. This makes him Notre Dame’s highest-ranked recruit and only five-star ever. He will fill the shoes of last year’s “one-and-done” star Blake Wesley and hopefully lead the team to another NCAA tournament. The fact that Starling played 32 minutes while only scoring two points indicates Brey’s confidence in Starling’s abilities.

Two other freshmen, Ven-Allen Lubin and Dom Campbell, join the team along with Starling. Lubin is a four-star recruit and the seventy-fifth ranked player in the country in his high school class by ESPN. Campbell is a four-star recruit as well. Both players are forwards. Lubin in particular should contribute to the team this year, joining Laszewski in the frontcourt as a true post player. Coach Brey was happy with both players’ performances against Xavier LA and is optimistic about their abilities:

“Nate and Ven are our main big guys and I think they kind of got us started. Ven gave us 15 solid minutes…he can block a shot, hes long”

Standing at 6’8” and 225 lbs, Lubin has an advantage over most freshman forwards in the sense that he is physically ready to compete with older players. He will give the Irish additional size that they have been lacking in recent years.

Even with the addition of Lubin, Notre Dame’s guards will still have to rebound well in order for the team to succeed defensively. Graduate student Dane Goodwin spoke about actively focusing on rebounding in his play in a post-game interview last week:

 “I realize that’s gotta be a big priority for me this year, we’re playing a little smaller so I gotta get in there and grab some boards to help the team however I can.”

Despite their slow performance against Xavier LA, the Irish are confident about the upcoming season and the team. Goodwin is feeling optimistic about Notre Dame’s potential:

“I think we’re in a good spot, we have a week until our first official game…were gonna watch some film and kind of address it and move forward. There’s definitely something to build off of.”

The ACC Preseason Poll ranked Notre Dame sixth in the ACC. They are currently ranked one spot ahead of defending ACC champion Virginia Tech. North Carolina is currently ranked first in the ACC. They are expected to automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament by winning the ACC tournament. Notre Dame could automatically qualify in the unlikely scenario that they win the ACC tournament. However, it is more likely that they earn an at-large bid.

The Irish qualified for the NCAA tournament as an eleven seed last season for the first time in four years. They performed fairly well considering their rank, defeating sixth-ranked Alabama in the first round and losing to third-ranked Texas by only six points in the second round. As of November 8th, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi predicted that the Irish will earn an eleven seed again this season. Notre Dame is currently expected to be one of the “last four byes,” meaning that the Irish will be one of the last four teams to qualify for the tournament without having to play a play-in game. Based on this prediction and their performance last year, Notre Dame has a decent chance of making the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in seven years. 

Qualifying for a Sweet Sixteen this season would open up a new era of success for the Irish after a several-year rebuild period. Tournament success helps with recruiting and gives younger players important experience. The Irish will need solid contributions from the returners and Starling to step up to his full potential to achieve this level of success this season.

Contact Sammie McCarthy at smccart9@nd.edu