Coming into this season many were worried who could step in Rob Kurz's spot of doing the dirty work for the Fighting Irish. So far it has been off and on, but Notre Dame needs Zach Hillesland to be the aggressor.
It couldn't have been more evident last Saturday when the Irish squeaked out a close one at home to Boston University. Hillesland was a lot more active than he was in previous contests as he scored 11 points, pulled down four rebounds, dished out three assists, and had three steals in 28 minutes of action. He was a lot more aggressive on both ends of the court and will hopefully continue that as conference play looms.
Hillesland has to be that way if this Irish team wants to get where they want to go. Luke Harangody has to bring the double-doubles. Tory Jackson has to the facilitator and heartbeat, but you really need Hillesland to be active and aggressive. And when he is like that, he's a matchup nightmare in the Big East.
There's really no one in the conference, maybe one or two players, that can get it off the defensive backboard at 6-9, push the pace up the floor with the dribble, and try and find the open man. When Hillesland is doing that, and screening for guys like Kyle McAlarney, that's when he is the most effective for the Irish.
Against Ohio State he got into early foul trouble that put Notre Dame at a disadvantage early on and got them out of any rhythm. You really had to look back at the final box score and think how long was he in the game, because he really didn't do anything that would make you believe he was on the court.
So if he stays out of foul trouble and doesn't take it upon himself to score many points, because Notre Dame has plenty of guys that will be able to score; he can be active the way Coach Brey and the Irish need him to be. If that happens then this Irish team will be more difficult to matchup against this season in the Big East.
Another X-Factor that might loom large in conference play could be the human highlight reel in Carleton Scott. Nobody on this squad is better playing above the rim than Scott. He's an absolute freak when it comes to being an athlete. I know I'm throwing a Tom Lemming recruiting term around, but just the way he plays reminds me of a young Ryan Humphrey.
When Humphrey was donning the Blue and Gold, you'd think where ever he was on the court he'd slam it down. Whether if he drove down the lane and threw it down or on the other end and swatted it away up into the gold seats of the JACC, Carleton Scott has all those features which could make him a important commodity.
Scott sat out all of last year to preserve that year of eligibility. He's still coming along slowly and it would be very nice for Brey to get him going in the rotation. But with the way Brey works his rotation, only eight guys are playing double-digit minutes. Scott is on the verge of playing six, seven, maybe eight minutes a game, but he needs to step it up a little more if he wants to see the floor.
Again if this team is going to do something special, they'll need a contribution from Carleton Scott somewhere along the line. Whether it's Seton Hall, Pittsburgh, UConn, or any other Big East foe, he'll have to come through with a pretty good showing.