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October 12, 2008


Head coach: Mike Brey.
Last season: 25-8 overall, 14-4 in the Big East.
Postseason: Earned at-large bid to NCAA tournament. Lost 61-41 to Washington State in second round.
Breakdown: Probable starters | Backcourt | Frontcourt | Offense | Defense | Outlook

Backcourt

Tory Jackson and Kyle McAlarney each started all 33 games in the Irish backcourt last season. They form a dynamic tandem that can hold its own with any in the Big East.

Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney led the Big East in 3-pointers and was second in 3-point percentage.

PROBABLE STARTING FIVE
G Tory Jackson, 5-11/Jr.
8.0 ppg, 5.8 apg, 5.1 rpg
G Kyle McAlarney, 6-0/Sr.
15.1 ppg, 3.5 apg, 108 3-pointers
G Ryan Ayers, 6-7/Sr.
7.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg
F Luke Harangody, 6-8/Jr.
20.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg
F Zach Hillesland, 6-9/Sr.
6.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg
TOP RESERVES
C Luke Zeller, 6-11/Sr.
4.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg
G Jonathan Peoples, 6-3/Jr.
3.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg
Jackson is the point guard, a jet with the ball who can create havoc with his ability to handle and get in the lane. He led the Big East in assists, more than a few of which were to McAlarney. Jackson also is the Irish's best defender. His quickness and anticipation helped him rank first on the team and sixth in the conference in steals. He also is a terrific rebounder for his size. The knock on Jackson is his shooting, both from the floor (38.6 percent, 30.2 percent from 3-point range) and from the free-throw line (52 percent). No one on the Irish team who averaged more than one free-throw attempt per game shot it worse than Jackson.

McAlarney's game is the perfect complement to Jackson. He's a catch-and-shoot guy who can dial it up from anywhere past midcourt and be a serious threat. He led the Big East in 3-pointers made and was second in the conference in 3-point percentage (a sizzling 44.1 percent). Some players will be affected by the 3-point line moving back a foot, but McAlarney will not be one of them. He ranks among the top 10 returning scorers in the Big East. If teams decide they have to double Luke Harangody in the post, it's conceivable McAlarney could trade places with the burly forward and lead the Big East in scoring. He was on fire from the perimeter during Notre Dame's six-game summer exhibition tour of Ireland.

Senior Ryan Ayers will be the third starter in the backcourt for the Irish. He's another excellent perimeter shooter (55 3-pointers, 45.1 percent from 3-point range) who helps Notre Dame keep the floor spread. He played in all 33 games last season and made 17 starts. He makes good decisions with the ball (1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, second on the team to Jackson), and he's an above-average defender.

Jonathan Peoples lends depth and probably will play 10-15 minutes per game.

Frontcourt

No one saw it coming. From his freshman to sophomore seasons, Harangody - a 6-8 power forward - evolved into a mythical beast called "Gody" (pronounced GO-dee) who dominated the Big East. He led the conference in scoring and finished second in rebounding. In conference-only games, he led the league in both categories. His numbers in conference play (23.3 ppg, 11.3 rpg) were even better than his season numbers. No one else was within five points of his scoring average in Big East play. He posted 17 double-doubles and scored in double figures in 32 of Notre Dame's 33 games. In 14 games against NCAA tournament teams Harangody averaged 21.8 points and 12.3 rebounds, including 32 points and 16 rebounds against Connecticut and 40 points and 12 rebounds against Louisville.

So what does he do for an encore? He works on his perimeter shooting and his conditioning, determined to be even better this season. Harangody looks stronger and leaner, a scary thought for the opposition.

Zach Hillesland will join Harangody in the frontcourt. He saw action in all 33 games last season and made 16 starts. He shot 50 percent and was the Irish's third-leading rebounder. He's a solid role player who takes good shots, takes care of the ball and understands the first options offensively are Harangody and McAlarney.

Depth in the frontcourt is provided by 6-11 senior Luke Zeller, an adept perimeter shooter who can draw opposing big men away from the basket, and redshirt Carleton Scott. Scott is a long, athletic wing who runs well and can finish at the rim. If Zeller can prove to the coaches that he can help on the boards, he could see significant minutes and maybe even crack the starting lineup.

Offense

The Irish first will look to run and score in transition, which they did well enough last season to lead the Big East (79 ppg). When forced to set up in the half court they're a motion team that will play inside out. They'll dump it in to Harangody and work off him; otherwise Jackson will drive and kick to the bevy of 3-point shooters. Notre Dame is one team that will not be bothered in the least by the 3-point line moving back a foot.

The Irish have legitimate aspirations for the Final Four. They have a solid point guard, terrific perimeter shooting and a big-time threat on the blocks. Harangody and McAlarney were one of the most productive inside-out tandems in the country. If defenses sag to stop the big fella, guys like McAlarney, Ayers and even Zeller can make them pay. Coach Mike Brey has no worries offensively. Defense, though, is another story. The Irish ranked 12th in the Big East in scoring defense, yielding 69.6 points per game. In their eight losses they gave up an average of 79.8 points. It's nice to be able to drop 80 or 90 on almost any team you play, but it would help if you didn't give up 80 too often. With better defense Notre Dame has a chance to find itself in the Motor City in April.

Defense

The Irish mix man-to-man and a 2-3 zone. They play good position defense. Don't look for them to trap or extend beyond half court. Their best defensive weapon is Jackson pressuring the ball.

Shoes to Fill

F Rob Kurz. Kurz (12.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg) took a lot of pressure off Harangody. He was a solid rebounder and another big man who could take opposing bigs out on the perimeter (39 3-pointers).

Must Step Up

Zeller. The Irish need someone to play Harangody's sidekick up front. The coaches like Zeller's offensive game, but they need him to be more of a presence on the boards and defensively.

Impact Newcomer

Scott. He didn't play last season but looked good on the exhibition tour of Ireland. He can get out in transition and fill the lane.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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