Irish counting on Ben Hansbrough to back Harangody

Ben Hansbrough doesn’t have the same size or talent as his more famous older brother, Tyler, now a rookie with the Indiana Pacers.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey believes the younger Hansbrough – who stands 6-foot-3 compared to his older brother’s 6-9 frame – does have at least one thing in common with the former North Carolina standout.

“He’s got the same ticker now. He’s got the same motor,” Brey said. “There’s a great competitive streak there.”

Brey is hoping the intensity Hansbrough provides will help Luke Harangody, the leading vote-getter on The Associated Press’ preseason All-America team, lead the Fighting Irish back to the NCAA tournament.

The Irish started last season ranked No. 9, but saw their season spiral out of control with a seven-game midseason losing streak. They finished 10th in the Big East and 21-15 overall.

Harangody, who has twice led the Big East in scoring and rebounding, is the big name on the Irish roster, along with guard Tory Jackson (10.6 points, 4.9 assists). Hansbrough is one of the many Irish unknowns, along with Tyrone Nash, Tim Abromaitis, Carleton Scott and four freshmen. Even Brey, entering his 10th season as coach, isn’t sure what he’s got.

“I’m trying to figure out who else will score it for us,” he said. “I think Ben has shown in practice he can score it for us.”

Hansbrough helped Mississippi State advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament two years ago, averaging 10.5 points a game, before transferring to Notre Dame. He’s eager to get back on the floor after sitting out a season.

“I’ve had this year of hard work. I’m excited to get out there on the court and expose it all,” he said.

The Irish had been counting on another transfer, forward Scott Martin, to provide an offensive spark. But he’s out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last month, leaving a big hole in Notre Dame‘s plans.

The Irish lost four of their six top scorers from last season, most notably three-point threat Kyle McAlarney, who averaged 15 points. Hansbrough doesn’t have McAlarney’s shooting touch, but he is more athletic and can drive to the basket.

“We couldn’t always get to the bucket at times from the perimeter last year,” Brey said.

The Irish could use a three-guard starting lineup with Hansbrough, Jackson and Jonathan Peoples (3.2 points, 2.3 rebounds), all expected to be key contributors. The Irish head into the season with Brey planning to use a seven-man rotation.

Big East coaches picked the Irish to finish eighth in the league, but the voting was done before Martin was injured. The Irish missed being ranked in the Top 25 by just three notches, a result that surprised Brey.

“We’ll have to see if we can back it up,” he said.

Hansbrough was happy to have his brother in the stands for his exhibition opener, adding that he doesn’t mind the constant comparisons or whether people say he’s playing in his brother’s shadow.

“I’ll always be in his shadow. He’s a great player. Who wouldn’t be in the shadow of what he’s done? He’s one of the all-time leading scorers in NCAA history,” he said.

Irish fans aren’t as interested, though, in who Hansbrough is related to as they are in finding out what the younger brother can do to help Notre Dame try get back to the NCAA tournament.