After an impressive 18 point win vs. St Joe's, the Longhorn's will face their first true test of the young season when they battle the fighting Kelly Tripucka's at 6 pm tonight. After smothering the St. Joe's Hawks yesterday, the Horns will find the defensive task much more difficult when the Irish and Big East MVP Luke Harangody take the floor. The 6'10" junior has averaged 23 points and 12 rebounds in 3 games this year, and has added perimeter shooting to his arsenal of offensive weapons.
Kyle Ayers is Notre Dame's most dynamic perimeter player.
Junior lead guard Tory Jackson is the straw that stirs the drink for the Irish. Jackson averaged 6 assists to just 2 turnovers last year. He's super quick and can get into the lane to create looks for teammates, but he's still athletic enough to be a finisher at the rim if teams don't play him honestly. The senior guard's achilles heel is his shooting ability, however. Jackson shot a putrid 36% from the field last year and just over 50% from the line. Defensive teams can gameplan to limit Jackson by keeping him out of transition and providing on-ball cushion to limit his drive and dish/kick game. Enticing jumpers from the 5'11" guard should be job 1.
Senior guard Kyle McAlarney is the antithesis of Tory Jackson. He's a threat to hit from deep the second he steps on the floor. Defenders must get on his shooting hand as he crosses half court and play help defense accordingly. In other words, don't help off him. When he has the ball, however, McAlarney can be pressured into turnovers when forced to handle the rock. It wouldn't shock me to see some traps and double teams McAlarney gets the ball, especially if the trapper comes from Jackson's man.
Ryan Ayers is the slashing hybrid guard/forward that can shoot from deep and slash to the goal with equal effectiveness. The senior is the most dynamic perimeter player the Irish have. He's a smoother Damion James with less athletic ability and better shooting touch.
Forward Luke Zeller is Notre Dame's answer to Connor Atchley in that he rebounds in a complimentary role to Harangody, but can still step out and hit 3's at an outstanding percentage (38% last year).
Power forward Zack Hillesand provides rebounding and interior scoring depth inside.
As a team, the Irish can be had on the defensive end. With the exception of Jackson, Notre Dame struggles to guard M2M and that's saying a bunch in the normally shooting deprived Big East. Teams with quick frontcourts gave the Irish fits last year, and based on this year's personnel group I don't see that changing a whole bunch.
Offensively, however, Notre Dame really has no peer nationally in terms of putting shooters and scorers on the floor 1 through 5. A lineup of Jackson, Ayers, McAlarney, Harangody, and Zeller are unzonable, even if you're Syracuse. If you man, you better be athletic and deep enough in the frontcourt to handle Harangody down low. Trying to bring help on the talented center is a recipe for disaster given the shooting talent the Irish can deploy. Harangody is quick enough to slide between double teams and a good enough passer to find open shooters. If you sleep on him at the arc, he'll drop trey's on you as well. He's a great player.
Junior Luke Harangody has added a 3 ball to his offensive arsenal.
Keys to the game...
Texas must play tough M2M not only because it's Texas' identity, but mainly because the Irish can shoot the hell out of the basketball. If I'm Barnes I deny the wings like its beachfront real estate. Easy ball reversal means easy buckets, drawn fouls, and open kickout 3's that run through Harangody. I play soft on the ball vs. Jackson once he crosses half court. Press and retreat on him in hopes of forcing turnovers or quick shots. Allowing him to penetrate and break down your half-court defense has the same effect as pop-rocks in spit. In certain instances, however, it's okay to help off of Jackson as long as you recover back to him under control inviting the jumper.
Offensively, Texas needs to maximize its quickness advantage at every position. I expect the Irish to play a ton of zone and our personnel groups better be tailored to attack accordingly. This isn't a game to experiment with Varez Ward and Dogus Balbay on the floor simultaneously, unless we can endure 4 or 5 empty possessions. Big Dex, Chapman, and Wangmane need to be ready to board weakside vs. a rebounding vulnerable zone that lacks block out assignments if they want to be involved in the offensive boxscore. The post up game will be limited to flashes to the high post and duck-ins in the lane.
Gary Johnson should put his playmaker hat on, because he should be able to find space in the paint from the high post down given his quickness. Notre Dame's defense is soft and we need to take advantage of it by not settling for quick jumpers early in the offense. I'm looking at you AJ, but I'm talking to Damion. In a nutshell, Mason and James should be looking to slash and kick to Atchley and Abrams with one of the bigs prepared to be a cockstud on the weakside glass. All other offense needs to come from open transition 3's or layups.
It'll be fun to watch that's for sure. A good test of what this team is made of defensively and what kind of decision makers we have on offense without DJ. I'm interested to see the answers to the following two questions.
If we can't score on the Irish who can we score on? If we can defend the Irish who can't we defend?