Talking Notre Dame hoops early impressions, lineup combos and good guys to cover

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(Editor’s Note: South Bend Tribune columnist and Notre Dame men’s basketball beat writer Tom Noie holds the occasional Irish men’s basketball chat at Following are highlights from Thursday’s session. A complete transcript can be found at

Q Tom, I’m a fan of the skill set Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin have but it’s becoming apparent that they are not aggressive at all when this team really needs a bucket. Is this something coach Mike Brey is trying to instill in them and the rest of this team? Notre Dame never had the most athletic guys but Matt Farrell, Steve Vasturi, Bonzie Colson, etc., never hesitated to take a swing pass and take it right to the bucket.

— Mike from New Jersey

A As will be the case often in this chat, your concerns are understandable, but here comes the but ... I’d hesitate to draw any conclusions after one game against a really good team. Yes, Juwan Durham and Nate Laszewski need to be way more aggressive around the bucket. Take it hard to the hoop and draw a foul and don’t settle for fadeaway looks. But that happened against a really good team, maybe a Top 10 team. To have to hit the ground running against a team like that, it’s a tough ask. Still, they’ve got to be better than what each showed. That’s why this week was important — learn some tough lessons against Michigan State, then get home and work on what needs work against lesser teams to be ready for No. 23 Ohio State.

Q Hey Tom, how do you think Notre Dame will do during these next three games against Ohio State, Kentucky, and Duke?

— Michael from Iowa

A Hard to say because there’s such a small sample size — and such a small opportunity to see what this team actually does well against elite talent. That’s why this week was a big step for them — get some confidence to work on what didn’t work against Michigan State. Based solely on that game, this team doesn’t look ready to beat a ranked team just yet.

Q Do you think that in this next stretch will finally be the time Notre Dame gets a win over a ranked opponent?

— John

A Not based on what we saw Saturday, and especially if the Irish have to go 10 days between game action if they can’t get a game before No. 23 Ohio State on Tuesday. That’s a big ask, to lose to Michigan State, not play for nine days, then play another ranked team.

Q Is it just bad luck that every season the Irish lose a bunch of players to knee injuries or is it something else? How can one team constantly have so many injuries to key players where they’re left short-handed all the time? It’s very frustrating!

— Jim from Berlin, Conn.

A Probably a combination of bad luck and just a run of what happens over the course of three, four, five seasons. I’d counter by saying the Irish haven’t lost a key player since Rex Pflueger blew out his ACL against Purdue a couple Decembers ago. Now, Robby Carmody could have been a main guy, but he’s been hurt too much to the point where we don’t know. And Elijah Taylor undergoes ankle surgery this month for something that stems back to high school. It’s frustrating to be short-handed because Mike Brey’s philosophy is to stay under the 13-scholarship limit. Fewer guys means fewer issues with playing time. That’s swell, but when you have injury issues as the Irish have had, it puts a lot of stress on the remaining guys. I’d like to go to 13 just to offer some flexibility when/if the Irish need it. It looked the other night they were a player, and likely two, short.

Q I am not sure why everyone wants to get on Juwan Durham. He had limited offensive skills coming out of high school. He was a lanky athletic kid who could run the floor. At best, a shot blocker and rebounder. You guys all have him pegged (including Mike Brey) as a potential double/double guy. No chance. Eventually, Brey will sour on that and revert back to chucking 3 pointers. JD won’t get enough touches, does not have a post game, gets into foul trouble and apparently still has stamina issues. I see him as 8-9 ppg and 5-6 rpg, especially with that schedule. You can’t pad stats against Syracuse, Virginia, Florida State and Duke.

— Joe from the South Side

A The old “You guys ...” discussion already? LOL. Look, at that size, in this league, Juwan Durham should be able to fall out of bed and get himself 10 points and 10 rebounds. Brey said it again the other night — Durham should be able to get himself 10 points. Why? What does he show? He was a guy who believed last year that he should do more and play more and show more. In this program, you wait your turn. Did anyone think Martinas Geben would do what he did his senior season (11.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 60 percent field goal percentage) or Zach Auguste do what he did as a senior (14.0 ppg., 10.7 rpg., .560 percent from the field). It was the natural progression of a big man in this program. Durham may not be able to do this or do that, but he should, at the least, be an adequate big man in this league. Can’t say he didn’t get enough touches the other night. He’s got to go and show it now. Nowhere else to hide.

Q I know it’s a ways out but do you have any sense of the ceilings for the two South Bend kids that are committed?

— Mark

A That would be shooting guard (really small forward) J.R. Konieczny and shooting guard Blake Wesley. Both really need to find the inside of a weight room to start. They’re each about 170 pounds. Next, it would be nice to see them play with and against actual college kids. It’s easy to see them play in high school and say, ‘Yeah, they’re pretty good.’ But the competition they face isn’t always high level. It’s high school. The game changes when they move up to the next level, especially the ACC level. Need to see them in that setting before saying, ‘OK, now I see why they were gotta-get guys’ other than being in Notre Dame’s backyard.

Q Does Notre Dame not have the realistic ability to compete with top teams of the ACC, Top 25? Michigan State, Florida State players play like animals and Irish guys look like Boy Scouts in comparison. And after those two Elite Eight runs, I thought the arrow would be pointing up, not this can’t beat a ranked team streak or make March Madness.

— Tom from Gary, Ind.

A I think we first have to stop comparing everything to the Elite Eight runs. Any momentum/carry-over effect from that is long gone. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for these guys and this program. But they have to show that they can compete. Until that happens, no, they’re not among the top five or six or seven in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and they’re not beating a ranked team. Gotta have more dawg in them first.

Q Do you think Notre Dame will let in some fans soon too for men’s basketball games? I don’t see why they can’t offer some seats to students still in town or faculty/staff. It’s certainly debatable about what the appropriate number is right now, but it sure as heck is not ZERO. Why can’t athletics offer up 500 seats to faculty/staff first come, first serve? It’s just another example of the school doing anything and everything for football but nothing for hoops.

— Steve

A Whooaa ... that turned in a hurry. Totally disagree. Can’t disagree more. Think it has something — OK, everything — about football being played outside. And if Notre Dame is going to do “anything and everything” for football, why wouldn’t they let in closer to 50 percent or more capacity for say, Saturday’s game against Syracuse. I don’t see fans being allowed in for hoops anytime soon, certainly not before February. Indoor gatherings are a tough sell right now. And, honestly, unnecessary. We need sports right now to help us through everything that’s going on, but in-person spectators? Nope. Too much unknown.

Q Who are your favorite Notre Dame men’s basketball players to cover during your tenure on the beat?

— Mike from Rochester

A Always a loaded question, because a former player or two will feel like I’ve slighted them in some way, shape or form. But this is overall in 21 years, liking these guys because of the way they played and the give-and-take we had in media sessions — can’t name just five, but Troy Murphy, David Graves, Chris Thomas, Ryan Humphrey, Jack Cooley, Ben Hansbrough, Ty Nash, Pat Connaughton, Bonzie Colson are right there. Again, probably left a few out, but those guys were fun to cover because they got it. On and off the floor. Luke Harangody should be on that list, but he was way too “protected” by an SID who had no business protecting him.

And see, I knew I’d forget somebody ... have to add Tory Jackson to that list.

Can Notre Dame get more out of graduate student Juwan Durham than he showed Saturday at No. 8 Michigan State?