Opinion: Dark days ahead for Notre Dame men’s basketball

It’s no stretch to say this past season was the worst for Notre Dame in recent memory. Its 3-17 conference record was the worst in program history, and its 21 losses tied the 1965-66 Irish for the most in program history. The Irish’s 11 wins kept them far away from the program’s worst winning percentage, but that’s little consolation to the fans who had to watch this team.

With only Blake Wesley and Paul Atkinson Jr. as key departures from last season’s team that won two NCAA Tournament games, the veteran core appeared perfectly positioned to at least duplicate that success. Instead, everything that could go wrong did, and Mike Brey’s mantra of getting old and staying old proved nothing more than hot air. As a result, the Irish will be shut out on Selection Sunday for the fourth time in five tournaments.

But missing out on March Madness yet again isn’t the worst part. That distinction goes to the fact the Irish will be very inexperienced next season and probably beyond. With almost every rotation player having exhausted their NCAA eligibility this season, this was the season to make one more run. That goal came up woefully short. Now, the Irish will be reliant on younger players and guys who didn’t crack the departing Brey’s eight-man rotation.

JJ Starling, Ven-Allen Lubin, Dom Campbell and Matt zona hardly seem like a core that will put much fear into anybody. It’s not like much known help is coming either with Markus Burton the only one of three committed freshmen not to decommit from the Irish after Brey announced his departure. And who really expects J.R. Konieczny to step in as an impact player right away? Plus, if you’re counting on much help coming from the transfer portal, your optimism is admirable.

It’s hard to be envious of whoever takes over Brey’s job. That person will have to work with a group that has little collective game action, and that inexperience will show when those games are played. No one can look at next year’s Irish and convincingly say there is one trusted veteran leader. Starling hasn’t proven himself a leader despite having NBA aspirations, and if Zona is supposed to be one, well, the Irish will need all the luck they can get.

With a new core and a new coach, it will be some time before the Irish are worthy of attention again. No one likes to think of a program rebuilding, but that’s the reality. When a bunch of veterans lose and don’t leave much of a foundation behind, a lot more losing is in the future. The only hope is that Brey was sitting the players who could have made this past season a better one.

It goes without saying that the next Irish coach needs to be a strong recruiter because that’s the only way this program will return to respectability. There is nowhere to go but up after a season like this past one. Well, actually, the depths might sink further over the next year or two while the new group tries to figure things out. Either way, time to embrace the suck.

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Story originally appeared on Fighting Irish Wire