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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: Roster Preview & Exhibition Games/Season Primer

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Let’s talk about this season, the likely rotation, and take a quick peek at the two exhibition game opponents the Irish will be playing over the next week

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Notre Dame Wake Forest Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

It seems nearly impossible, considering the football team has played just around 54% of its games for the season, but folks...it’s time for Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s hoops to get going for the 2021-2022 season!!!!

As you may remember, the Irish finished an incredibly disappointing 11-15 overall last season, with an equally disappointing 7-11 mark in ACC play. The much heralded 2018 recruiting class were finally juniors, and along with key transfers Cormac Ryan and Trey Wertz and 5th-year leaders like Juwan Durham and Nik Djogo, 2020-2021 was supposed to be the year the Irish finally got back on-track after having missed 3 straight NCAA Tournaments.

Instead, the team struggled all season, regularly collapsing down the stretch of otherwise competitive games and playing consistently poor defense while having neither the depth, bulk, or talent down low needed to compete in a conference like the ACC. The team lost 5 of their last 7, and although they finally defeated a ranked team (#11 Florida State) for the first time in years, they also got bounced from the ACC Tournament via a 42-point loss to UNC.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Mike Brey was rightfully and fully criticized for the dip his program had taken since that incredible 2015-2017 stretch it had, and many wondered if it was time for him to resign or be let go in favor of some fresh blood to rebuild everything. Anyone who knows Brey, though, knows he’s too competitive and proud to end his Notre Dame tenure like that — so he resolved to make some major changes to the program, and AD Jack Swarbrick kept him around to see if he could right the ship.

Brey brought in new assistants Anthony Solomon (new compared to last year — this is his 3rd stint with ND) and Antoni Wyche to emphasize defense/toughness (Solomon) and better guard play (Wyche). He landed Yale graduate transfer Paul Atkinson Jr., a 6’9”, 230-lb forward whose last season (2019-2020, because the Ivy League canceled their 2020-2021 season) simply involved him winning Ivy Leage Player of the Year. And he signed a couple promising freshmen from the South Bend area in Blake Wesley and J.R. Konieczny (not to mention what’s looking to be an exciting class of 2022 with J.J. Starling, Dom Campbell, and perhaaaaaps Ven-Allen Lubin).

Add to the above that just about everyone returns from last season with another year of seasoning/development in a program that maximizes players’ potential late in their careers, and suddenly the Irish are getting Top 25 votes in the AP Preseason poll and KenPom has them at #27 in the country. This might, somehow, actually be a NCAA Tournament team. They were picked to finish 8th in the ACC, which would probably put them right on the bubble come March.

So, with all that said, let’s take a look at the team, what to potentially expect from these guys, and also have ourselves a very brief preview of the Irish’s first two games, which will be exhibitions against a couple small colleges to get the team ready for their first official game against Cal State Northridge on November 13th.

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2021-2022 Notre Dame Men’s Basketball — Projected Starters

Prentiss Hubb, Guard, #3

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
  • Height: 6’3”
  • Weight: 176 lbs
  • Class: Senior
  • Eligibility: Junior
  • Stats: 14.6 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3.2 rpg, 0.7 spg, 3.2 TOpg, 39% FG, 34% 3FG

Quick Synopsis: At this point in his career, Prentiss Hubb is what he is. Can he get a little wild at times and make some really boneheaded decisions that bring any Irish momentum that was building to a grinding halt? You bet. But is he also the only guy on the team capable of breaking down his defender off the dribble to either attack the hoop or create space for a pull-up jumper as the clock winds down? Absolutely.

Like it or not, this offense mostly goes as Hubb goes. He led the team in scoring a season ago and finished #1 in the ACC in assists (#14 in the country). He’s the only Irish player added to a preseason All-ACC team (2nd team), and the only ND player named to CBS’s list of the top 101 players in college basketball.

It will be interesting to see how Paul Atkinson Jr.’s presence changes things for him, as Hubb will now have a reliable low-post guy to dish to for buckets, as well as another veteran scorer who can take some important shots as the shot clock winds down. This may be the season Hubb finally puts it all together now that he hopefully has enough help offensively — cutting down on the quick contested jumpers and too-risky passes because he feels more comfortable with the talent around him would be a big thing for ND.

Cormac Ryan, Guard, #5

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
  • Height: 6’5”
  • Weight: 194 lbs
  • Class: Senior
  • Eligibility: Junior
  • Stats: 9.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.0 spg, 39% FG, 34% 3FG

Quick Synopsis: Cormac Ryan had a decent debut season for the Irish last year, averaging essentially double digits in scoring and doing a little of everything else while always serving as a threat from long range and a captain — which is really cool considering that has to be rare for an underclassman transfer to earn that title before playing a minute for the team.

