John Mooney, the 6-foot-9, 245lb Florida native, had one hell of a junior season for Notre Dame last year. He averaged 14.1 PPG and 11.2 RPG, leading the ACC in both double-doubles (14) and rebounds per game. He also shot 37.4% from three, the highest percentage among any forward in the conference. All of this was done while receiving a double team almost every time he touched the ball in the post. There’s really no weakness when it comes to Mooney’s game other than a small hitch in his jump shot, which hinders his ability to get his shot off while tightly defended. Having said that, shooting the ball from behind the arc at a 37% clip given his size and ability to also score in the post places him as one of the few elite, versatile big men in the country, let alone the ACC. He is a well-deserved preseason first-team all-ACC selection and will be the first name on every opponent’s scouting report this season. The only gripe head coach Mike Brey has with Mooney is how soft-spoken he is. He needs to start carrying himself like he’s one of the better big men in the country. Look for him to provide more leadership and be more outspoken on the floor this season.
Although Mooney put up great numbers last season, it would take a ridiculous year for him to win ACC Player of the Year given the tobacco road bias when it comes to that award (former Irish guard Jerian Grant deserved the award in 2015 over Jahlil Okafor, and it shouldn’t have been close). However, the league does not have as much elite returning talent as it is accustomed to. Of the 20 first, second, third-team and honorable mention all-conference players last season, only three return. Mooney is one of them. Even though he flies under the radar nationally, he has the potential to be the most dominating presence of any player in the ACC this year.
I envision Notre Dame running their offense through Mooney more frequently this season, but that is assuming he has improved his ability to score in the post. This was by no means a weakness in his game last season, but given the fact the hitch in his shot is unfixable at this point, it’s really the one thing he should have been working on in the offseason. But even if his offensive game in the post improves significantly, the double teams he commanded last season will only increase. If the Irish don’t shoot the ball better from outside the paint and force the opposition to guard the perimeter, defenses will relentlessly double Mooney and that offseason improvement would be rendered meaningless.
However, if senior Temple Gibbs gets back to his sophomore self and all the sophomores improve significantly from their freshmen seasons, which likely will happen, Mooney will have some help offensively. Last year, he was really the only threat, which makes his numbers that much more impressive. More shooting threats on the outside will free up Mooney in the post, which would cause his numbers to improve even further this season. Mooney is among the group of elite big men in the country, but he needs help from the rest of the roster if the Irish want to get back to the NCAA tournament. He can’t do it all himself again.
Featured Photo: AP Photo/John Bazemore