Consistent, aggressive inside play was lacking in South Bend last season. The confluence of Luke Harangody's evolution as a perimeter threat and the graduation of senior captain Rob Kurz limited Irish offensive options in the paint. By the time then-sophomore forward Tyrone Nash emerged as a viable player in the team's rotation, Notre Dame had lost seven consecutive games and faced an uphill battle in the nation's toughest conference.
This year, the graduation of four regulars has opened the door for Nash, a player whose skills augment Harangody's as well as the team's overall offensive identity.
Nash, along with fellow junior Tim Abromaitis, was noted by Harangody in the pre-season as the squad's most improved player over the summer. Abromaitis' evolution has been staggering, with the 6'8" sharpshooter emerging as the team's second-leading scorer and top overall shooter through non-conference action.
Nash's stats (below) are less impressive than his classmate's, but his impact and continued improvement will play a significant role in the team's league success over the next three months.
"I think Tyrone Nash answered that bell loudly," head coach Mike Brey observed of Nash's first nationally televised start following an 11-point/8-rebound performance vs. UCLA on December 19. "I'm very proud of him. I think we have something developing there."
By the Numbers
- Scoring Average: 7.3
- Rebounds: 5.2
- Assists: 19
- Turnovers: 20
- Assist-to-Turnover Ratio: Even (0.95/1)
- Steals: 7
- Blocks: 7
- FG/FT/3-Point Percentages: 57.1/NA/56.1
(The above indicate Nash's averages through the now-completed non-conference season. He has not attempted a three-point shot.)
A Closer LookNash has played his best ball since the season's first loss, a 72-58 defeat at the hands of Northwestern. After logging just 15 minutes vs. the Wildcats, Nash has averaged 8.6 points and seven rebounds in the last six contests while earning nearly 27 minutes per contest.
His last two outings, 32 and 33-minute efforts vs. Loyola Marymount and UCLA, yielded 24 points, 17 boards, 5 assists, and just 1 turnover. The team's leader in field goal percentage, Nash has hit on 20 of his last 35 shots while converting 10 of 16 free throw attempts in that span.
Despite averaging just 23 minutes per contest (tied for fifth on the team), Nash is third on the squad with 42 free throw attempts and tied with Harangody for the team lead in offensive rebounds, as 27 of Nash's 68 boards have been earned after a teammate's miss.
Nash, a player who fouled at an alarming rate in fewer minutes last season, predictably leads the team in total fouls (33), an element of his game that must improve if he's to become a 30-minute contributor in Big East play.
How Can Nash Improve?"Coach said get in there and attack them on the glass." The words of Tyrone Nash following Notre Dame's 84-73 win over visiting UCLA 10 days ago should serve as an 18-game guide for the still-developing Irish power forward.
Consistent effort from Nash on the boards and a willingness to use his body as a screener offensively and against opposing cutters on the defensive end will help determine the team's fortunes in mid-March.
The Irish were outmatched physically on the glass last season, and their rebounding ringleader is expecting the team's new starting forward to help him alleviate that issue in 2010.
"I'm looking for Tyrone Nash to do that," Harangody said in October when asked about the team's inability to keep Big East teams off their backboard last season. "He needs to average around 8 rebounds a game. There's no reason he shouldn't."
With increased minutes, I'm confident Nash's effort on the boards will surpass that of the Hillesland/Zeller tandem of '09. And after a summer of intense focus, I'm optimistic that his current free throw accuracy (just a shade over 57 percent) will improve as well. Nash has gained a solid 7 to 9 inches on his release point (though it's still merely at face level) and most of his charity stripe offerings are soft, on-target attempts that find plenty of rim. He consistently draws fouls and should be able to get into a rhythm from the line – a key, often overlooked factor for an improving player in that category.
A focused Nash could top out at 65 percent on freebies in conference play.
Though not a necessary commodity, Nash has inconsistent rotation on his jump shot and would have to be on a major offensive role to be considered an option outside of 10 feet in Big East play. And as with the rest of the Irish, his post defense is a work in progress and the junior does not possess the quick leaping ability necessary to be a consistent defensive presence at the rim.
Greatest StrengthsThe most encouraging aspect of Nash's non-conference performance was his willingness to work for post position on the low block. Like Harangody, Nash has a variety of semi-awkward moves inside with a soft touch near the basket. He draws fouls, creates room with spin moves and a strange but accurate push shot.
He appears comfortable turning over his right shoulder (Nash is left-handed) for a short jump hook and one-handed bank shots.
(Nash, however, doesn't have a well-developed right hand and will likely struggle offensively in repeat games vs. UConn, South Florida, and Cincinnati after defenders adjust to his limited options underneath.)
He has strong passing skills from both the high and low post and can handle the ball as a fourth option vs. most zone presses. Like classmate Carleton Scott, Nash supplies new energy to what became a stagnant offense last season.
Final ThoughtsThe only junior Irish player without a redshirt-season under his belt, Nash is likely a bit behind the pace most Irish fans expected of him at this stage. In fairness to Nash, he should have gained more conference experience last season when it became obvious (to outsiders) that the upperclassmen options were a step behind the big dogs of the Big East.
(Of course, in fairness to Mike Brey and his staff, Nash was less-than-focused at times last season and no coach wants to have his tourney bubble burst due to a player's lack of concentration or silly mistakes).
The best thing that could happen to the 2010 Irish is that Nash reach Harangody's predicted 8-rebound mark over the course of conference play. And as indicated in my earlier preview of Ben Hansbrough (link below), it's not a negative if a few Irish players incur a few post-play shoves and opposing stares due to their physical fouls and aggressive play. Nash can bring that to the table this year.
And if he steals a few rebounds per game from the nation's most productive player...that's not necessarily a bad thing either.
Note: Previews for Jonathan Peoples and Luke Harangody will appear prior to tomorrow's Big East opener vs. Providence. Freshmen Mike Broghammer, Joey Brooks, and Jack Cooley will appear in one preview column as well.