June 16, 2009

Harangody Returns: Implications for the 2009 ND Hoops Team

Great news yesterday coming out of the ND basketball program with Luke Harangody’s decision to return to ND for his senior year. I gotta admit that I was sweating this decision. When I got back from court, it hit me that Harangody hadn’t yet made up his mind on whether to stay in the NBA Draft. Sweaty palms! I spent the next two hours scouring the internet for any clues as we got closer to the 4pm deadline.

Let me stop there for a second. I never really thought Harangody was going to leave ND early, but I will say that I got a little nervous as the predraft process went along. By all accounts, Harangody blew away the scouts with his skills and competitiveness and sneaky athleticism. Andy Katz had a lot of interesting stuff on Harangody throughout the process, and I think the consensus that came out of tryouts is that Harangody could play and contribute off the bench in the NBA as soon as next year. As we got closer to the draft deadline, I started to wonder if some NBA team had either promised to take him in the first round or had guaranteed him a roster spot as a second round pick.

So with that in mind, I was a little nervous as 4pm started to get close. A lot of people on NDNation were saying cryptic things, and it seemed like the public opinion was shifting toward the possibility that Harangody might leave. And then came the Twitter post (Tweet?) heard ‘round the world (ok, maybe that’s a stretch):

Gody to return to the Irish!!

Michael Brey is a regular Ric Bucher! Breaking news on his Twitter site before any of the media outlets got word.

So that’s where we are today. Harangody is back, and ND fans are relieved. I would have been happy for him no matter what he had decided, but I’m extremely pleased that he’s coming back next year. For what it’s worth, I definitely think Harangody could play in the NBA next year. Look around the league. There are all kinds of mediocre big men playing in the NBA right now who have half the skill set that Gody brings to the table. He wouldn’t start or anything, but you’re telling me he couldn’t come off the bench on an NBA roster next year?? Look at some of the dogs that the Cavs were trotting out there off the bench in the postseason. And that’s one of the best teams in the league. Imagine who teams like Charlotte and Oklahoma City and Memphis are playing off the bench. Harangody can score, and he gives you max effort. He is going to have a nice NBA career as a backup someday.

In terms of his career, Harangody is probably better off leaving for the league, but I think he enjoys college and wanted to have one last year as a student before he goes off and tries to make a living as a basketball player. Brey probably passed out with relief when he heard the news. Talk about a job saver!

For Harangody, it will be interesting to see how his game evolves next year. Is he going to be the same type of player, or is he going to try to show a new side of his game to impress scouts?? I will be curious to not only see how Harangody’s game has changed but also the effect that it will have on the team. I’ve heard Bob Valvano say on ESPN telecasts a few times that seniors can either be the greatest thing in the world or a complete nightmare. Harangody is a team-oriented player, but he also has had stretches where he falls in love with his offensive game a little too much and becomes a black hole. I hope he's highly motivated to do whatever it takes to get his team back in the NCAA Tournament while also enhancing his draft prospects.

I have two hopes for Harangody going into next year:

1) Improves defensively to the point where he can guard a big man effectively by himself
2) Becomes a better and more instinctive passer

As great as Harangody is offensively (he’s the best scorer to put on an ND uniform since I’ve been a fan of the team), he is almost equally bad on the defensive end. Harangody is a turrrrrrrrrrrible defender. For a guy his size, it’s amazing that he can’t seem to stay between his man and the bucket. How many times in the last couple years has he gotten absolutely abused by his man in the paint?? Last year, it stood out even more because Kurz wasn’t around to take on the heavy lifting defensively.

If I was Harangody, I would spend all offseason watching tape of that guy Jon Brockman from the University of Washington. They have almost identical builds, but Brockman is about a hundred times the defender that Harangody is. Brockman sticks his wide body in the way, blocks his man out, and clears the defensive rebound. I watched him a few times in the PAC 10 tournament and during the NCAA Tournament, and came away impressed with his performance on the defensive end. This stuff really makes a difference between winning and losing games.

Even if Harangody never becomes an elite defender, he can certainly put out more effort. It almost seems like he takes a breather on defense to conserve his energy for offense. Having Ty Nash around next year will help, but Harangody has to be able to hold his own weight as well. Defense is what wins in the postseason. It's been proven time and time again. If we don't commit to guarding people, we aren't going anywhere in the postseason.

The other thing I’d like to see out of Harangody is more of a commitment to team play on the offensive end. I’m hesitant to say that he should reign himself in, but I think the offense would be more effective if Harangody wasn’t ALWAYS looking to score as soon as he touches the ball. If the ball goes in to Harangody, he shoots about 95% of the time (or at least it feels that way). A lot of those shots are bad shots. A good big man like Harangody should be shooting at least 50% from the floor. Case in point, Jeff Adrian shot just over 50% last year. Harangody shot 46%. I think it would be nice if he became a little more efficient from the floor and made the extra pass on occasion.

