This preview and more on Notre Dame and the ACC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 15 Notre Dame Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-10 (11-7 Big East)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64
Coach: Mike Brey (285-142 at Notre Dame)
ACC projection: Fourth
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
After resisting conference alignment until 1995, Notre Dame became a frontrunner in the Big East, finishing second in 2011 and third in 2012. The Irish landed their fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid in 2013. Now they must adapt to their new surroundings in the venerable Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I like the veteran group that we’ll have taking us into a new league,” says coach Mike Brey, who enters his 14th season with the Irish.
Notre Dame has size and experience up front and a reinforced backcourt.
“People have said we play a little more like the ACC teams, and that’s been an advantage for us in the Big East,” Brey says. “We’re skilled. That second big guy is able to face the bucket. In the ACC, the biggest difference is the second big, or a 4-man who spreads you out and can make a shot. It’s a tricky match-up. We’ve always had the ability to play like that. I’m interested to see what gives.”
The Irish must learn to play without Jack Cooley, who won the league’s most improved player award as a junior, and then claimed first-team All-Big East honors as a senior when he averaged 13.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
“Jack was the ultimate get-a-second-shot guy,” Brey says. “We don’t have an offensive rebounder as good as Jack Cooley.”
Brey will rely upon a trio of 6-10 players — fifth-year seniors Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman and sophomore Zach Auguste — to compensate for the loss of Cooley.
Knight moved into the starting lineup early in the 2013 Big East season when veteran Scott Martin suffered a season-ending knee injury.
“He flat-out saved us,” Brey says. “If Tom Knight doesn’t come to the party, we’re going to the NIT.”
Sherman was inconsistent in his first year of eligibility after transferring from Michigan State, but he was huge down the stretch and in postseason play. Auguste emerged when Sherman struggled.
Pat Connaughton, a 6-5 junior, rebounds well enough to play the 4 spot and carried the Irish from beyond the arc in the Big East Tournament.
The loss of sharpshooters Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis in recent years took Notre Dame’s outside game down a peg. But the Irish are solid in the backcourt with veteran guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant as well as sophomore Cameron Biedscheid, who must improve his defense and outside shooting consistency.
Freshman point guard Demetrius Jackson, a McDonald’s All-American, shooting guard Steve Vasturia and swingman V.J. Beachem provide ample depth.
The Irish now have a backcourt with the athleticism to contend with the ACC’s up-tempo pace.
“I’d like to see a Grant-Atkins-Jackson perimeter,” Brey says. “Can we pressure the ball a little more instead of just playing position defense all the time? I like that look. Notre Dame has never had a perimeter with that kind of a gear.”
Notre Dame’s perimeter play will get a boost with the addition of local standout Demetrius Jackson, sharpshooter Steve Vasturia and athletic swingman V.J. Beachem. Another local product — freshman power forward Austin Torres — may redshirt in 2013-14 but gives the Irish long-term punch up front. A pair of 6-9 sophomores — Eric Katenda and Austin Burgett — could help up front.
Factoid: 11. Notre Dame enjoyed a winning Big East record in 11 of its final 13 seasons in the league (all under Mike Brey). The Irish did not have a winning conference mark in any of their first five seasons in the Big East.
Despite the loss of Cooley, a double-double machine, the Irish have size up front and a faster-paced backcourt, which takes them into their new conference prepared for a variety of styles.
“The Big East was more brute force,” Brey says. “In the Big East, if they had a wide open 15-footer, they’d still try to come at you and drive it down your throat. In the ACC, guys are going to take (the shot) a little more often. That’s kind of how we played.
“The one thing we hang our hat on is our efficiency on the offensive end. We don’t turn it over, we’re going to get a good shot, and we’re going to control tempo.”
Of concern to Brey is moving from a conference accustomed to getting eight, nine, even 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament. The ACC placed only four teams in the NCAAs a year ago. But Brey’s Irish have a way of adapting to the landscape, which led to an impressive 38–16 mark in their last three seasons in the Big East.
“We had such a consistent and respected identity in the Big East that you’d like to get off to a very good start in the ACC,” Brey says. “We want an NCAA bid in our first year in this new league.”
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