Noie: Balancing act continues for Notre Dame point guard Prentiss Hubb

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Watch Notre Dame junior point guard Prentiss Hubb work and you wonder where he fits in relation to others who passed through the program and played the same position.

Remember Jerian Grant, a first team All-American and the team’s last first-round NBA draft pick? Few were better at probing defenses and walking that fine line between knowing when to finish and when to kick to someone for an open shot. Hubb’s not Grant.

Former Irish guard Chris Quinn was so steady and secure running everything that coach Mike Brey would often threaten to punt him from practice if he didn’t make at least one high-wire, high-risk play. Hubb’s not Quinn.

Then there’s the guy who came before all of them, former Irish guard Chris Thomas, still fourth all-time in school history in scoring (2,195 points) and first in assists (833), steals (244) and minutes (4,814). Thomas stepped on the court and seldom stepped off it, even when his knees started to crumble over his final two seasons. He scored. He got other guys to score. Hubb’s not Thomas.

As the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Hubb passes the halfway point of his college career — two years down and two years left (maybe three with the NCAA ruling that everyone will receive an additional year of eligibility) — he’s already among the elite Irish point guards to play in the last two decades under Brey.

Only Grant, Thomas and Tory Jackson had more assists their first two seasons. Only Demetrius Jackson, Eric Atkins and Quinn had fewer turnovers as main guys/handlers. Only Grant and Thomas played more minutes and scored more points than Hubb, who entered his third season with 293 assists and 149 turnovers while averaging 34.4 minutes and 10.2 points per game.

Complete transparency — former Irish guard and 2011 Big East player of the year Ben Hansbrough’s numbers were equal to or better than Hubb’s his first two years with the Irish, but that comes with an asterisk. Hansbrough played his first two seasons at Mississippi State. He was a veteran when he arrived in South Bend. He should’ve been better than Hubb. He was older. He was seasoned.

Hubb has had to learn the college game pretty much on the fly since he arrived. Sometimes he looks and plays the part. Other times, he doesn’t.

“It’s Prentiss’s team,” Brey said following the Nov. 28 loss at No. 8 Michigan State. “He really does set a tone for us. He’s talking about, keep competing, keep battling. I appreciate his leadership.”

One of four team captains this season, the next step in that leadership phase for Hubb is to pull a page from Grant and Thomas, and find that balance of when to shoot it and try to score and when — and how — to get guys more involved. Against the Spartans, Hubb attempted a career-high 22 shots. He scored a game-high 23 points, two off his career best. But the Irish might be better served if those shot attempts weren’t so plentiful. That he’s more passing point guard than shooting point guard.

Maybe spread a few of those shots around to guard Dane Goodwin (0-of-2 from 3) or power forward Nate Laszewski (six total shots). Get into a better high-low rhythm with power forward Juwan Durham. Of Hubb’s game-high six turnovers, two were a result of not connecting with Durham on what likely would’ve been sure rolls to the rim and layups.

Grant was special in that way. So was Thomas. And Quinn and the Jacksons. All would score and could score and did score, but all were point guards first and shooters/scorers second.

Who is Hubb?

Hubb often works to get his first, then find someone else second. That might not be the best formula for this team this season. We know Hubb can score. Brey knows Hubb can score. Hubb knows he can score.

Let’s see if others can score as consistently as the guy with the ball in hands.

But that’s who Hubb is — a confident kid not shy of the spotlight (especially away from home) who believes that no deficit can’t be overcome. That’s the way he talked on the floor at Breslin Center. That’s the way he talked in huddles when the Irish trailed by as many as 28 points. His confidence helped Notre Dame close out the contest on a 36-18 run, but that contest was long over before that burst.

Better overall play from everyone earlier, not just the point guard, will keep the Irish from having to dig out of holes against elite teams.

Hubb knows it, and admitted it afterward that he’s still seeking that balance of when to pick his spots to go for it hard or ease into it and let the game evolve. Breathe. Unfold.

“If I see the pace of the game and I see that we’re getting energetic and other teams are making their run, we’ve got to slow it down and just get us in something good,” he said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to go for it. Other times, you’ve got to slow it up.”

Hubb showed everything about his game in the opener, which seems like it happened a month ago. Like when he dribbled right (he’s lefthanded), and connected on a challenged 3 in front of the Spartan bench. It was a big shot, even early in the possession. Later, he took another quick transition 3 when one more pass might’ve helped Goodwin get going with an open look.

Hubb had one drive when he hit nothing but the corner of the backboard. Later in the second half, he probed the Michigan State defense, got into the lane and attempted a wrap-around pass that found two defenders in green and white waiting for the gift.

Those are the kind of plays that often push players to the bench in this program, where they’re taught the minute they walk in the door that the ball is gold. Protect it. Don’t turn it over. The plays might’ve warranted a few minutes of watching. Not for punishment, just a perspective that, yeah, he’s got to be better.

Brey knows that with this team, with this point guard, he has to take the bad with the good. Eventually, one will outweigh the other.

“He’s gotta almost force some plays at times, which means he’s going to turn it over or take a bad shot,” Brey said of Hubb. “He kind of keeps us on edge. He’s a fearless guy.”

That’s the reason he’s playing all those minutes, getting all those shots and taking all those chances. The Irish need Hubb to be a pure point guard, but they also need Hubb to be who he is. He’s not like Atkins or Grant or the Jacksons or Quinn or Thomas or any previous Irish point guard.

He’s Hubb.

Notre Dame point guard Prentiss Hubb had a career high 22 shot attempts in the Nov. 28 loss at No. 8 Michigan State.

WHO: Notre Dame (0-1) vs. Detroit Mercy (0-1).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Sunday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: No fans allowed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

TV: ACC Network.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM/96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com/tnoieNDI

NOTING: Detroit Mercy opened Friday with an 83-76 loss at No. 8 Michigan State. The Titans went 5-for-23 from 3 and led by three with 7:49 remaining. … Detroit Mercy had three previous games in the Bluegrass Showcase canceled because of coronavirus. … The Titans return three starters off last year’s team that finished 8-23 overall, 6-12 and tied for ninth in the 12-team Horizon League. … Former Indiana University coach Mike Davis enters his third season at Detroit Mercy. Davis’ son, Antoine, finished third in the nation in scoring last season (24.3 ppg.). He’s led the Horizon League in scoring each of the last two years. He scored a team-high 24 points against Michigan State, but was 0-for-9 from 3. … John Calipari’s son, Brad, is a shooting guard for Detroit Mercy. … The Titans have won eight games in three of the last four years and finished at 300 or lower in the annual KenPom ratings. … They were picked this preseason to finish eighth in the Horizon League. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 42-12, 20-4 at home. The Irish have won the last two in the series, including 110-71 last season. Irish guard Dane Goodwin scored a career high 27 points with seven rebounds. The Irish had 20 3-pointers and 33 assists, including a career best 11 from point guard Prentiss Hubb. … Detroit’s last win in the series was 1993 at Callahan Hall, 1992 at Purcell Pavilion. … This is the third different opponent in this available weekend slot for Notre Dame. Games against No. 13 Tennessee and Purdue Fort Wayne were canceled because of those teams' coronavirus issues. A potential home game Wednesday against Western Michigan also was canceled. … This is the latest the Irish have played their first home game since a 1992 game against Evansville, also on Dec. 6. … This is the only non-power five conference home game for the Irish. … Notre Dame returns to action Tuesday at home against No. 23 Ohio State in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

QUOTING: “We’ve got some kids who will fight and compete and battle. That’s a good instinct to have early in the season.”

— Notre Dame coach Mike Brey on one positive he took from the Nov. 28 loss at Michigan State.