ACC Team Preview: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Matt Patton on October 21st, 2013

For the next few weeks leading up to the first games, we’ll be releasing ACC team previews. First we will look at the new additions to the conference, starting today with Notre Dame.

Strangely enough, the new additions to the ACC should bring great stability along with it. Where only Mike Krzyzewski, Leonard Hamilton and Roy Williams are coaching veterans at their schools, Mike Brey, Jamie Dixon and Jim Boeheim all have over a decade of experience (counting Dixon’s days as an assistant) at their current schools. Brey will immediately become the third-longest tenured coach in the league after Boeheim and his mentor Krzyzewski.

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What will be interesting is to see how Brey changes this team. Looking at his coaching resume on KenPom, one thing that immediately sticks out is that three of his best four years at Notre Dame came when he was playing quickly. Obviously, a lot of that is due to his personnel. But the last four years the Fighting Irish have played very slowly, and that should change this year. The last four years the Irish have been led by very good, but not super-athletic players. The last two years Jack Cooley played a huge role in the offense, whereas three years ago it was Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis and the year before that was Luke Harangody’s farewell campaign. Brey’s strength during those four years was Notre Dame’s gritty defense, generally strong three-point shooting, and the tendency to favor inside-out play (except for the guard-dominated season).

This year, the team will again be very guard-centric, led by Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins. But instead of adding strength inside, the Irish added hometown McDonald’s All-American Demetrius Jackson to the fold. Per Brey at Operation Basketball, “Those three guys together give us speed on the perimeter I don’t know if we’ve ever had in the history of our program.” That’s quite the compliment, and also points to a very different Notre Dame team this season. If these three mesh, Notre Dame will have one of the best backcourts in the country.

Garrick Sherman will need to step up for Notre Dame up front this season. Credit: (Chris Chambers/Getty Images)

Another reason to expect Brey’s team to play faster this year is its lack of known commodities playing in the post. There’s plenty of experience with fifth-year seniors Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman, along with recently injured Zach Auguste (who should be back in time for the meat of the non-conference schedule). Sherman may have the most potential (see his performance against Louisville in February as an example), but his playing time was inconsistent to say the least. Auguste found a spot in the conference rotation, but was never a focal point by any means. Brey is on the record saying that the Irish will need to replace Cooley “by committee” up front, which with Auguste’s injury may fall entirely to Sherman early in the year.

The worst case scenario is that if the pieces don’t click into Brey’s new style and the Fighting Irish can’t keep their opponents off the boards, they will end up as an “others receiving votes” team on their way to a first-round NCAA exit. Best case, they could make a run at the top-10, frustrating teams with their athleticism in the backcourt and contending for an ACC title. However, until we see the new frontcourt’s performance without Cooley, it’s reasonable to think Brey’s squad finishes the year in the bottom half of the Top 25, joining North Carolina and Virginia in that second tier behind Syracuse and Duke. That said, getting Duke at home as the first game in ACC play may prove a blessing if Duke is still finding itself with its new players. Ultimately, this team is talented enough and has the experience to win a lot of games and should prove a valuable new member of the new ACC.

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