Reading the Panic Meter – ND Basketball

Despite starting their season two months later and facing a much easier schedule, the Irish basketball squad, unlike the football team, is no longer undefeated. With their loss last week to Radford and less than impressive wins over three other opponents, fans of the program are rightly concerned. One of the captains decided to transfer?!?! Why can’t we shoot? What happened to the offense? Is it time to panic? Ahead of tonight’s game against Duquesne, let’s check out what’s gone right and wrong for the Irish thus far.

What’s Up with TJ Gibbs

With injuries derailing much of Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell’s senior seasons, TJ Gibbs had to grow up quickly. His play was one of the bright spots in a “what might have been” season. Gibbs averaged over 15 points with a healthy .563 true shooting percentage aided by an over 40% clip from beyond the arc. With the graduations of Colson and Farrell, it’s now TJ’s team. Unfortunately, his jump shooting and finishing at the rim have cratered. Through four games (obvious small sample size alert), Gibbs TS% is down to .410. He’s shooting just .154 from deep. While his assist rate has ticked up a bit from last year, if Gibbs doesn’t start making shots, the team will have serious issues on the offensive end.

John Mooney Progressing Nicely

While many of the upperclassmen have disappointed thus far, John Mooney is not one of them. The stretch-big from Florida is having a solid start to the season. Mooney leads the team in rebounding, three point shooting, and has emerged as the first choice big for Mike Brey. He’s also improved his shooting at the free throw line by almost 20% from last year. His three point shot will likely cool off a bit (he’s at 50% right now), he’s finished inside the arc as well. If the junior can keep this up into conference play, it will go a long way toward taking some offensive pressure off Gibbs. With Burns apparently intending to transfer (more on that below), Mooney should play big minutes the rest of the season.

Rex Pflueger Looks Lost on Offense

For all of the good the senior captain does on defense, he gives a lot of it back on offense. While he’s never been a primary threat on that end, there was hope he could become an effective 3&D wing after nearly hitting 40% of his threes as a sophomore. Last year, his shooting took a step back (.317), and this year has been even worse (.250). He’s also turning the ball over more than previous seasons, and failing to finish at the rim despite his impressive athleticism.

There’s been possessions in every game where he’s pointlessly held the ball and allowed the defense to reset, dribbled into a long 2 instead of taking an in-rhythm corner 3, missed bunnies around the rim, or made a questionable pass to give the opponent a layup. Again, Pflueger helps the Irish immensely on the defensive end, but they likely can’t survive on offense with this version of Rex playing big minutes.

Mostly Good Things from the New Guys

While we were all excited for the new recruiting class to join the Irish, no one really knew how much they’d contribute. Brey has a history of bringing the freshmen along slowly, but he’s never had a class like this one. Through four games, all four freshmen, and incoming transfer Jujuan Durham, remain in the rotation. Prentiss Hubb leads the newcomers in minutes with Nate Laszewski, Robby Carmody, and Dane Goodwin just behind. Durham didn’t play in the game against Radford, but helped spark a run against William and Mary in the following game. While none of them have been perfect, they have the look of solid college players, not wide-eyed freshmen. Even if the Irish stumble through more of the non-conference season, it’s easy to imagine the team looking much better come February as the new players improve.

Burns, a Vocal Leader and Captain, to Transfer

Due to the timing of this story, we don’t have any details about Elijah Burns’s reasons for transferring. Regardless, it’s definitely not a good sign that a guy praised as a leader and elected captain decided to transfer three weeks into the season. While there’s a minutes crunch in the front court, it may be a sign that things are not fine behind the scenes. On the court, Burns is only playing 10 minutes each night, but is one of the top post defenders on the roster. His departure should lead to more run for Durham. It may also lead to ND playing more four and five out lineups with Mooney and/or Laz as the only bigs.

The Defense Seems Alright

For what’s probably the first time in the Brey era, the defense isn’t a huge cause of concern. While the team will never become a Virginia-style monster on the defensive end, through four games they look plenty stout. The numbers bear that out as well. KenPom has the Irish rated at 79th on D compared to 64th on offense. Most Brey teams have a much wider gap between the offense and defense. DJ Harvey has sometimes looked a step slow, and Mooney and Laz have been beat a few times inside. That said, there’s no obvious sieves defensively. With the offense struggling, the defense may help keep them above water.

With all the red flags we’ve seen, and today’s breaking news, let’s put the panic meter at 6. Duquesne is a similar team to Radford, and can absolutely beat ND if the Irish have an off night. If the Irish take care of business and then knock off Depaul, we can write off the Radford game as a blip. If not, it might be time to completely dive into wacky playoff scenarios and not look at the hoops program until mid-January.

