With the football team sitting at 8-0, you could be forgiven for not realizing that Fighting Irish Basketball is about to begin. The season kicks off with an exhibition between the Irish and Central State tonight (7:00 ET – ESPN3). Even though it’s just a scrimmage against a D-II school, there’s worse ways to use your Thursday night than by watching some hoops. Notre Dame brings in its best recruiting class in recent history. A near seven footer is making his debut in an Irish uniform. A super-talented sophomore returns from long-term injury. Outside of the top two guards, however, no one really knows what the rotation will look like.

Whispers out of a secret scrimmage against Cincinnati are all we can use as a guide for the upcoming season. With all these questions in mind, here’s part one of the 18 Stripes hoops preview. This will focus on individual players we’re looking to see something from. The next section, dropping early next week, will be more team-centric and look into style of play, rotations, and expectations. Lastly, be on the lookout for a quick recap of tonight’s exhibition if you happen to miss it.

What will a healthy DJ Harvey bring to the team?- FourPointShooter

Early reviews seem to indicate that the former blue chip sophomore is close to being all the way back to his old self. Big, if true. DJ has already demonstrated the ability to play big as a 4, but also guard on the perimeter as a FRESHMAN. He had a handful of elite rebounding games as well as showed flashes of shot creation from all areas of the floor last year, and from the practice videos, he may have a significantly improved 3 point shot. Add those dimensions to this team and you have 2nd or 3rd weekend at the Tourney potential if things go right everywhere else too.

Will Prentiss Hubb threaten to make the All-ACC Freshman team? – Alstein

Listen, I’m almost always guilty of overestimating the role of freshmen in this program. And no one truly knows how his leg is going to hold up over a full season after tearing his ACL last fall. But will Prentiss Hubb be a top 5 ACC freshman? Oh yes. Yes he will. Given the roster situation, there is no avoiding that a freshman is going to have to be a feature player on this team, and the all-important second point guard role in this offense is particularly wide open.

Brey NEEDS Hubb to work this season, and every chance they have to talk about him, the staff is not shying away from piling on the hype. There also aren’t very many top 50 freshmen (which Hubb easily was before his injury) in the ACC this year. Outside of Duke’s five (but there’s only one ball for all of them), there’s just Nas Little at UNC and Jaylen Hoard at Wake Forest, so the opportunity is there for Hubb. I’m an all-in believer that Hubb is going to play a ton, score a decent amount, and rack up a bunch of assists and steals to absolutely find his way on that All-ACC Freshman squad.

Has Notre Dame ever had anyone like Nate Laszewski? – JoeSchu

Mike Brey has always preached a “culture of passing,” and his teams have valued ball and player movement. Brey has spent much of that time with low post threats that force defenses to react when they get a touch in the paint. Coincidentally, Brey’s most successful season at ND was when he mostly abandoned back-to-the-basket play and opened the floor. Modern, spread offenses in basketball aren’t that different than those in football. They make opponents defend the entire floor. Pick and roll becomes the “bread and butter” play for these offenses, with countless wrinkles to keep defenses busy. In these spread offenses, shooting is at a premium. Brey has had a long history of great shooters, and three-point marksmanship is a hallmark of the program.

For all the great shooters in Brey’s past, he’s never had one quite like the 6’10” freshman arriving this season. Laszewski landed 51st in ESPN’s final class rankings, based largely on his shooting prowess. The small glimpses Irish fans have seen from Nate show a smooth and confident stroke from deep. After one of the poorest three-point shooting seasons in recent history, it is easy to see Laszewski finding a role in Brey’s rotation. If he can hold his own on the defensive block and glass, he’ll certainly get time. Offensively, he’ll be asked to space the floor more than being involved directly PnR action. If Nate can get himself somewhere around 35% from deep, he gives Brey a critical offensive weapon to open the floor for guys like Gibbs, Hubb, and Harvey. It is a lot to ask of a player in their first year, but Brey has never had this combination of size and shooting to play with. It will be fascinating to see how he chooses bring Laszewski along.

What will we see from Juwan Durham? – Paddy

Durham represents one of the biggest question marks this Notre Dame team has seen in recent years. He has hardly played any competitive ball in the past 3 years after being injured his senior year of high school, playing sparingly as a freshman at UConn, and sitting out as a transfer this year. However, he undeniably offers some tantalizing upside as a former 52nd ranked recruit in the ESPN 100, with a nearly 7 foot frame and impressive athleticism. I’m expecting the Irish big man rotation to be pretty fluid this season; with the losses of Bonzie and Geben, plenty have minutes have been opened up for newcomers to take advantage of.

While Nate Laszewski and John Mooney bring shooting and Elijah Burns brings defense and leadership, no other options seem to have the two-way potential that Durham has. The immediate comparison you’ll hear throughout the season is Zach Auguste. While Durham might not yet have the post game that Auguste developed later in his career, he brings the exciting rim-running ability that the Irish have missed the past couple of seasons. He is also the lone true rim protector that the Irish have. That may prove to be a valuable skill against athletic ACC opposition. While so much of Durham’s future is clouded due to the fact we simply haven’t seen him play much, the on-paper skillset is something I’ll be hoping translates to help the Irish in the early part of the season.

What is Nik Djogo’s role and future going to be? – ndroyalsfan

Nik Djogo’s time at ND has always had a tint of mystery about it. He grew up north of the border away from bright lights of most recruitniks. He was also overshadowed by teammate Thon Maker, and many believed Djogo received his offer in order to woo the Bucks center. Since he redshirted as a freshman, Irish fans only heard rumors of his practice performance running the second unit. When finally thrust into game action last season, we saw a lot of potential, but lots of mistakes as well. The lefty can throw down at the rim, but is often out of control. He’s quick to let fly from three, and has a solid looking stroke, but he shot an awful percentage (24%). He’s big and athletic enough at 6’7” to be a plus defender across multiple positions, but got lost at times last season.

All the red flags are forgivable for a redshirt freshman. In his third year on campus, however, Djogo is at put up or shut up time. Early reports indicate he’s behind Prentiss Hubb in the pecking order. Given Rex Pflueger and TJ Gibbs will play nearly 40 minutes each night. DJ Harvey appears to be fully healthy. There’s just not a lot of backcourt minutes available. Djogo flashes potential that makes him perfect fit in modern basketball that values 3s, dunks, and layups, and lots of switching on D. That potential is intoxicating to Irish fans. It’s not hard to see him becoming a massive contributor with a Geben-like jump as an upperclassmen. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to see him buried by highly touted freshman like Dane Goodwin and Robby Carmody. With lots of eligibility left, Djogo’s development has interesting implications for this season and ones to follow.