Notre Dame Needs Its Frontcourt to EmergePosted by Walker Carey on November 25th, 2013
Notre Dame entered the 2013-14 season with a strong and experienced backcourt that will be vital to the Irish as they make the transition from the Big East to the ACC. Seniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant and junior Pat Connaughton were mainstays in the starting lineup of last year’s Irish and had developed a reputation as one of the most reliable perimeter groups in the country. Atkins is a true floor general who can hit timely shots and has been a strong leader for several seasons — he is the only player in Notre Dame basketball history to become a three-time captain. Grant is the scorer of the group and has the ability to get as hot as any player in the country. Connaughton, who also excels for Notre Dame baseball as a starting pitcher, is a true glue guy who does a little bit of everything.
While the Irish have a proven backcourt that will certainly aid in winning a lot of games, the team’s frontcourt is still a bit of an unknown commodity. Replacing the production of graduated All-Big East forward Jack Cooley looms as a tall task. The most experienced forward in Mike Brey’s arsenal is fifth-year senior Tom Knight. After being sparingly used for much of his career, Knight took on a big role for the Irish during the second half of the 2012-13 campaign, as he was in the starting lineup for the final 16 games of the season. Fellow senior forward Garrick Sherman also brings a solid amount of experience to the fold, as he entered the 2013-14 season with 31 career starts (from both his time at Notre Dame and Michigan State). However, in his first season on the court with the Irish, Sherman battled through some consistency issues. While his season is probably best remembered for his 17-point performance in the five overtime win over Louisville, it also must be noted that he had fallen completely out of Notre Dame’s rotation in the four games prior to that epic contest.
Knight and Sherman are the experienced players in the Irish frontcourt, but the most intriguing players might be sophomores Zach Auguste and Austin Burgett. Auguste is a sensational athlete who showed flashes of his vast potential during his freshman season – most notably in his 15-point performance in a loss at Marquette. Burgett struggled to see many meaningful minutes during his freshman season, but Mike Brey spoke highly of the sophomore’s development over the summer and during preseason practices.
Through the first five games of the new season, the returns on the Irish frontcourt can be best described as inconsistent. In Notre Dame’s lone loss at the hands of Indiana State, the quartet of Knight, Sherman, Auguste and Burgett only combined to score 13 points on 6-of-17 shooting. On the other hand, there have been games where the frontcourt has performed admirably. In Friday night’s 84-69 victory over Santa Clara, both Sherman and Burgett turned in performances that were instrumental to the winning effort. Sherman overcame a slow first half where he only tallied three points and four rebounds to finish the night with 16 points and eight rebounds. Playing an extended role, Burgett was a standout on the boards, as he finished the game with a team-high and personal career-best 10 rebounds. In Sunday’s 93-60 thrashing of Army, Sherman once again brought the goods, as he tallied a game-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. Coming off the bench, Auguste had his most impressive performance of the young season. While exhibiting his superior athleticism, the sophomore forward efficiently turned in 14 points on a 7-of-9 effort from the field.
Notre Dame will undoubtedly play higher quality competition than Santa Clara and Army as its season progresses, but getting solid performances from the frontcourt after the debacle against Indiana State is unquestionably an important development for a team that is still searching to find those inside presences that can complement its outstanding backcourt.