After breaking down the freshmen joining the Notre Dame men’s basketball roster, we are now on to the transfer portal additions. Head coach Micah Shrewsberry brought in three players, two from the Big Ten and one from the Big East, to give himself some more raw material to work with in his first season at the helm. Emphasis on the word “raw.”
The portal player who’s been the most productive to date — which, to be truthful, isn’t saying a whole lot — is former Northwestern Wildcat Julian Roper II. In two seasons in Evanston, Roper posted per game averages of 4.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.0 assist while shooting 37.7% from the field and 37.1% from deep.
To be fair to the 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior, he might have broken out more at the end of his sophomore stint if not for a season-ending ankle injury that limited him to just 15 games. However, also being fair to Roper, he started the final 15 games of his freshman season but never started a game as a sophomore, and his minutes per game only increased from 20.2 to 21.4.
All that’s to say that Roper is still a bit of an unknown commodity. He’s shown flashes of skill that could certainly help Notre Dame this season, but it’s still a bit of a wait-and-see proposition for him. But as for what he has shown, here’s what he can contribute to the Irish.
During the team’s first availability to media this fall, three vocal leaders on the team were identified: senior forward Matt Zona, Penn State transfer forward Kebba Njie, and Roper. If nothing else, on a team with pieces assembled almost like Frankenstein’s monster, it’s a positive that leaders have emerged and that Roper is one of them.
Even for his relative lack of productivity, Roper has logged the most appearances in collegiate games of anyone on the roster (Roper has 44 games played, narrowly edging Zona’s 43). The expectations are low for Notre Dame this season, but Shrewsberry has made a point of saying that defense and effort are non-negotiables in his program. Defense travels, so if it can keep the Irish in some close games, Roper’s collegiate experience might be enough to get Notre Dame over the hump in a game or two.
This sounds weird for a guy who’s barely averaged over four points per game in college. But when you watch Roper play, you can tell that he’s a pretty skilled offensive player who simply lacks volume. Specifically, his shooting touch is on point, and he can score at all three levels.
And even if his career 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks per game don’t scream “lockdown defender,” Roper is also opportunistic enough to turn defense into offense.
However, while Roper is capable of distributing the ball once he draws the defense, his role is not as a distributor. He seems to score better off the dribble than off the catch, but he’s not a facilitator of the offense as much as a situational go-to scorer.
Player Comp: T.J. Gibbs
Career stats: 11.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 39% FG, 37.3% 3P, 82.1% FT
Best season (2017-18): 15.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 41.1% FG, 40.3% 3P, 83.8% FT
For those who have blocked out the last few years of the Mike Brey era at Notre Dame, Gibbs’ (arguable) best season was the same one where he was asked to do the most. And I find it remarkable that he was as efficient as he was when he had to fill a bigger role in the offense following injuries to Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson. But I digress.
Roper appears slightly more athletic than Gibbs. But beyond that, this is a bit of a comparison of convenience, because Gibbs is someone Notre Dame fans should recognize. As mentioned previously (and later), Roper just hasn’t shown enough to think that he’ll be as productive as Gibbs.
With that said, Roper, like Gibbs, is someone who can be trusted to handle the ball in a pinch and find a way to put the ball in the basket. Although, it worth noting that Roper’s free throw shooting fell off dramatically as a sophomore (45.5% compared to 71.4% as a freshman).
Roper probably won’t take as many three-point attempts as Gibbs (Gibbs’ 6.2 three-point attempts per 40 minutes is twice as much as Roper’s 3.1). In the alternative, his willingness to attack the basket may help Notre Dame’s offense be more balanced after several years of a three-point-happy approach on that end. At bottom, Roper can be a high quality secondary scorer like Gibbs was, but it’s not a great proposition if he has to carry the offensive load.
Wait and see. That’s the mantra for several Notre Dame players this season, because there’s just not enough of a track record to issue final verdicts for guys. That holds especially true for Roper, whose injury history is just another factor that could alter his trajectory unexpectedly. (For what it’s worth, Roper’s ankle injury apparently kept him out of full basketball activity all offseason, because Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports just reported that Roper was cleared on Oct. 20).
And even though Roper does bring experience to the table, it’s not an overwhelming amount. This is a new program with a new coach, so everyone is starting on equal footing. But with that said, Roper’s status as a vocal leader — as vague a concept as that may be — leads me to think that, barring further injury, he’ll be no worse than a sixth man on this year’s roster, and a good one at that. But he’s unlikely to garner conference recognition if the Irish lag in the bottom of the standings.