By |2018-11-20T10:25:49+00:00November 20th, 2018|18S Reads, Basketball|13 Comments

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MikeyB
MikeyB

Not too worried about Burns leaving. After he was announced as the 6th man to start last season, he got very little run. I honestly thought he might transfer before this year. Good for him getting his degree next month, and I hope he’s able to find a program where his style of play fits a bit better. Always seemed like a good dude.

That drops the rotation to 9, and that might even be too many for Brey. But I don’t think there’s ever a time where Laz can be on the court as the only big this season (he’s getting pushed around now; the ACC would eat him alive this year), so Mooney, Durham, and Laz will all get burn. Harvey’s D has been bad too, so if he’s playing the 3, he almost has to be on the court with Rex. More likely, Harvey plays the 4 most of the year, and Laz spots him.

So if those 4 are locked into minutes at the 4 & 5, then you’ve got 5 other guys fighting for minutes at guard. TJ will be playing 35, and Hubb needs to be the primary ballhandler for the 5 he’s out, plus at least 15 (probably more like 20) while TJ is on the court. Unless Brey is going to cut into Rex’s minutes, I don’t see both Carmody and Goodwin getting enough minutes to get into a rhythm.

Should be interesting to see how it all plays out; I’d love Brey to stick to a 9 man rotation with Rex dropping down to about 25 minutes (just go all out on the defensive end as hard as possible for every second he’s on the court). But I think the more likely scenario is Goodwin’s minutes trailing off as we head towards conference play. It could be Carmody, but he’s a better cutter, and this offense has done too much standing around.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

Seems to me that you’re spot-on re: Burns. The statement makes it seem like Brey is mostly supportive, and this is probably best for all involved. Once he graduates, is he immediately eligible at his transfer destination?

It doesn’t really seem like this is The Year, so probably better for the program in the long term to give Mooney and Durham more run so that we can be double-bye contenders (at least) in the following few years. TBH, that logic may cut in favor of giving some of the freshman Rex’s minutes if he continues to struggle as well.

MikeyB
MikeyB

Because he played 4 games, he has to get an NCAA waiver to play immediately. Per ND, they will support his waiver request (I’m guessing this assumes he doesn’t transfer to an opponent on NDs schedule). He is more likely to get this waiver granted if he transfers to a school that offers a graduate degree that ND does not offer. If he is not granted the waiver, he would be eligible at the start of next season at any school.

Joe Schueller

I admire your optimism/calm. The reasons I admire it are mostly articulated in MikeyB’s comments.

Unlike MikeyB, I worry that Burns leaving is a pretty bad mark on the program. He had every chance to be the prototypical Brey feel-good guy. Bided his time, worked on his game, got his shot, and excelled. Obviously, he didn’t see that happening. He was someone they held up as a vocal leader and RKG. Suddenly, he’s gone. Hopefully, Brey will illuminate the reason after the game tonight, but this isn’t something that happens in healthy locker rooms. That recruiting class of Matt Ryan, Burns, and Rex Pflueger has had an interesting journey.

While the immediate rotation drops to 9, it does feel like there’s going to be someone squeezed further. I really believe this is a team where you let TJ play 30+ and no one else really gets more than 20. However, Burns departure leaves a critical hole. We all want to see Laz out there more, but Burns had a key role in getting Laz more run. Burns could absorb that more physical defensive assignment, freeing up Laz from having to pound on the defensive end. As Mikey points out – it’ll be tough to play Nate against a physical ACC front line without Mooney in there to back him up.

I also worry about shooting – a lot. Sure, good teams go through slumps. However, Rex, TJ and Dane are all at or below 35% eFG. That’s not good enough for a team that relies on offensive efficiency to win games. I keep trying to talk myself into “they’ll fall eventually.” It just isn’t working.

MikeyB
MikeyB

I really think with Burns, it’s just the fact that he’s going on 2 years now where he couldn’t see the court. Last year Brey hyped him up to be one of the most important players on the roster, and he couldn’t see the floor. This year, he’s a captain and he got maybe 5 minutes last game. I’m hoping (and believing) that it’s not a locker room issue, and it’s just a case of a guy not quite hitting his stride.

I’d love for that 9 man rotation, with a bunch of guys sharing time. I doubt Brey goes for it, but it could be in the best long-term interests of this team. Of course, I’m sure Brey also thinks winning games this year is in the best long-term interests of the team, and he’s never been a guy who likes to go deep.

dpet
dpet

Reading Brey’s quotes post game tonight, I don’t think Burns leaving was a locker room issue. Kid simply wanted to play. I get that

Hitman
Hitman

The Burns situation mystifies me, hopefully no other reason than PT. Pretty rare for a team captain to leave.

