It’s a fact of life in college athletics, that no matter how much one player is associated with a particular university, and vice versa, you’re only going to get, at most, four good years out of him, after which point you’ll have to move on. Nevermind the fact that you’ll look at the Notre Dame squad this season and swear that Luke Harangody is still on the team, the face of the program, the man unimaginatively-nicknamed “Gody” has moved on. But, as every college team must realize sooner or later, life goes on, and luckily for the Irish, they got an early taste at the end of last season as to what life without their team leader would be like, and the glimpse they got wasn’t so bad. After Harangody went down with a bone bruise in February, head coach Mike Brey had the Irish switch from a fairly umtempo offense to a “Burn offense,” a slow-paced offense designed to limit possessions and conserve energy for the defensive end. The change in strategy brought the Irish back from the brink of elimination to garner a six-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

However, Harangody isn’t the only piece of the puzzle that is missing, and he may not even be the most important, as point guard Tory Jackson has moved on as well. While Jackson was not a great shooter, he was a serious gamer, a team leader and a hard worker whose absence leaves the Irish without a true point guard with experience. Senior Ben Hansbrough, however, is a capable ball handler and a good distributor of the ball; he finished with over four assists a game last season – a strong figure for a guy whose main strength is knocking down shots from the perimeter. While not a true point, it is possible that Hansbrough will handle lead guard responsibilities next year, particularly alongside a starting lineup that will feature several players with the ability to be secondary ballhandlers. If the Irish need a more traditional point guard on the court, freshman Eric Atkins will be the guy to call on – a skinny dribble-drive guard who excels in transition and is capable of getting penetration and finding shooters on the wing, a good skill to have when paired with the type of shooters the Irish have. While Atkins needs to add more strength to live up to his potential, he will definitely be called on for some serious minutes in his first year on campus. Another option in the backcourt is sophomore guard Joey Brooks, who is more of a shooting guard, but capable of taking over some ballhandling duties. Brooks is an athletically gifted big guard (6-5) who has the ability to be an excellent defender, a strength that could earn him serious minutes against skilled twos.

The rest of the starting lineup could be made up of similarly sized players, all in the 6-7 or 6-8 range, with versatile skill sets and the ability to play two or three different positions. Among those will be senior forward Tim Abromaitis, who came out of the woodwork to turn into a great asset for the Irish last season, when he ranked in the top 20 in the nation in true shooting percentage and in the top 40 in effective field goal percentage. A deadly shooter, he can also handle a bit and put the ball on the floor some. Fellow senior Tyrone Nash started every game last season for Notre Dame and will likely be called on to do so again. He is more of a post-up threat and tough rebounder (although not a traditional post-man by any means) than the others in this discussion, and he is not a shooter from range at all. Junior Carleton Scott is also in this group, a long and bouncy athletic wing with a bit of an outside shot and a penchant for spectacular rebounds. Finally, there is junior Scott Martin, a transfer from Purdue whose Notre Dame career got off to a terrible start when he tore up his ACL before playing a minute in an Irish uniform last season, after spending the previous season watching as his penance for transferring. Martin is an inside/outside threat with ballhandling skills and range out beyond the arc. A starting lineup pairing these four players with Hansbrough wouldn’t make the most traditional lineup, but each of the “bigs” (comparatively speaking) in this lineup is a good rebounder and can help out with the ballhandling duties. Trouble may come for this lineup against teams with big, physical interior players or even quick, harassing defensive guards. More likely, three of these guys form a front-line, paired with Atkins and Hansbrough in the backcourt.

If the Irish are looking for more beef up front to bang with opposing post players, the Harangody look-alike Jack Cooley is among those waiting to be called upon. After the injury to Harangody last season, Cooley, a grinding scrapper of a rebounder, was one of those who stepped up to fill the void, with fellow sophomore Mike Broghammer chipping in too. Neither player showed a ton of offensive polish, but any improvement combined with their hustle and energy will be welcomed.  There is also redshirt freshman Tom Knight, the Maine Mr. Basketball from 2009.

Additionally, Brey has two other incoming freshmen, both of whom will have to impress to earn minutes early in their careers.  Off-guard Jerian Grant is a athletic slashing scorer and a tough defender, while wing Alex Dragivech is a point-forward type with three-point range. It is possible both will redshirt, given all the experienced depth around them, but Brey has shown an ability to bring players off a red-shirt year and have them make a big splash, with guys like Abromaitis and Scott as excellent examples.

While some four-year stars are gone from South Bend, what remains on the roster is a versatile group who will give Brey plenty of options, perhaps combining some of the Burn offense with up-tempo style of seasons past. Given the way the Irish played at the end of last season, and given that the Big East, while still a tough league, doesn’t seem to have as many elite teams as in recent years, the Irish should be right in the mix for a second straight NCAA Tournament bid.

 


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