Defense has served as the ugly step-child to a highly attractive offensive attack at Notre Dame over the last 5 to 6 seasons. Head coach Mike Brey has produced a basketball program that consistently boasts perimeter sharpshooters, skilled passers regardless of position, and a self-expressed high basketball IQ.
Yet the performance on the other side of the court has generally fallen short, and as a result, so has Notre Dame, at least against the top teams and in the toughest tournaments. But redshirt-junior forward Carleton Scott's greatest potential contribution to the 2010 Irish ranks as the team's general, and most glaring weakness: an athletic weak side defensive presence and above-the-rim rebounder.
All American Luke Harangody ensures the Irish won't be destroyed on the backboard, but he can't do it alone. Enter the enigmatic Scott.
"The problem he had early in the season was he was worried too much about his shot," Brey offered in a post-game press conference in early December. "Tonight he really didn't hunt his shot...it just kind of came to him. We need him to continue to embrace that role. It's really important for us."
Scott, who has three seasons of eligibility remaining, is well aware of his role in 2010. In fact, it might be that aforementioned "high basketball IQ" that helped with the evolution after initially viewing himself (as most Division I basketball players do coming out of high school) as a scoring threat.
"You have to pick your spots," Scott observed of regulars in the Irish seven-man rotation. "We have guys that can score the ball and (as a team) pass the ball as well as anyone in the NCAA, so we just have to take our time and knock down open ones."
As Brey alluded to on media day, Scott once knocked down six such shots in the Texas State Championship game as a prep player; he has legitimate range in game situations. Then again, so do five of the six regulars who play alongside him.
"When you have an open shot you can take it," Scott said of the Irish offensive philosophy. "Coach gives everybody the green light so whenever you can take the shot, he wants you to take it, but as far as letting (the game) come to you, its better if you don't try to force too much."
By the Numbers
- Scoring Average: 4.5
- Rebounds: 4.2
- Assists: 14
- Turnovers: 12
- Assist-to-Turnover Ratio: 1.16/1
- Steals: 6
- Blocks: 13
- FG/FT/3-Point Percentages: 53.3/23.1/87.5
(The above indicate Scott's averages through the now-completed non-conference season).
A Closer LookBoth Scott's three-point accuracy (3 of 13) and foul-line performance (he's hit 7 of 8) are likely a bit skewed by the sample size, but there's no doubt the Irish will benefit when the latter outnumbers the former by a significant margin. Scott's ability to hit a spot-up 3-point shot and mix-in a few mid-range J's (as he did in a 4-4 performance vs. Idaho State) are gravy for what should be a solid offensive attack.
The meat of his contributions will come on the offensive glass – keeping possessions alive, slamming home missed shots and the occasional lob, and finishing on feeds from playmaking guards Ben Hansbrough and Tory Jackson.
The first-year contributor feels he can accomplish both with regularity.
"You have to be ready for every shot, whether it be dunking on people or shooting (a 3-pointer)."
Scott's 13 blocks, 14 assists, and 4.2 rebound average have arrived via just 16 minutes of action per game, a number that should (or to be more accurate, "must") increase to augment his development and the team's prospects vs. the more physical teams that await in league play.
How Can Scott Improve?First, the disturbing news (and beware…small sample size is again at play): Scott has not shown to be a great finisher/dunker as advertised. Sure he's a dunk contest candidate. He can probably touch a higher point on the backboard than most players he'll face this season. But he's yet to show a penchant for flushing home semi-contested dunks with any authority.
Is it a lack of concentration? Repetition and/or game exposure? Nerves? Regardless, he'll need to bring a more physical approach to the rim in-conference to convert vs. Big East front lines. (And if you think the art of finishing with authority at the rim isn't a necessity in today's game; or is one that can be adequately replaced by executing a form layup in traffic, simply watch how many scoring opportunities the Irish lose over the course of a season with weak offerings at the hole…then compare those chance to their opponents'. It's staggering.)
The oddity of Scott's 2009 missed dunk opportunities leads us to another dilemma facing the junior (as well as the trio of freshmen that will fight for minutes over the next three months): consistent playing time. Scott still needs minutes to maintain his confidence and focus. More pointedly, he needs minutes because he's at worst the team's sixth best player and one of four that changes the tenor of the contest with his presence and skill set.
He's noticeably more motivated as his court time increases – appearing to be a player that won't provide an instant dose of energy, but rather one that can be relied upon to improve as the game and season progress, provided he receives ample opportunity.
Greatest StrengthsScott has begun to embrace his role and appears hungrier going after and battling for rebounds in the air and in traffic. He represents the program's first above-the-rim rebounder since Ryan Humphrey graduated following the 2003 season.
He's also showed flashes as a help defender in the passing lanes, tipping passes and creating difficult post entries for opponents.
"Coach says I always have to use my arms. I have a 7'3" wingspan so I have to use that to the best of my ability and getting in the passing lanes is something I can be good at."
Additionally, his aforementioned mid-range jumper could eventually evolve into another weapon in his offensive arsenal, as Scott has fine, though elongated shooting form. (Scott's form resembles that of LaPhonso Ellis, Notre Dame's highest draft pick since 1981, in its behind-the-head origin and release at the height of his jump.)
Final Thoughts"We have to make sure we're ready to be physical," Scott observed in the pre-season when asked about the daily grind of conference play. "The Big East is no boys' league. We have to be ready to go out there and go at somebody."
With sufficient playing time (20-plus minutes), Scott will provide an athletic rebounding presence this season. He'll be able to scrap or create at least six points against any opponent and bother offenses with his length and energy off the bench (the next step is an increased presence as a weak side defender at the rim).
Rebounds and defense will likely equate to minutes for the eager junior. It's up to Scott to earn those minutes by sticking to his role and allowing his offense to follow.
Note: Previews for Tyrone Nash, Jonathan Peoples, and Luke Harangody will appear prior to Notre Dame's Big East opener on Wednesday. Freshmen Mike Broghammer, Joey Brooks, and Jack Cooley will appear in one preview column as well.