In Harangody’s defense, there weren’t a lot of guys to pass the ball to last year. If the decision is hoisting up a bad turnaround shot or dishing off to Ryan Ayers, he probably figured he’d just put up the shot. Next year, Scott Martin might give him some better options inside and outside.

As for the rest of the roster, here’s how things are shaking out in terms of a depth chart.

PG – Tory Jackson
SG – Ben Hansborough
SF – Scott Martin
PF – Tyrone Nash
C - Luke Harangody

Bench: Jon Peoples, Carl Scott, Tim Abromaitis, Mike Broghammer, Joey Brooks, Jack Cooley, Tom Knight

Quick plea here to Coach Brey. Can you PLEASE spread out those minutes during nonconference play when we’re playing the Furmans and Delaware States of the world?? If you’re going to insist on playing a slate of those teams to begin the season, why would anyone on the roster play more than 25 minutes in any of those games?? I would be sprinkling in every guy on the roster for those games.

I would even do it during the conference season. Look at what Michigan State does. Izzo goes to his bench early and often throughout the year, and then those guys are ready when he calls on them later in the year. Plus, it keeps your team fresh, and he can go with multiple different looks in big ballgames. It seemed like Izzo was just as comfortable with his 8th and 9th men as he was with his starters.

I’ll point out a couple early conference games that we played last year against lesser opponents. DePaul and Seton Hall. Two lousy opponents that we played early in the year. Here’s how many minutes Tyrone Nash and Carl Scott played in both those games:

Tyrone Nash – 0 minutes
Carl Scott – 0 minutes

Are you kidding me?? We have two promising young players on the roster, and neither of them even sees one minute of playing time in conference games early in the year against bad teams?? That’s ABSURD!! Meanwhile, we have guys like Hillesland and Ayers and McAlarney playing 35+ minutes in those games. Is there any wonder why those guys are completely gassed by the end of the year?? Honestly, I would rather lose a game early in the conference season but get my bench a ton of minutes and experience than the other way around. The goal is to be peaking AT THE END OF THE SEASON, not in January.

This team has six big bodies (including Gody) to throw out there. There is no reason that we shouldn’t be playing at least 4-5 of those guys every night. Get them in the game, let them get minutes, and they’ll eventually start to contribute. It’s a process, but you have to commit to it early in the year. The added bonus is that guys like Harangody and Martin will be fresher down the stretch. Brey seems determined to play 5-6 guys for 30+ minutes a night, and then he wonders why our team runs out of gas every year.

Figure out in practice who can contribute between Knight, Brog, and Cooley. Take 1-2 of those guys along with Gody and Nash and Abromaitis, and tell them that they are all getting minutes. It will keep those guys hungry. Brey's handling of Nash last year was disastrous. By the time he started getting minutes, it was too late and the season was already in the tank.

As for the guards, I’d probably say the same thing. There is no reason for Tory Jackson to play 35+ minutes every night. We’ve watched this guy for three years now, and it has been proven beyond a doubt that he wears down from playing too many minutes. Look at what happened after that overtime game at Louisville last year. It seemed like he was never the same after that.

Is there any doubt that Hansborough will be playing 35 minutes a night right from the start next year?? Just go ahead and put that in pen. If I was Brey, I would avoid that situation. Get Peoples in the game for 15+ minutes every night, get Carl Scott in there, and even throw Joey Brooks in for 5-10 minutes if he looks like he can play.

As for Mike Brey, talk about a critical moment for his program. If Harangody had left for the pros after this year, we’d be staring down the barrel of the NIT again next year. A second straight NIT would probably put Mike Brey in very hot water (if he even survived), and I think the fanbase would have really started mobilizing against him. Harangody’s decision to come back to ND amounts to a life preserver for the Mike Brey era.

Needless to say, the 2009-10 basketball season is going to be a big one for Mike Brey. My support for him has wavered significantly in the last year, and another NIT bid for this team next year would probably be the nail in the coffin for Mike Brey in my eyes. Whether or not Swarbrick makes the same decision is up for debate. I do think he’s having a decent spring on the recruiting trail, so I am not giving up on Mike Brey just yet. I’ve always believed that he was a good basketball coach, but his management of the program and small time thinking has kept him from taking the program to the next level comparable to the Pitts and Villanovas of the world.

So where does this move leave the ND basketball program for 2009?? We’re going to take a closer look at the NCAA Top 25 later in the week, but my gut feeling is that Harangody + Martin + Tory Jackson + Hansborough=NCAA Tournament. With the Big East projected to be not quite as strong as last year, I would think we have enough quality veterans to land somewhere in the top five in the league. It will be good to have some new blood on the roster. This team got stale last year with teams keying in on guys like Ayers and McAlarney to the point where they were no longer effective. Guys like Hansborough and Martin give us a little different look offensively that might allow us to sneak up on some people.

Luke Harangody is one of my favorite ND athletes of all time. He's been a star since the first day he's been on campus. I'm relieved to see him back, and I'd like to see him go out on a high note as a senior with a trip to the Sweet 16.

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