Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Prister’s Thursday Thoughts

There’s a strong correlation between the NFL draft and Notre Dame’s success on the field, which showed itself during the 2012 and 2015 seasons.

ND/NFL DRAFT: 2017 vs. 2018

This won’t be like the 2015 NFL draft when tight end Ben Koyack was the only Notre Dame player chosen in the seven-round event.

But after seven players went in the first four rounds last year, this year’s Notre Dame draft will be somewhere between 2015 and 2016 with more of a lean toward the former.

DeShone Kizer probably will go in the first round, or no later than early second. Isaac Rochell will be selected from the third or fourth round on. James Onwualu likely comes next. Cole Luke and Jarron Jones are in the running.

It won’t be a surprise, however, if Kizer’s name is the only one called through the first (round one) and second (round two and three) days of the draft.

http://www.scout.com/college/notre-dame/story/1752722-kizer-among-top-qb...

What about 2018? Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson will be among the first offensive linemen taken in the entire draft. Both could go in the first round. One would think Nyles Morgan would emerge from his final year at Notre Dame with some value.

Greer Martini? Good size and short-space quickness. Daniel Cage? Remains to be seen. Durham Smythe? Needs a big 2017. Andrew Trumbetti? Very unlikely.

Guys like Alex Bars, Sam Mustipher, Nic Weishar, Jonathan Bonner, Jay Hayes, Drue Tranquill, Nick Watkins and Tyler Newsome are much more likely to use a fifth year in 2018 than to make the jump to the NFL.

The player most poised to make an early leap might be wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, or perhaps Josh Adams, if they build upon last season’s performances.

The point is this: Notre Dame is not stacked with NFL candidates. When they are, such as 2013-14 when 14 players were drafted, they contend for the national title (2012). Seven players, who helped lead Notre Dame to 10 victories in 2015, were drafted in the first four rounds of 2016.

(Let the record show that this is not an excuse for the 4-8 season in 2016. An 8-4 record with a light schedule would have been commensurate to the opportunity afforded Notre Dame in 2016.)

The process of building the Irish back up to 2012 and 2015 levels continues. The changes on the coaching staff should play a positive role in that development.

THE NEED FOR SPEED

Earlier this week, Irish Illustrated editor Pete Sampson wrote about the numbers crunch that could come in next year’s recruiting class, due in part to a larger-than-normal fifth-year senior group that could total as many as eight.

http://www.scout.com/college/notre-dame/story/1753040-can-irish-sign-18-...

Credit to Brian Kelly and his staff for salvaging the Class of 2017 down the stretch, but they didn’t compensate for several glaring shortcomings, which they now must turn into assets in the Class of 2018.

Repeat after me: Pass rushers, cornerbacks and receivers…Pass rushers, cornerbacks and receivers.

Harry Hiestand will get the offensive linemen he needs, although the target total could be compromised. Chip Long, who doubles as tight ends coach, will get another to add to Notre Dame’s Tight End U. reputation.

Notre Dame added two defensive tackles and a nose tackle in the recently-completed recruiting cycle. The Irish are young with some depth at linebacker.

Making the numbers work will be difficult without compromising the composition of the Class of 2018. If the Irish fulfill their needs at pass rusher, cornerback and receiver, it would compensate for other shortcomings, particularly as it ties into the recently-signed class.

BIG MAN OR BUST

The day before Notre Dame’s 10-point home loss to Duke on Jan. 30, Irish head coach Mike Brey was asked if the game against the Blue Devils – following back-to-back losses and three of the previous four – was a “must-win.”

“Not at all,” Brey said. “We finished the first half of the league 6-3. We’re kind of at 0-0 again. I told (the players), ‘Let’s clean the slate and get these back nine.’”

Notre Dame started the back nine with a couple of bogies as losses to Duke and North Carolina made it four in a row and five of six. Once 5-0 and 6-1 in league play, the Irish had fallen to 6-5.

The definition of a must-win truly came this past Tuesday when Notre Dame, hosting Wake Forest, trailed the Demon Deacons by eight with less than 15 minutes remaining. The Irish kicked it into high gear with a small lineup throughout the second half, out-scoring Wake 46-31 the rest of the way for an 88-81 victory.

The Feb. 7 victory was the first since a Jan. 21 win over Syracuse – a two-and-a-half week dry-spell. It truly was a must-win.

Notre Dame has become a flawed basketball team, which, sans injuries, means it’s been a flawed team from the beginning, only Brey – as he is apt to do -- covered it up.  

When Notre Dame signed Martin Geben three years ago, he looked like a fairly agile big man who could provide a presence around the basket and perhaps even pop out and hit a short jumper.

I could have sworn I saw that on high school film.

“Agile” and “a presence” are not what the Irish are getting from Geben. He can’t score. He can’t defend and then rebound in the same sequence. He can’t jump.

Since converting all four of his field-goal attempts and scoring 10 points against Pittsburgh in the ACC opener, he’s added seven field goals in the last 11 games. Since his nine rebounds against the Panthers, he’s added 23 rebounds in 11 games.

He offers size and an impediment in the lane for opposing offenses, and he sets screens that get Notre Dame’s bevy of shooters open. Those are the hidden assets of basketball. But that’s simply not enough to compensate for what he doesn’t give the Irish.