Ryan needs to do two things to make this a successful season for the Irish: he needs to be more consistent overall (he tended to disappear periodically throughout last season) and he needs to hit a higher percentage from long range. We all know he can shoot it from out there and when he’s on, he’s absolute money — but he’s gotta be able to shoot around 40% and he can’t have games where, looking back, it was unclear exactly what he contributed.

Dane Goodwin, Guard, #23

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Notre Dame Wake Forest Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
  • Height: 6’6”
  • Weight: 208 lbs
  • Class: Senior
  • Eligibility: Junior
  • Stats: 11.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, 43% FG, 35% 3FG

Quick Synopsis: Goodwin’s story is honestly very similar to Ryan’s, in terms of what he needs to do. We know Goodwin can score and when he’s on he scores in BUNCHES, but Goodwin is even streakier than Ryan in terms of games he’s crushing it and games where he’s like a ghost on the floor.

Improvements in his defense, even if marginal, would be helpful as well. Goodwin has NOT been a very good defender in his first three seasons, but the Irish need him to be able to stay in front of opposing wings as well as box out and help out on the glass. Anthony Solomon’s hiring and the renewed focus on defense will hopefully pay some dividends here.

Nate Laszewski, Forward, #14

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
  • Height: 6’10”
  • Weight: 235 lbs
  • Class: Senior
  • Eligibility: Junior
  • Stats: 13.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 0.6 bpg, 59% FG, 43% 3FG

Quick Synopsis: Similar to Hubb, I think we know what we have in Nate Laszewski at this point, and not much is going to be different this year compared to last. The 6’10” jewel of the 2018 recruiting class has developed into a guy who can play both outside and inside (at least a bit), and who maximizes his potential in the rebounding arena, considering his frame. He’s easily the best outside shooter on the team, and his stats finally reflected that last year when he torched opponents with 43% shooting from deep.

The big questions for Lasz will be how easily he shares the floor with Atkinson Jr. and also if Solomon and Ryan Humphrey can coach him up a bit on defense — he may not be able to out-muscle all the big men he faces, but with his length and athleticism for his size, he should be able to guard guys all the way out to the perimeter, and the Irish could certainly use him blocking a few more shots now that their rim protector, Juwan Durham, is gone.

Paul Atkinson Jr., Forward, #20

NCAA Basketball: Yale at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
  • Height: 6’9”
  • Weight: 230 lbs
  • Class: Graduate Student
  • Eligibility: Senior
  • Stats: (2019-2020 @ Yale): 17.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.8 bpg, 63% FG, 31% 3FG

Quick Synopsis: Whereas the offense goes as Hubb goes, I think the 2021-2022 season for the Irish goes as Paul Atkinson Jr. goes. The last time he played a season of basketball, Atkinson Jr. won Ivy League Player of the Year and had the awesome stat line you see above. However, not only was that against Ivy League competition, but it was two years ago at this point. How rusty will he be, and can he give the Irish double-digit scoring and team-leading rebounding numbers against the stepped-up competition of the ACC?

Simply put, Notre Dame needs Paul Atkinson Jr. to be the real deal — otherwise, we’re looking at a core of guys that’s essentially the same as last season, albeit another year older and with maybe a slightly better defensive presence than before (especially adding freshman Blake Wesley to the mix on the perimeter). But Atkinson is exactly the kind of player that group has been missing and needs — a tough, physical guy who can rebound and score (and hopefully defend) down low, and allow Laszewski to be the stretch 4 he should be instead of a guy who has to do a lot of the rebounding dirty work by default.

2021-2022 Notre Dame Men’s Basketball — 6th and 7th Men

Trey Wertz, Guard, #2

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Notre Dame North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
  • Height: 6’5”
  • Weight: 192 lbs
  • Class: Senior
  • Eligibility: Junior
  • Stats: 8.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 40% FG, 43% 3FG

Quick Synopsis: Similar to Ryan, it was a solid debut season for Wertz, but he was pretty inconsistent from game to game. There were games where he scored 27, 17, 17, and 16, as well as games where he’d shoot poorly and score in the single digits. Overall, though, Wertz showed he can shoot it from deep (43%) and occasionally get to the hoop for a bucket, although he did struggle sometimes to finish on really nice drives to the basket.

This season, if Wertz can be counted on for 10-12 points regularly instead of either 6 or 17, and can continue to do a little bit of everything else (including defend — he’s a long, athletic guard who needs to use that to hound opponents on the perimeter), that will make him the perfect 6th man or even 5th starter, depending on how Brey actually lands with his starting lineup come the start of the official regular season.

