basketball Edit

Notre Dame, John Mooney, Head Into 'The Back Nine'

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John Mooney's production and efficiency have made him an All-ACC candidate so far. (BGI/Corey Bodden)

With a 2-7 league record (12-10 overall) through the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference season, Notre Dame currently stands in 13th place among the 15 teams.

The good news is on the heels of sweeping the Boston College series this weekend for both ACC wins, head coach Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish enter “the back nine” with a more favorable schedule, although only four of the games will be at home.

However, coming out with a winning record of 5-4 is doable with only three of the games coming against the top half of the league: at Virginia (Feb. 16), Virginia Tech (Feb. 23) and at Florida State (Feb. 25). The other six begin with:

• At Miami this Wednesday. The Hurricanes are currently tied for last with Wake Forest (1-8 each) — who Notre Dame hosts on Feb. 19.

• Home versus Georgia Tech this Sunday The 3-6 Yellow Jackets eked out a two-point win over the Irish this season, but Notre Dame now has an opportunity to hold serve at home.

• Clemson (3-5) at home on March 6. (Defensive linemen won’t be suiting up for this one.)

• At Pitt (2-7) to conclude the regular season on March 9.

Despite a seven-game losing streak last year, a healthier Notre Dame team made a late push to get into the NCAA Tournament to finish with a final regular season league mark of 8-10, and then a couple of ACC Tournament wins. That might appear less realistic this year, but improvement during this transition phase will be essential to facilitate growth, chemistry and momentum next season.

This season has evoked memories of the darker days of the Notre Dame basketball era in the 1990s — with 6-9 junior forward John Mooney being the Pat Garrity of the program. As a junior in 1996-97, the 6-9 Garrity earned Big East Player of the Year honors even though the Irish finished only 8-10 in league action. That year he averaged 21.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in the nation's premier basketball conference.

This year, for Mooney to receive first-team All-ACC notice, and maybe even consideration for ACC Player of the Year, Notre Dame might need to get to seven or eight league wins.

Even if they don’t, though, Mooney has distinguished himself as one of the nation’s most productive and efficient players with a current streak of eight straight double-doubles in points and rebounds (14 overall in 22 games). He is the lone player in the ACC averaging a double-double (14.5 points and 10.9 rebounds), and one of only six major conference players (among 65 teams) to do so. In addition, no other major conference player this year has had more than five double-doubles in a row.

If Mooney runs the streak to nine at Miami on Wednesday night, that will tie him for third place on the all-time Irish chart, behind the 11 by junior Luke Harangody in 2008-09, and 10 by Armand Reo in 1961-62. LaPhonso Ellis also had nine in a row his senior year in 1991-92 en route to becoming the No. 5 overall pick in the NBA Draft.

Quite amazing for Mooney, whose career numbers his first two seasons at Notre Dame were 4.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

The bad news is that none of the aforementioned three came in seasons where the Irish made the NCAA Tournament.

One other significant note is the efficiency of Mooney’s scoring. He is currently shooting 50.7 percent from the field, 45.8 from three-point range and 79.5 with free throws, which adds up to 176.0 percent when combining all three. The “Holy Grail” for shooters is 180.0, and the highest ever by a Notre Dame player (since the three-point line was first implemented by the NCAA in 1986) was 179.7 by Tim Abromaitis in 2009-10.

Joe Fredrick in 1988-89 is a close second at 179.6, while David Graves in 1999-2000 was at 176.3 and All-American Bonzie Colson 174.2 in 2016-17.

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