I am prepared for a frustrating year due to youth and inconsistent shooting. I hope I’m wrong.

alstein

Leaving as a “team captain” is just as much Brey’s fault here as anything. We don’t need obligatory captaincies for all of our seniors anymore. Brey has GOT to dial back the “get old, stay old” thing. Sometimes your old guys aren’t very good.

Great to see the energy in tonight’s game in the second half. Things were looking bleak there for awhile, and this team just looks like they can let things spiral on them in a heartbeat. I guess that will happen with a mostly young team with underperforming upperclassmen. I still have some hope that, given the talent level of this roster overall, this team can continue to develop and settle into a really nice – maybe even a tournament-worthy – season. They didn’t really have anything working consistently, but at least they still found a way to grind out a victory against another decent mid-major team.

The defensive energy is there. The rebounding always seems to come along as guys figure out their roles. It’s the damn shooting! I’ve never seen a ND team shoot the ball so poorly. That’s gotta change, right?

Gibbs is a good player. We’ve seen it! A lot! What’s going on there? He’s really frustrating, but he’s clearly going through something right now, and I’d imagine there is no better coach to help him work through such unbelievable frustrations these first couple weeks. I’m still counting on a return to form from what should be our best player and just more generally just pulling for him to break out of this funk for his sake.

I also think the freshmen will get there in the next couple months. Hubb’s going to be the best frosh this season, but Goodwin and Laz from beyond the arc is going to be, in some ways, even more crucial to this team’s success. I’ve been saying in our writers’ chats over and over again how we would’ve at least beaten Radford if Brey let Goodwin play. We needed his steadiness and just another option offensively, just like he gave us tonight. He was awesome, and I really like what he brings to the table, maybe even more than Carmody over the course of this season at least.

The less I say about Rex, the better.

When it’s your turn to say what you are thankful for on Thursday, I expect everyone here to simply say, “John Mooney”.

Joe Schueller

Great comments all around. I particularly agree that right now we’re getting the worst of our “experience.” It is a young team, so the old guys feel required to press. Unfortunately, that pressure is hurting more than helping right now. Your optimism for the season has to hinge very much on TJ being able to turn this thing around vs. driving himself mad. It is clearly getting to him. I love that he wears his heart on his sleeve, but it is also showing us all how badly he’s pressing right now.

The other thing that seems to hold the key for this team is DJ Harvey. Is he the guy who can get his shot and instant offense for this team? Can he show energy on both ends and be a very effective rebounder and defender? Or is he slowed by his surgery and show a Jabari Parker-esque interest in defense? He’s so young that total lock-in is way too much to expect, but do we get him 80/20 or 20/80?

If the only question was TJ, I think I’d back all the way off the panic meter, but when you combine questions about DJ and the overall youth of this squad, it gets really worrisome. They haven’t faced any pressure on the road yet, but you have to presume they’ll crumble like a stale cookie when they do. Young teams are going to have flashes of brilliance and stretches of incompetence. You got both again last night. It seems like we’re getting 20-30’ish good minutes per game. Hopefully, as maturity and confidence comes, TJ can be that steady hand to get us closer to 30-40’ish good minutes and shorten some of the droughts.

rdicicco
rdicicco

This is just going to be a very interesting season – yes, Gibbs pressing is worrisome, and it might take DJ until January / February (fingers crossed) to get back to something resembling 90%. However, as ND basketball fans, we have come to expect to find out a lot more how the team will play in March by November / December. This is the first season where it is not the case – the way the team plays in March may be totally different once the new faces get a chance to fully submerge into the world of college basketball.

The best season that comes to mind (for me) is 2013-14, albeit with much better raw talent – I still remember Steve Vasturia and Zach Auguste emerging near the end of the season. I’m still cautiously optimistic for how this season will play out (if this team finds a way to make the NCAAT I’d pick them as a dark horse for a decent run), but, regardless of this season, I believe the benefits for 2019-20 season will be enormous.

rdicicco
rdicicco

I forgot to say one thing, but I noticed, at least so far, that Hubb or Gibbs have to be on the floor at all times – other than them I can’t think of anyone I’d trust on this team to be the primary ball handler. That worries me as well.

MikeyB
MikeyB

Yep, as Brey would put it, Hubb needs to “get old” in a hurry. When he’s playing well, he looks legit. But he quickly has to get past making the “freshman mistakes” where he rushes a shot or makes a bad live ball turnover. Because he’s going to absolutely need to be a steadying presence for this team this year. It’s a ton to ask of a freshman, and that’s before you even consider that he played 0 minutes of basketball last season.