“Reinvented” Notre Dame Is Not Done YetPosted by WCarey on January 5th, 2014
Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Saturday afternoon’s game in South Bend between Duke and Notre Dame.
In the preseason, expectations were fairly high for Notre Dame as it began its first campaign as a member of the ACC. While there were questions about the team’s frontcourt depth, the Irish returned three key starters in the backcourt in seniors Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and junior Pat Connaughton. Unfortunately, the Irish quickly showed that they have some glaring weaknesses by suffering four losses in the first two months of the season. The first setback came on November 17 when Mike Brey experienced his first November defeat at the Joyce Center versus Indiana State. While Notre Dame then notched easy wins over Santa Clara, Army, and Cornell, its defensive shortcomings became more evident during its subsequent trip to Iowa City where Iowa handed them a 98-93 defeat. A week later, the Irish were stunned again on their home court in a game that North Dakota State controlled from start to finish. After regrouping to score an impressive victory over Indiana in the Crossroads Classic on December 14, the Irish then went to Madison Square Garden and choked away an eight-point lead with 51 seconds remaining in a defeat by Ohio State.
The four setbacks on the court were not the only losses Notre Dame suffered in the 2013 portion of the season. A day after the Ohio State loss, news broke that Grant – the team’s leading scorer – would not be enrolled at the university for the remainder of the season due to an academic matter. The team also lost sophomore Cameron Biedscheid – who was already redshirting this season – a few days after Christmas when he announced his intention to transfer.
Many programs around the country may have folded with all the issues surrounding this program at the end of the calendar year, but luckily for Irish faithful, Mike Brey has handled similar situations in South Bend before. In December 2006, then-starting point guard Kyle McAlarney was arrested for marijuana possession and subsequently suspended by the university for the remainder of the academic year. Without McAlarney, the Irish relied on freshman point guard Tory Jackson to run the offense, and he came through in leading them to a successful 24-8 season and an NCAA Tournament appearance. In November 2011, Notre Dame lost standout senior captain Tim Abromaitis to a torn ACL. The loss of Abromaitis, while significant, did not derail the Irish from finishing 22-12 and earning another NCAA Tournament berth. The Irish faced even more adversity last season when sixth-year senior captain Scott Martin could not play after late January because of a recurring knee issue. Once again, Brey’s group fought through the loss, finished the season 25-10, and earned another NCAA Tournament bid.
While it is premature to say for certain that Notre Dame is going to be able to rally past the loss of Grant in its new conference, the Irish gave an early indication that they might be just fine in Saturday’s 79-77 home upset victory over #7 Duke. Without Grant’s services, Atkins and Connaughton shouldered the scoring load, finishing with 19 and 16 points, respectively. Freshman guard Steve Vasturia, seldom-used before Grant’s exile, provided the Irish with 22 strong minutes in reserve and showed his three-point shooting prowess by knocking back three from behind the arc that were all crucial to the winning effort. Just like when the freshman Tory Jackson stepped up during McAlarney’s suspension, current freshman Demetrius Jackson made a significant impact down the stretch in Saturday’s win, tallying eight second half points, coming up with a key steal, and sealing the upset with two free throws.
Brey likes to use the term “reinvention” when it comes to the personnel adjustments his teams are forced to make on the fly during the season. With this year’s “reinvention” off to a resoundingly good start and the program’s strong history in that category, it would be wise to keep an eye on Notre Dame as a continuing factor in the ACC race.