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Notre Dame Basketball: Fighting Irish Team Preview and Season Prediction 2021-22

Prentiss Hubb, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Basketball

Prentiss Hubb and the Fighting Irish are projected by Athlon Sports to make the NCAA Tournament for the 2021-22 college basketball season

If the sense of urgency surrounding the Notre Dame men's basketball team could be measured in decibels, it would be like a jet roaring down the tarmac.

After four seasons without an NCAA Tournament bid, the Irish return one of the most experienced teams in the country. Experienced, that is, in all things but postseason play.

"We've got six guys that have played a lot," says Mike Brey, who enters his 22nd year as head coach of the Irish. "I don't know if anybody (in the ACC) has as much as we have coming back.

"We have five guys that have grown up together and are really hungry to play in the tournament. We should rotate into a position of strength again if we handle this right."

Brey's hunger is equally voracious. As the winds of change whistled through Notre Dame's 11–15, 7–11 season, there was speculation that his time with the Irish was coming to a close.

And yet Brey enters the 2021-22 season with four years remaining on his contract, which vice president and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick is inclined to uphold, particularly if Brey can get the Irish trending in the direction of the back-to-back Elite Eight appearances they posted before the recent drought.

Brey is energized to reach 25 years with the Irish through the 2024-25 season, particularly with the salty crew he has returning.

"We've got a bunch of seniors that want to taste it," Brey says. "I don't think you have to push a whole lot of motivation. They want to be back in that thing. The urgency is there every day."

Related: College Basketball Top 25 for 2021-22

At a Glance

HEAD COACH: Mike Brey

2020-21 RECORD (ACC): 11-15 (7-11)

2020-21 POSTSEASON: None

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KEY LOSSES:
G Nikola Djogo (5.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg)
F Juwan Durham (10.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg)

Frontcourt

The Irish lost 6'11" Juwan Durham (10.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), but 6'9" Paul Atkinson Jr., the Ivy League's co-Player of the Year during his junior season at Yale, provides a low-post presence. He averaged 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in 2019-20. The Ivy League canceled last year's season.

"Paul is a feel-for-the-game, inside veteran," Brey says. "Feet, hands, he can pass to shooters. … One of my selling points was, 'Look at our veteran guards and their assist-to-turnover ratios. You're going to get touches down low, and you're going to have three assists per game because we have guys that can stretch the floor.'"

Nate Laszewski (6'10") joins Atkinson up front after a breakthrough season in which he averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 58.9 percent from the field. He's played 91 games in an Irish uniform.

Backcourt

Veterans Prentiss Hubb and Dane Goodwin, Stanford transfer Cormac Ryan and Santa Clara transfer Trey Wertz helped lead Notre Dame to within a game of .500 in ACC play last season after an 0–5 start. Then the Irish lost a 20-point second-half lead at Syracuse, and hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament were dashed.

Hubb and Goodwin each have played 91 games for the Irish. Between Notre Dame and Santa Clara, Wertz has seen action in 83 college basketball games. Ryan's season at Stanford and year with the Irish offer another 49 games of experience.

Hubb (14.6 ppg), Laszewski (13.3) and Goodwin (11.8) lead the original highly ranked senior class. Ryan (9.9) and Wertz (8.3) round out a quintet of shooters all capable of connecting from distance.

One youngster who will be inserted amidst the veterans is 6'4" combo guard Blake Wesley, a South Bend product and a top 100-ish prospect.

"He's a slicing, slashing playmaking guard who loves to defend," Brey says.

Final Analysis

Despite the lack of postseason experience, Brey believes his 22nd Notre Dame squad is on the verge of a significant revival, particularly with the return of assistant coach Anthony Solomon — now in his third tour of duty with Brey at Notre Dame — and the addition of former Irish player and new assistant coach Antoni Wyche, who along with Solomon will instill some of the "edge" Brey was looking for, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.

"We're not a hundred miles away," Brey says. "We're within striking distance."

Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Round of 64
ACC Prediction: 8