Noie: Notre Dame freshman Prentiss Hubb has become one good guard

Staff reports
ND Insider

Sifting through the smoldering rubble of the Notre Dame men’s basketball season once everything ends sometime next week, it will be a struggle to spot the successes.

That’s what happens after too many questions produce too few answers. Too many losses override too few wins.

Despite the disappointment, freshman point guard Prentiss Hubb continues to impress. Quietly. Confidently. Expected to step into a massive void — just take the ball and the starting spot from graduated senior Matt Farrell and run with it in arguably the nation’s toughest conference — Hubb has done about all asked of him.

Really, he’s done more.

The 6-foot-3, 167-pound Hubb exceeded expectations. Fill Farrell’s shoes? Done. Take care of the ball? Done. Play with a swagger similar to Farrell and give the other guys confidence? Done.

With three guaranteed games remaining — two in the regular season including Wednesday’s late-night home finale against Clemson (9 p.m., ESPNU) and at least one in next week’s league tournament — Hubb is in the conversation for best Irish freshmen point guards not named Chris Thomas, who played as if from a different planet.

Hubb already has logged more minutes (953) than Tory Jackson (891) did his first year. He’s made more starts (25) than Eric Atkins (six) did as a freshman. He’s averaging more points (8.2) than did Chris Quinn (3.9) and more assists (3.8) than did Kyle McAlarney (1.7).

Only two guards in program history — David Rivers and Thomas — logged at least 1,000 minutes as true freshmen. Thomas played 1,255; Rivers went for 1,068. Averaging 32.9 minutes a night, Hubb is at 953. Three more starts, and Hubb finishes tied for seventh in school history for most starts as a freshman (28).

Hubb ranks fourth on the team in scoring (8.2), third in steals (27), second in minutes (32.8) and first in assists (113). He entered the regular season’s final week ranked sixth overall and in league games for assist/turnover ratio (2.09). He’s the only ACC freshman to rank in the Top 10 for A/T and minutes played (32.86).

Like Thomas did, Hubb seldom leaves the court. He’s played at least 32 minutes in each of the last 10 games, 37-plus in each of the last five.

“Hubb at the point has done a good job,” said Clemson coach Brad Brownell. “He plays with a lot of confidence and aggressiveness.”

For an Irish freshman class that’s been so shaky, Hubb’s been so steady. Any other year and he’d be a lock for the ACC’s all-freshman squad. He could still slide into the likely last remaining spot this year. He’s been that good.

“I’m on the court for a reason; I shouldn’t feel like I shouldn’t be out there,” he said. “I just believe in myself. I know that I can play at the top level.”

Those who hammer Hubb for his shaky shooting percentages — .329 percent from the field, .278 percent from 3 and .644 from the foul line — miss the bigger picture. Playing point guard at this level is hard. To do it as a freshman is even harder. To do it in a league as challenging as the ACC is nearly impossible. To do it after sitting out his final season of high school because of reconstructive knee surgery? Ridiculous.

“It’s extremely difficult,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said of a freshman point guard flourishing in the ACC. “You want to make certain you have a veteran crew around him. He’s got a few experienced players, but he’s also got some guys that aren’t. That makes his job as tough as it can be.”

Takes a tough kid to handle a tough job, and Hubb is. He staggered through one stretch earlier this season when he couldn’t make a shot. Over an eight-game December run that trickled into early January, Hubb made eight of 61 shots from the field, 3-of-35 from 3. Instead of sliding into a shell of uncertainty, Hubb kept firing. Kept working. Kept believing that the next one’s going in.

Confidence? A whole lot. Cockiness? Ditto. Nothing wrong with that, especially on a team that so lacks it.

“It’s just how I was raised,” Hubb said. “I should never doubt myself if I’m missing shots or playing badly. I always believe that every shot I take is going to go in or that I’m going to outplay the person in front of me.”

When the Irish shifted gears yet again a couple weeks ago and decided to play faster — they’ve used 15- and 20-second shot clocks in practices — Hubb settled even more into his quarterback role. It cleared out the clutter and offered him clarity.

Hubb committed a season-high six turnovers in the Feb. 6 loss at Miami. In the six games since, which included a career-best nine assists against Wake Forest, he’s committed only 11 turnovers.

Quicker clock, better Hubb.

“It’s helped him big time,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “It’s really kind of taken advantage of the talents he has. He’s playing as well as any guard in the league.”

On Sunday, Mack saw in person for the first time what Hubb (13 points, six assists, two steals) can do, though he’s known of him for years. When Hubb was a freshman at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, Mack fielded a call from his coach, Steve Turner.

“He said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a guy that’s really special,’” Mack recalled. “He’s got a lot of ability. He’s got a lot of wiggle. As he gets stronger and the more experiences he has on the floor, he’s only going to get better.

“The sky’s the limit for him.”

Hubb looks beyond any limits — for himself and, for the program. Few figure the Irish will play more than the three games they have left, but that’s no excuse not to play hard. This week, next week, however long this goes, Hubb still wants to play. He knows he can be better. Has to be better. Will be better. He expects the same from his teammates.

“We can’t go out like we gave up at the end,” he said. “We still have a lot of fight in us.”

Especially the freshman point guard who no longer plays like a freshman point guard.

Duke’s Tre Jones, right, tries to strip the ball from Notre Dame’s Prentiss Hubb (3) during a Jan. 28 game in South Bend.
Notre Dame’s Prentiss Hubb (3) has had a solid freshman season for Coach Mike Brey.

WHO: Notre Dame (13-16; 3-13 ACC) vs. Clemson (17-12; 7-9).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Wednesday at 9 p.m.

TICKETS: Available.

TV: ESPNU.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM/96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from the Tribune’s Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI

NOTING: Marcquise Reed scored 24 points with five steals and Elijah Thomas added 14 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday’s 81-79 loss to No. 3 North Carolina. … The Tigers have lost four of six. They’re 2-6 on the road in league play with wins over Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. … Clemson returned three starters off last year’s team that finished 25-10, 11-7 and tied for third in the ACC. The Tigers matched the school record for overall wins. … The Tigers were picked this preseason to finish sixth in the league and received one vote to win the league. … Clemson enters the final week of the regular season in ninth place in the ACC; Notre Dame is 14th. … Clemson and Notre Dame are tied for 12th in the league in scoring (69.7). Clemson is third in the league in scoring defense (64.3). … Notre Dame leads the all-time series, 5-1, all as conference colleagues. That includes 3-0 at home. … Irish power forward John Mooney leads the league in rebounding (10.9) and double doubles (18). … Notre Dame looks to avoid losing an eighth home game this season. That would be its most since 1992-93. … The Irish are 2-6 at home in league play, currently their fewest home league wins since joining a conference in 1995-96.

QUOTING: “That’s all good, but we haven’t had that good of a season. It’s not something that I can be positive about because we’ve got a lot of work to do. I just gotta improve and be a better player.”

• Notre Dame freshman guard Prentiss Hubb on his season stats to date.