SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Over the years, there are few teams in men’s college basketball that play the Rodney Dangerfield card better than Notre Dame.
The 2018-19 team, Mike Brey’s 19th in South Bend, should be no different. The Irish aren’t getting a lot of preseason respect in the Atlantic Coast Conference and elsewhere.
“We’re kind of no-names as a group,” Brey said. “It’s a familiar role. Nobody really knows our guys.”
Last preseason, the Irish were feeling the love. With the return of preseason ACC Player of the Year Bonzie Colson, point guard Matt Farrell and center Martinas Geben, Notre Dame was expected to contend for the ACC title and an NCAA Tournament bid seemed a certainty.
But then Colson broke a bone in his foot at the start of ACC play, Farrell suffered a sprained ankle that cost him five games and promising freshman swingman D.J. Harvey hurt his left knee and eventually required season-ending micro-fracture surgery. The Fighting Irish went 8-10 in the ACC, wound up in the NIT and ended the season 21-15. Colson, Farrell and Geben got their degrees in May.
The trials and tribulations weren’t without some positive growing pains. Brey found a scorer in 6-foot-3 junior guard T.J. Gibbs, who averaged 15.3 points and shot 40 percent from beyond the 3-point line, and 6-foot-6 senior guard Rex Pflueger stepped up as a ball handler and defensive hawk.
“We’ve always been a team that has prided ourselves for being who we are no matter if we’re ranked first or ranked 101st,” said Gibbs, who scored in double figures 29 times, nine of them with 20 or more points. “We’re going to have some tough games where we struggle (but) we’re going to win games — we know that.”
The season opener comes at home Nov. 6 against Illinois-Chicago.
When Colson and Harvey were sidelined last winter, there was some growth on the front line from 6-foot-8 senior Elijah Burns and 6-foot-9 junior John Mooney. Juwan Durham, a 6-foot-11 shot-changing transfer from Connecticut, did his growing in practice. Harvey has shown a deft shooting touch since his recent medical release that required more than six months of rehabilitation.
“It feels good to be back again playing with my guys,” said Harvey, whose season ended last Jan. 16.
The five-player freshman class is ranked among the nation’s elite. It is led by 6-foot-3 point guard Prentiss Hubb, 6-foot-4 shooting guard Robby Carmody and 6-foot-10 forward Nate Laszewski.
“We always talk about our culture, and the new guys have picked right up with it,” Gibbs said. “They are guys who know how to win, love to win.”
Hubb, who sat out his senior season at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., with an ACL injury, is healthy again and the lefty figures to replace Farrell, leaving Gibbs and Pflueger, who averaged 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds while drawing the opposition’s top guard, to do their thing. Carmody is another perimeter player who averaged 31.1 points and 14.1 rebounds as a prep senior at Mars (Pa.) Area High School. Laszewski led Northfield (Mass.) Mount Herman in points (685) and 3-pointers (132) last season.
With five freshmen, Brey knows the growing pains may linger.
“I think with this group there is more of an open mind as far as development through February,” Brey said. “My biggest thing – I’ve prepared myself all summer – is (to have) patience.
“It’s kind of a neat group finding itself,” said Brey, who got additional time to mold this team during a summer tour of the Bahamas. “I think we have a track record here of guys getting better, of teams getting better at the end.”
The Irish will have five home games under their belts before Thanksgiving. Then things get tougher with home games against DePaul (Nov. 24) and Illinois in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (Nov. 27). Brey then takes his team to Madison Square Garden to play Oklahoma in the Jimmy V Classic and to Los Angeles to face UCLA (Dec. 8). Notre Dame also plays Purdue in the Crossroads Classic (Dec. 15). ACC play begins New Year’s Day at Virginia Tech.
HE SAID IT
“A lot of people are going to count us out. I like playing with a chip on my shoulder.” — forward John Mooney.
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