Blake Wesley, Guard, #0

Photo Credit: Twitter (@NDmbb)
  • Height: 6’5”
  • Weight: 185 lbs
  • Class: Freshman
  • Eligibility: Freshman
  • Stats: (high school): 27.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.5 spg, 2.3 TOpg, 50% FG, 30% 3FG

Quick Synopsis: Like Atkinson Jr., Irish fans have gotta be excited to see how Blake Wesley fits into this team as a new piece. At 6’5” and possessing more athleticism than probably everyone on the team, Wesley has already shown enough effort in practice for Mike Brey to mention that he’s in the rotation of 7 guys who will play a lot for the Irish this season. A lot of that is apparently from his ability to defend, as his length, quickness, and hands allow him to really shut guys down if he puts forth the effort.

Anthony Solomon had to have been excited about Wesley coming to campus, as he could be one of the best defenders on the team in short order. He also could certainly add a bucket or two when needed, considering he was a prolific high school scorer from a variety of spots on the floor. It’s going to be fun to see him flash potential and grow before our eyes as he plays with all these seniors.

2021-2022 Notre Dame Men’s Basketball — Situational Subs

Perimeter Defense

Tony Sanders Jr., Guard, #12

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Notre Dame North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports
  • Height: 6’7”
  • Weight: 209 lbs
  • Class: Sophomore
  • Eligibility: Freshman
  • Stats: 1.0 ppg, 0.6 rpg, 38% FG, 50% 3FG

Quick Synopsis: Tony Sanders Jr. is still a bit of an unknown for all of us — we know he’s a pretty darn athletic guy and is best known for his defense at this point, which is why I have him listed as a situational perimeter defender — I think Brey and co. will play Sanders Jr. when the guards are in foul trouble or need a short breather, and the staff wants someone who will come in, bring energy and effort, and have the physical ability to stop opposing guards from scoring.

On the other side, Sanders’s offensive game still definitely leaves something to be desired. He’s raw there, and thus will definitely not be called upon to take big shots anytime soon. For the most part, he’ll be deferring to the other guys out there and focused on defense.

Rebounding/Interior Defense

Matt Zona, Forward, #25

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
  • Height: 6’9”
  • Weight: 240 lbs
  • Class: Sophomore
  • Eligibility: Freshman
  • Stats: 0.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 25% FG

Quick Synopsis: Matt Zona saw a decent amount of playing time last year out of necessity, considering the Irish otherwise had two big men (Durham and Laszewski) and thus anytime one or both of them were in foul trouble, needed a breather, etc., Zona was asked to go in, throw his body around, and help on the glass.

To put it gently, Zona was certainly not ready to contribute as a freshman. He wasn’t a threat to score, wasn’t always great in his rebounding positioning, and wasn’t particularly effective as a defender, considering his foot speed and lack of vertical leap. None of that is to say he can’t be a starting center for the Irish in a couple years — I don’t think any of us saw Martin Geben becoming who he was by his final season, for instance — but for now he’s, at best, a guy who can spell Atkinson Jr. or Laszewski for a minute or two, use his fouls, and do his best to not give up easy buckets or rebounds in the paint.

Elijah Taylor, Forward, #22

Photo Credit: Twitter (@1lij22)
  • Height: 6’8”
  • Weight: 242 lbs
  • Class: Sophomore
  • Eligibility: Freshman
  • Stats: DNP in 2020-2021

Quick Synopsis: When Elijah Taylor got to ND last year alongside Zona and Sanders Jr., he was considered the most likely to see minutes — 6’8”, aggressive, strong, more athletic than Zona — there was definitely a role for him on a team that needed competent big men desperately. Instead, Taylor got hurt, had ankle surgery, and missed the entire season, leading to minutes for Zona and a situation where we don’t know how much Taylor will even be able to contribute in 2021-2022.

Sure, he could be a situational guy brought in to bang around down low, similar to Zona. But unlike Zona, Taylor didn’t play basketball for the past year, and missed his freshman year of development and practice time and initial game action. Even at 100% this season, he probably won’t be ready to play too much, so expectations for him definitely need to be dialed back. Look for him to start being a key rotation guy in 2022-2023 and beyond.

Shooting

J.R. Konieczny, Guard, #1

Photo Credit: Twitter (@TheJrKonieczny)
  • Height: 6’6”
  • Weight: 195 lbs
  • Class: Freshman
  • Eligibility: Freshman
  • Stats (high school): 28.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.4 spg

Quick Synopsis: J.R. Konieczny was an even more prolific high school scorer than his fellow local South Bend native Wesley, and there could certainly be situations throughout this season where Mike Brey brings him in to add another sharpshooter to the squad on the floor.

However, at 6’6” and 195 lbs, Konieczny really needs a year or two in a college strength and conditioning program before he will be ready to defend other 6’6” guys, contribute on the glass, etc., so he likely won’t be called upon too much this season. He’s going to be a KEY guy on the perimeter in a couple years, but for now I don’t foresee a ton of PT for Konieczny.

