Say one of the main guys for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team — maybe the main guy — recently discovered that after 77 career games and 2,600-plus minutes of playing time, there was a new way, a better way for him to work.
Would you believe him? Would you trust him? Or would you need to see more, like say, Sunday (6 p.m., ACC Network) when Notre Dame (4-8; 1-5 ACC) visits Miami (6-7; 2-6) in an Atlantic Coast Conference game after seven days away from said discovery?
Irish junior point guard Prentiss Hubb insists that the last time he was on the floor — Jan. 16 at home against Boston College — was a revelation of sorts. An awakening. Not because the Irish won their first league game and looked a whole lot more like Irish teams of past and a lot less of Irish teams of recent. It was because Hubb played the game a different way, maybe differently than he’s ever done it during his time at Notre Dame.
He played like a true point guard. Not a shooting guard. Not a guard that’s expected only to guard. Mike Brey has long insisted that Hubb be the quarterback of the team on the floor. That means doing a little of everything. All the time. Not just shoot. Not just score. Not just occasionally defend.
“I think I kind of found myself in the last game,” Hubb said Friday via Zoom before the weekend trip to South Florida. “I’m going to try and keep that going.”
When Notre Dame was overwhelmed to open over Thanksgiving weekend at Michigan State, Hubb scored a team-high 23 points. He took career highs for field goals (22) and 3-pointers (11). That’s not his game. Last month against Purdue in Indianapolis, Hubb went scoreless for the first time since early in his freshman season. He missed all seven shots, but was backed by Brey afterward, who said that he was asked to be more of a defensive guy against the talented Boilermaker backcourt. That’s also not his game.
What is Hubb’s game, and where he can be at his best, is when he’s involved in all aspects. Like the career-high 26 points to go with six assists and six rebounds in the near-miss against No. 15 Ohio State. Or the 18 points he scored and the way he kind of just quarterbacked everything, including a few late-game big shots, in the Dec. 12 win at Kentucky. It’s been a difficult balancing act for Hubb to find that right combination of point guard and point producer.
Heading into Sunday, Hubb ranked second in the ACC in assists (5.0), 12th in assist/turnover ratio (1.67) and first in minutes (373). His 13.7 scoring average is a career best, but his shooting numbers — .377 percent from the field, .298 percent from 3 — are closer to his freshman year struggles than last year.
“I think I’ve been playing pretty well,” he said. “There’s a few bumps along the way.”
There have been times when he’s shot it too much, or taken the crazy shot or two or three. There also have been times when he’s shot it too little, often waiting too long to get going to or taking too long deferring to others. It’s been difficult to decide when to go and when to let others go.
“It’s just the flow of the game,” Hubb said. “It could start off with me scoring and then assisting. I take every play one step at a time and not overthink things.”
Do it on defense
Overthinking often gets guys in trouble, and Hubb’s not been immune to it. When he sees someone in the Irish rotation struggling (and everyone has struggled over the first dozen games), Hubb’s first inclination is to do more. Shoot it more. Score it more. Carry more of the burden. That leads to the overthinking, which leads to the offense going stagnant, which leads to late-clock situations that see Hubb often launch another crazy shot.
It’s often not an official game until one of Hubb’s shots bangs off only the backboard.
The shot selection is on him, but the position of being put in that shot selection situation? Brey believes that’s also on others.
“It’s a little of a Catch-22,” Brey said. “There’s been nights where some guys aren’t in a great rhythm and he looks around and goes, ‘OK, I tried getting everybody involved and they’re not really feeling it, so I better try something.’ That’s probably where I’ve been protective of him at times.”
To better avoid that sluggishness/stagnation, Brey returned to using a 20-second clock in practice last week. It got the Irish better flowing. It got guys to understand that sometimes the first shot can be the best shot in a possession. It can decrease the times the ball finds its way into the hands of Hubb, who has to then muster something that’s not there.
Hubb’s evolution hasn’t just come on the offensive end. Heading into the Boston College game, Brey and Hubb had a sort of come-to-basketball-Jesus moment. As much as Hubb does on one end, Brey believes the Upper Marlboro, Md., native can do more on the other. Take the defensive end more seriously, he counseled. Get in a better stance. Be less of a liability. Guard guys. Help guard guys. Show that you want to to do it, and teammates will follow his lead. That’s a point guard.
Hubb followed that lead against Boston College. It allowed him to deliver what Brey believes to be one of his most complete games. He was one of five Irish to score double figures with 13 points. He had a season best 10 assists. He added five rebounds and three steals to two turnovers. The Irish made it look easier on both ends than in any previous league game.
A lot of that was the new-way Hubb. Solid as a rock, Brey called him last week.
“The game starts on defense,” he said. “I feel like my intensity from the beginning of the game started defensively, just playing more downhill and not on my toes.”
As the guy with the ball in his hands the most, Hubb’s often been the center of criticism. It may be his shot selection one game, his decision making the next, his overall inability to get the Irish into a consistent rhythm the next. When the Irish lose, the frustration often focuses on Brey and Hubb, and not always in that order. Hubb often shrugs all of it off. Questions and concern about Hubb’s overall game may linger outside the locker room. Inside, it’s a non-issue.
“He’s a great point guard,” said power forward Juwan Durham. “He does a really good job of just taking control. I’ll always pick P-Hubb over anybody.”