Not many would have predicted Notre Dame's second-leading scorer through 13 non-conference games would be first-year contributor, Tim Abromaitis. The redshirt junior has basketball camp-perfect shooting form, a sturdy frame at 6'8" 230-plus, and, most importantly for Irish fans and Abro's unselfish teammates, the innate ability to find breathing room on the basketball court.
Senior guard Ben Hansbrough referred to him as "easier to see," adding that "he's a guy that does a great job of moving without the ball; I know from experience, guarding him in practice."
The Irish offense has traditionally featured an unselfish group of players under 10-year head man Mike Brey, most recently leading the nation in assists in 2008 and finishing first in assist-to-turnover ratio last year.
"I don't know if people realize how efficient this team is offensively," Brey mentioned as the non-conference season came to a close. "I don't think a lot of teams play like this – unselfishly and with a feel for the game."
Players such as Abromaitis are key to the potential success of this type of offensive attack – one bereft of unique athleticism with an overreliance on knocking down shots. But the junior forward brings a dimension available in short supply to the Irish offense last season: he can finish from anywhere on the floor.
The Bottom Line – Numbers
- Scoring Average: 15.8
- Average as a starter (5 games): 20.8
- Rebounds: 3.8
- Assists: 16
- Turnovers: 15
- Assist-to-Turnover Ratio: Even
- Steals: 6
- Blocks: 4
- FG/FT/3-Point Percentages: 56.9/50.7/93.8
(The above indicate Abromaitis' averages through the now-completed non-conference season).
A Closer LookThough he faces some rough sledding with the collective group of defensive athletes on tap over the next 19-plus contests, Abromaitis' numbers illustrate one undeniable truth: the kid can shoot the rock.
Elite college basketball shooters are members of the "170-club" … players that reach an aggregate 170 on their field goal/three-point/free throw percentages. Abromaitis' shooting "score" is currently hovering about 200 – a number sure to decline as the competition stiffens, but unlike recent shooting stars from Brey's stable, Abromaitis can take his act inside the arc as well.
Averaging just over 25 minutes per game (Abromaitis earned and kept a starting spot in game No. 9 this season), Abro has converted 35 of 54 shots inside the 3-point line while heading to the line for 32 freebies (connecting on 30). His sterling near-94 percent clip from the line should continue as the junior has an effortless economical, compact shooting stroke.
And unlike dead-eye shooters Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers, and Colin Falls of season's past, Abromaitis should consistently earn trips to the charity stripe with constant cuts and determined (though hardly explosive) drives to the bucket.
Concerns: Though he does spend a significant amount of time on the perimeter offensively, Abromaitis' will need to improve on his 3.8 per-game rebound average if the Irish are to keep the athletes of the Big East off the glass. He's a willing battler underneath but needs work securing the contested rebounds – those available to both he and the opponent – with stronger hands (and sharper elbows) in the paint.
As well, Abromaitis is a mechanical ball-handler, one who'll be stripped often in the lane in Big East play. In season's past, I faulted graduated starter Zach Hillesland for his inability to finish near the hoop (Hillesland was also a willing driver), but i believe Abromaitis should continue his forays to the bucket due to his aforementioned free throw accuracy.
The Irish need Abro at the line and the team to be in a bonus situation often as at least four offensive players – Luke Harangody, Tyrone Nash, Hansbrough and Abromaitis tend to draw more fouls than most at their respective positions. (Hansbrough, Harangody and Abro rank from solid to top-tier free throw shooters.)
How Does Abromaitis Improve?Acknowledging the given that heavier rebounding contributions rank as the ultimate key to his and the team's success over the next 18 games, Abromaitis will also need to adjust to advanced scouting and the higher caliber of athlete he'll face in the coming weeks.
His ability to move without the basketball will make him a tougher assignment than previous knockdown shooters of the Brey era, but there will certainly be nights, especially on the road, in which his shots simply aren't falling. The Irish need 15 points per game from Abro to challenge the Big East elite; it's up to the junior to find a way to score when either the spot-up jumper and quick cut to the hole is taken away by a focused defensive forward.
Though he provides a more physical presence defensively when matchup against opposing combo forwards than did last year's duo of Hillesland and Ayers, Abromaitis will nonetheless be at an athletic disadvantage vs. several opponents of his frame in the coming months.
Increased focus on sliding his feet (rather than crossing or taking false steps) and the basic, but too often overlooked fundamental defensive approach to simply stay between his man and the basket (and in today's game, make the opponent finish over the top) ranks as step one toward consistent stalemates vs. the skilled athletes awaiting the first-time contributor.
Greatest StrengthsWith three years of eligibility remaining, Abromaitis possesses a strong upper body that should withstand the rigors of the conference season. As with most shooters, establishing a rhythm is necessary, but the junior will receive plenty of court time in what is currently a seven-man rotation.
He's a legitimate top tier shooter: deadly from corner and wings with his spot-up corner jump shot nearly automatic through the season's first 13 contests.
Though he lacks first-step quickness, Abromaitis tends to draw fouls with his body when he goes to the hole and he's shown the ability to finish with two-handed authority at the rim (more so as a recipient rather than slasher with the ball, of course).
Abromaitis is potentially the best offensive player without the ball in the 10-year Brey era (at least since Matt Carroll who hadn't fully developed that skill set until his final season). For long-time followers of the team, I've tried to think of an apt comparison for Abromaitis in terms of this skill in program history and the best I could come up with was 1980 graduate and Olympian Bill Hanzlik (a much different player who also ranks as the program's best wing defender of all time).
Final ThoughtsThe next step for Abromaitis, and a key to the team's final fortunes, is his ability to knock down the late-game, clutch shot, (the "Dagger") regardless of the environment and game pressure involved. Hansbrough, Harangody, and Tory Jackson will ensure opportunities for Abromaitis as a cutter and beyond the arc. It's up to the team's most surprising and improved player to balance his game, inside-and-out, and to bury the clutch shot when the Irish need it most.
The 2010 Irish should play a minimum of 10 Big East contests decided in the game's final three minutes. Abromaitis' end-game accuracy will be the difference between a handful of wins and losses in that span.
Note: The following Player Previews will appear prior to the team's Big East opener vs. Providence on December 30: Ben Hansbrough, Carleton Scott, Tyrone Nash, Jonathan Peoples, and Luke Harangody. Freshmen Mike Broghammer, Joey Brooks, and Jack Cooley will appear in one preview column as well.