2021-2022 Notre Dame Men’s Basketball — Limited PT

Robby Carmody, Guard, #24

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
  • Height: 6’4”
  • Weight: 202 lbs
  • Class: Senior
  • Eligibility: Sophomore
  • Stats: DNP in 2020-2021

Quick Synopsis: Carmody’s situation is like Taylor’s but multiplied by 3. He’s simply not had a chance to play a healthy season of basketball since he got to Notre Dame, and thus even if he is healthy this season, it’s unclear what kind of player he could even be — will it be like playing a true freshman Robby Carmody, but with a history of injuries and being too aggressive?

Simply put, Carmody probably won’t see much time this season, and from seeing Tom Noie talk about it — and this makes sense when you really think through it — Robby Carmody might not ever really see significant playing time at Notre Dame. Those injuries torpedoed his growth as a player and athlete...here’s to hoping we’re wrong and by the end of his time in South Bend, he’s been a factor on a winning team!

Elijah Morgan, Guard, #31

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
  • Height: 6’1”
  • Weight: 169 lbs
  • Class: Junior
  • Eligibility: Sophomore
  • Stats: 0.9 ppg, 0.2 rpg, 33% FG

Quick Synopsis: Morgan is a walk-on in his third year with the program. He’s a solid little guard, but obviously would be over-matched against all the best guards in the ACC. He’s a nice end-of-the-bench guy, though, considering he’s never looked overwhelmed or lost when he’s entered games for the Irish.

Alex Wade, Guard, #4

Photo Credit: Twitter (@Alex_wade20)
  • Height: 6’0”
  • Weight: 166 lbs
  • Class: Freshman
  • Eligibility: Freshman

Quick Synopsis: Alex Wade is also a walk-on, and like Morgan, will probably just be a garbage-time player for much of his career. Hopefully he and Morgan both get their very own Tom Kopko moments before they’re done, though!

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Alright, now let’s get a quick look at the Irish’s first two opponents this year — Nazareth College and St. Norbert College, both of whom Notre Dame will host in exhibition games today and next Friday prior to the beginning of the season on Saturday, November 13th.

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Exhibition Games — Opponent Previews

Opponent: Nazareth College

When: Friday, 10/29 @ 7 PM ET

How to Watch/Listen: Play by Play: Tony Simeone | Live locally on WSBT-AM 960/FM 96.1, worldwide on und.com

Opponent Quick Facts

  • 2020-2021 Record: 8-4 (7-2 in Empire 8 Conference play)
  • Head Coach: Kevin Broderick
  • Location: Pittsford, NY
  • Number of Students: 2,823
  • Year Founded: 1924
  • Nickname: Golden Flyers
  • Colors: Purple and Gold
  • Conference/Division: Empire 8 Athletic Conference, Division III
  • Fun Fact: Their traditional rival is St. John Fisher College, and their annual rivalry game is called “The Battle of the Beaks”
  • Fun Fact: Jeff VanGundy is an alum
  • Fun Fact: It has no current religious affiliation, but it was formerly a Catholic school

Opponent: St. Norbert College

When: Friday, 11/5 @ 7 PM ET

How to Watch/Listen: Play by Play: Tony Simeone | Live locally on WSBT-AM 960/FM 96.1, worldwide on und.com

Opponent Quick Facts

  • 2020-2021 Record: DNP in 2020-2021 (Won their 9th MWC championship in 11 seasons in 2019-20, posting a 23-5 overall record and a 17-1 mark in the MWC)
  • Head Coach: Gary Grzesk
  • Location: De Pere, WI
  • Number of Students: 2,132
  • Year Founded: 1898
  • Nickname: Green Knights
  • Colors: Green and Gold
  • Conference/Division: Northern Collegiate Athletic Conference, Division III
  • Fun Fact: They just switched conferences, having played in the Midwest Conference from 1982 through last season
  • Fun Fact: The Green Bay Packers have conducted training camp on the St. Norbert campus since 1958, making this the NFL’s longest training camp relationship between a team and school. In exchange, the Packers donate their used equipment and provide St. Norbert yearly grants
  • Fun Fact: It is a Roman Catholic school (Premonstratensian Order)

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Final Thoughts

This is a huge season for Mike Brey and the Notre Dame men’s basketball program. The Irish have missed four straight NCAA Tournaments as they’ve struggled with young teams in a program that thrives on having lots of contributing seniors.

Now, Brey’s got a team with 7 seniors in terms of academic class, has added some key pieces via grad transfer (Atkinson Jr.) and recruiting (Wesley), and has retooled his staff to hopefully give the program a shot in the arm in terms of defense, energy, etc.

The future looks bright with committed recruits like J.J. Starling and Dom Campbell coming in 2022, but until then, Brey and the boys MUST make big strides toward getting the program back on track to being a contender in the ACC like they were from 2015 to 2017. Here’s to hoping this group finally comes together and makes that happen this season.