Season in Review: Notre Dame Fighting IrishPosted by Will Tucker on May 2nd, 2013
The Fighting Irish had an auspicious start to a season that was expected to represent a major step forward for Mike Brey’s program. But a slow start and sputtering finish to conference play, coupled with frustrations experienced against the Big East’s top teams, prevented the Irish from matching last year’s top three finish. Despite fielding one of the league’s most talented starting fives, a lack of depth hampered the Irish late in the season and contributed to yet another early exit from the NCAA Tournament.
We ranked Notre Dame third heading into 2012-13, as did the coaches at Big East media day. Mike Brey’s roster returned its top five scorers from 2011-12 and was loaded with talented upperclassmen, namely preseason all-Big East center Jack Cooley, versatile super-senior Scott Martin and the backcourt scoring tandem of juniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant.
The Irish raced out to a blistering start, winning 12 in a row for the first time since 2006-07. By early January, they’d blown out #8 Kentucky at home, edged #21 Cincinnati on the road, won their first two Big East games and earned a #16 Coaches Poll ranking alongside their 14-1 record. Cooley (13.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG) lived up to his first team all-Big East billing as he shot 58% from the field and led the Big East in literally every rebounding category. Deep reserve big men Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman filled the void left by Scott Martin’s absence, and keyed huge victories over the likes of Louisville, Marquette and Villanova. The highlight of the season was, unquestionably, enduring five overtimes against the eventual National Champions after Jerian Grant scored 12 points in the last 45 seconds of regulation. Brey’s program claimed its sixth NCAA Tournament bid in seven years, and has averaged almost 13 Big East wins in each of the last three regular seasons –– a figure surpassed only by Syracuse.
The Irish collapsed down the stretch as Syracuse, Marquette and Louisville hit their stride. Rather than parlay the momentum of its dramatic win over the Cardinals into a strong finish, Notre Dame followed it up by squeaking by DePaul at home in overtime and suffering a blowout at Providence, eventually losing three of their last seven. Brey likes to use a small rotation, and fatigue seemed to be an issue in several of the later games. The Irish went 2-4 against league champions Georgetown, Louisville, and Marquette (1-3 in the regular season), and ended the season 3-7 against the RPI’s top 50 teams. Their chronic NCAA Tournament struggles continued in 2012-13, although this particular Second Round loss was more predictable than recent upsets at the hands of Xavier, Florida State and Old Dominion. Iowa State was a match-up nightmare that exposed Notre Dame’s lack of depth and exploited fundamental weaknesses in Brey’s style of play.
The Irish are positioned to make a seamless transition in their first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, with the return of four starters and perhaps the best recruiting class of the Mike Brey era easing the sting of losing Jack Cooley. Three of Notre Dame’s top five scorers remain in South Bend as leading three-point shooter Pat Connaughton (8.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG) joins senior combo guards Grant (13.3 PPG, 5.5 APG) and Atkins (11.2 PPG, 5.5 APG). Notre Dame fans have a lot to look forward to from rising sophomores Cam Biedscheid and Zach Auguste, each of whom showed flashes of tremendous promise when thrust into the rotation later in the season. Add to the mix a consensus top 20 recruiting class headlined by four/five-star point guard Demetrius Jackson, the first McDonald’s All-American bound for Notre Dame since Luke Zeller in 2005, and four-star wings V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia. Strong roster notwithstanding, Brey needs to translate talent and conference success into NCAA Tournament wins in order for 2013-14 to be a truly memorable ACC debut. The Irish will also have to adjust to life without a dominant offensive presence in the post, as Auguste (and the dubious talent on the bench behind him) won’t fill the enormous shoes of Jack Cooley and Luke Harangody.