Since providing a spark in road wins over Miami and Virginia Tech, Austin Torres has leveled off as well. He’s managed just four points total in the last seven games. He did grab five rebounds in a career-high 21 minutes against Georgia Tech, but that’s a lot of playing time for two points. He also missed all six free throws against Georgia Tech and Duke.

Never known for playing a deep rotation, the nine that Brey was using as the ACC schedule began – with Torres, Rex Pflueger, T.J. Gibbs and Matt Ryan off the bench – was reduced to six in the second half against Wake Forest as Pflueger stepped into the starting lineup for Geben with Gibbs rotating in.

It’s that time of year when disgruntled Irish fans scream about getting more players in the game, and this year, the name they’re screaming is freshman John Mooney, a sturdy 6-foot-9, 245-pounder with shooting range.

Brey admitted to taking a long look at Mooney before the Duke game, but “never got to him.” North Carolina was the wrong opponent to give extended minutes to an untested rookie.

When the game with the Tar Heels was moved back from Saturday to Sunday, it didn’t allow a real practice on Monday to give Mooney another test. So Mooney sat against Wake Forest, too.

Why no Mooney? Brey provided some insight the other night, referencing Mooney and red-shirt freshman Elijah Burns, who missed last season with a knee injury.

“For the young guys, it’s learning how we play on the offensive end,” Brey said. “How we move and cut and space, and what a big guy does.

“They’re way ahead of a lot of other young big guys because when they face the bucket with the ball in their hands, they’re not inept, they know what to do with it, and Mooney can make a three. He’s a stretch, (Rob) Kurz-like four. They really have a bright future.”

Brey can live with defensive shortcomings. Offensive shortcomings negatively impact what has made him the coach he is, which is why Torres’ minutes have diminished.

Torres still has a role on this team because he brings several other dimensions to the table. Maybe Brey will get Mooney in the mix. Maybe it will come at the expense of Geben and Torres.

But Brey is fighting to get to 10 ACC victories – that would be a split of the remaining six games – and he’s going to do whatever it takes to get to that point.

Something to remember for the outrage many feel toward Brey when this happens. Notre Dame is 32-16 in its last 48 ACC games.

They won the first five games of the ACC season by a total of 23 points, which didn’t allow for a whole lot of lineup experimenting beyond the nine that were playing. Insert players for a few minutes here and there and that one-point overtime road win becomes a three-point loss, and that five-point road win turns into a devastating one-point loss.

Play Matt Ryan more? Not if he doesn’t know how to fit into the system.

Regardless what you think of his rotation, Brey squeezes out more victories than he should on a yearly basis. Irish fans are going to have to trust the tried and true process that has allowed Notre Dame to win two-thirds of its ACC games over the last three seasons.

Brey will try to get more (productivity) out of less (players) over the final six games. Keep in mind that after Notre Dame’s three-games-in-eight-days stretch coming up, they play three games over the final 14 days of the regular season, which will help them get their legs back heading into post-season.

HOOPS HOME STRETCH

At 7-5 with six ACC games left, a good target for Notre Dame is an 11-7 mark, although 10-8 gets them into the NCAA tournament and 9-9 might be enough.

So to reach 11-7, Notre Dame needs to go 4-2 the rest of the way. A 3-3 split gets them to 10-8. A 9-9 mark would mean the Irish would have lost nine of their last 13, which would have them limping into the NCAA tournament, and perhaps needing to do some work in the ACC tournament to get in.

Despite Notre Dame’s recent struggles, 4-2 is a realistic conclusion to the regular season.

Two games against Boston College, a home game versus Georgia Tech and a trip to N.C. State – now 3-9 in ACC play and 2-5 at home – would render losses at home to Florida State this Saturday and at Louisville to conclude the regular season relatively meaningless, except for seeding.

If the Irish go 4-2 with losses to Florida State and Louisville, they would drop to 1-8 versus ranked opponents. (Note: Notre Dame’s only victory over a ranked opponent came against No. 9 Louisville way back on Jan. 4.)

At 11-7, Notre Dame would finish in the top seven in the ACC, although its schedule is relenting compared to most of the teams currently ahead of them.

Notre Dame holds the tiebreaker over Syracuse (8-4) with its 18-point win on Jan. 21. The red-hot Orange, winners of five in a row since falling to the Irish, still must play Louisville twice, Duke and at Georgia Tech.

Louisville (7-4) must play Syracuse twice, at North Carolina and Notre Dame with a potentially tricky trip to Wake Forest.

Duke (6-4), which holds the tiebreaker over the Irish, plays host to North Carolina Thursday night, travels to Chapel Hill to end the regular season, and has trips to Virginia and Syracuse while also hosting Florida State. That’s a gauntlet.

One step at a time for the Irish, but the schedule certainly favors a strong finish.

ODDS AND END(ZONES)

• Never has Brian Kelly remained more anonymous than he did at Tuesday’s Wake Forest basketball game with new defensive coordinator Mike Elko. It simply was not safe to project his image on the scoreboard. No telling how the crowd would have reacted.

• When Matt Rhule accepted the head-coaching job at Baylor, it prompted some head scratching. It’s getting worse. The recruiting campaign was a struggle, the sordid past of Art Briles continues to haunt, and now the strength coach Rhule brought with him from Temple was busted/fired for soliciting a prostitute.

Who advised Rhule to take the Baylor job, and is he still employed?

• Spring football…March 8…four weeks.


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