If you are anything like me, you already began preparing for next year's Notre Dame Men's Basketball season. Adequate preparation is a must for all Notre Dame fans with several new faces.
Last year's debacle is behind us and I for one cannot wait until next year's season tips off. How will the Fighting Irish fare after a season in which a top-ten ranking could not even produce an invitation to the NCAA tournament?
Calling last year's 21-15 team a disappointment would be a huge understatement. The Irish returned basically everyone from a talented squad that reached the NCAA tournament the previous year. They were unable to capitalize on the new found excitement of South Bend, Ind. hoops.
The challenge now is for the 2009-2010 team to gain respectability yet again.
Luckily for the Irish, they will have help in the form of All-Big East forward Luke Harangody. He led the Big East in scoring (23.3 ppg) and rebounding (11.8 rbg) last season.
Harangody will return for his senior season after withdrawing his name from the NBA draft. He'll have a legitimate shot at becoming the school's all-time points leader, as well as earning some other gaudy accolades.
Harangody's return gives the Irish the scoring and rebounding threat every Big East team needs, as well as a seasoned veteran who has been through the wars of the rugged Big East. Harangody can put a team on his back and carry them to the finish line. We have seen him do it so many times before.
Harangody will team up with guard Tory Jackson to form a capable one-two punch for the Irish. Jackson, already a three-year starter, led the team in assists per game last year (4.9) and was fourth in points per game at 10.6.
Jackson can be a match-up nightmare for opponents when he can slice through the lane and drive to the hoop to either draw a foul or dish out a pass to an open teammate. He also improved his shooting touch last year.
Joining Jackson and Harangody are veteran forwards Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott and experienced two-guard Jonathan Peoples.
All three saw significant time last year on the court for the Irish, and Peoples has been a regular contributor for the Irish for several seasons now.
None of the three figure to be major scoring threats, but the Irish luck out even further in that regard.
Irish fans will welcome new faces Ben Hansbrough (a transfer from Mississippi State) and Scott Martin (a transfer from Purdue) to the fold next year.
The first thing anyone will notice about Hansbrough is his last name (he is the brother of North Carolina legend Tyler Hansbrough), but his game is also worth watching.
Hansbrough, a junior guard, averaged almost nine points a game in his career at Mississippi State and will fill the vacant hole left by departed Irish guard Kyle McAlarney. Being new to the league should help Hansbrough get early open looks and make a quick impact in the Irish rotation.
Martin was the fourth-leading scorer on the Boilermakers during his freshman season, in which the Boilers advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Martin is a 6'8" guard who will present problems for anyone trying to guard him. His size and scoring will be key for a team missing Ryan Ayers, the graduated senior who was third in points per game last year for the Irish.
With these new additions, as well as the core members from last year's team, the Irish figure to have at least a solid seven-man rotation comprised of Jackson, Peoples, Nash, Scott, Harangody, Hansbrough, and Martin.
Look for Head Coach Mike Brey to try and get the freshman class involved as well to ensure fresh legs down the stretch for the Irish.
The Fighting Irish figure to have the element of surprise on their side next year, with all the new faces and a likely underwhelming pre-season ranking. That could bode well for the Irish, however.
In the past, the Irish have been at their best when the "experts" have thought nothing of them. Flying under the radar helped them reach the 2007 NCAA tournament field and advance in the 2008 NCAA tournament. In both years, the Irish were not highly ranked or viewed as major threats in the NCAA tournament field.
As we saw last year, the high expectations of a team once ranked in the top ten of both major polls eventually doomed them. The Irish were dealt a tricky schedule, but elite teams are supposed to be able to navigate their way through rough patches of games. We saw that last year's squad was certainly not elite.
But the magic of sport is that there is always next year (except for Cubs fans, but that's another story).
With their star forward back on the court, as well as the experienced back court of Jackson and Peoples, the Irish should be able to compete every night.
New additions Hansbrough and Martin only figure to strengthen the Irish rotation and give them enough bodies to run and bang with the highly competitive Big East Conference.
The Irish figure to rely heavily on Jackson and Harangody. The loss of seniors McAlarney, Ayers, Zach Hillesland, and Luke Zeller will also be easier to stomach with the additions and improved play from the returning group.
Luke out for next year's Irish Basketball Team, because they don't figure to dominate the headlines in the pre-season, which is exactly how they will want it.