Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Throttles Florida State

Posted by Walker Carey on December 14th, 2014

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Saturday night’s game between Florida State and Notre Dame.

Notre Dame’s 15-17 campaign from a season ago seems to be long forgotten as the Irish moved to 10-1 Saturday night with a dominating 83-63 victory over conference foe Florida State. The fact that the Seminoles feature three seven-footers on their roster did not phase the Irish frontline, as junior big man Zach Auguste turned in a career-best performance with 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting. Saturday night represented quite the bounce back performance for Auguste, as he struggled mightily in Notre Dame’s last game against a power conference opponent, finishing with just four points and four rebounds in December 3’s victory over Michigan State. The following are three takeaways from Saturday evening’s action.

Notre Dame Had No Letdown Against Florida State on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Had No Letdown Against Florida State on Saturday (USA Today Images)

  1. Zach Auguste was a monster. The majority of questions about Notre Dame entering this season were regarding the team’s inside players. Would they be good enough for the Irish to be a legitimate factor in the ACC? Well, from the looks of it in Saturday night’s first conference game, junior forward Zach Auguste is more than ready to lead the Irish frontline through the rigors of the ACC. Matched up against a Florida State front that features seven-footers Kiel Turpin, Boris Bojanovsky, and Michael Ojo, Auguste more than held his own. The junior finished with a career-best 26 points to go along with seven rebounds. Auguste – along with Irish reserve forwards Martinas Geben and Austin Torres – helped limit the Florida State frontline to just eight points and 11 rebounds on the night. The ACC gauntlet will undoubtedly be arduous, but if Mike Brey and the Irish can get performances from its frontcourt like it did Saturday, the Irish may earn a reputation for having more than just a strong backcourt. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Bested Michigan State Last Night

Posted by Walker Carey on December 4th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Wednesday evening’s game between Michigan State and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Jerian Grant‘s return from a semester-long academic suspension was discussed plenty in the preseason. The popular opinion was that Grant is a very good player, but would his return to the lineup be enough to help Notre Dame significantly improve from its disastrous 15-17 record a season ago? Entering Wednesday night’s showdown with Michigan State, early returns on Grant’s comeback season are very positive. The Irish came into the game having won six of their first seven, and Grant was the ACC leader in both scoring (18.4 PPG) and setting up his teammates (7.1 APG). Little did we know that the senior guard also had a career-best performance up his sleeve in Notre Dame’s thrilling 79-78 overtime victory over the Spartans. Grant tallied 27 points and dished out six assists to lead the Irish to the win. The following are three key takeaways from Wednesday evening’s action.

Jerian Grant is Having Quite the Senior Season (USAT Images)

Jerian Grant is Having Quite the Comeback Season (USAT Images)

  1. Notre Dame’s backcourt was tremendous. Mike Brey runs a four-guard lineup this season and it was greatly successful against Michigan State. Grant led the way with those 27 points and six assists. Sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson showed why he was a McDonald’s All-American, totaling a career-best 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting. The versatile Pat Connaughton chipped in 12 points with eight important rebounds, and sophomore Steve Vasturia added another 12 points. Brey is well-known for playing a short bench and that was on display again last night, as Grant played 45 minutes, Jackson and Connaughton each played 44, and Vasturia logged 42. The Irish guards also did a stellar job defensively, as Spartans point guard Travis Trice was held to just seven points on 3-of-13 shooting. If Notre Dame can get this type of performance — or even something approximating it — from its backcourt throughout the season, the Irish are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the ACC race. Read the rest of this entry »
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Jerian Grant’s Season of Redemption Off to a Great Start

Posted by Walker Carey on November 20th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Coppin State and Notre Dame.

After four consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament from 2010-13, Notre Dame took a big step back last season to finish at just 15-17 overall. A major reason for the lackluster season in South Bend was because the Irish were without dynamic scoring guard and best player Jerian Grant‘s services for the second half of the season. The junior was lost after an incident involving academic impropriety caused his temporary separation from the university. Without Grant’s 19.0 PPG and 6.3 APG, the Irish struggled offensively throughout their first season in the ACC. Known for utilizing a short rotation, Mike Brey was forced to rely on several young players who otherwise would have seen limited action.

Jerian Grant has already made a huge difference in his return to the Fighting Irish. (Getty)

Jerian Grant has already made a huge difference in his return to the Fighting Irish. (Getty)

Almost immediately after his suspension began, Grant announced his intention to return to Notre Dame for this year’s campaign. He subsequently took care of what he needed to do off the court and was readmitted by the school in late May, bolstering the hopes of this year’s Fighting Irish. In the preseason, opinions on Notre Dame were fairly mixed. One national writer picked the Irish to finish ninth in the conference, while another picked Brey’s squad as a sleeper contender for an NCAA Tournament bid. While Grant is obviously the marquee name on the roster, the Irish have several additional pieces who can help shoulder the load this season. Versatile senior Pat Connaughton, who spent much of the summer pitching in the Baltimore Orioles organization, has been an important piece for Brey since the day he stepped foot on campus. Junior big man Zach Auguste and sophomore guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia saw ample playing time last season, and each are expected to make significant strides forward this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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ACC M5: 11.05.14 Exhibition Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Pittsburgh: On Halloween night, Pittsburgh tipped off its preseason with a 72-58 exhibition win over Division II Indiana (PA) at the Petersen Events Center, and sophomore forward Michael Young looks like he may be ready for a breakout year. Most people don’t know that Young played through pain for much of the latter part of his freshman campaign after suffering a small stress fracture in his back. In his postgame comments, Jamie Dixon seemed optimistic about the potential of a healthy Young and his other big men, assuming they improve their defense.
  2. Louisville: Louisville relied on its pressure defense to top Barry, 91-71, on Saturday afternoon in the KFC Yum! Center, and afterward Rick Pitino discussed his team’s progress in this postgame video. Specifically, he credited the Division II Buccaneers with exposing a major rebounding problem on his squad, as the Cardinals gave up an astounding 29 offensive boards. Of course, part of the reason there were so many second chance opportunities for Barry was that Louisville held Barry to 33.3 percent field-goal shooting. Still, in order to get out in transition the way Pitino wants his team to run, the Cards must shore up that clear flaw on the defensive boards.
  3. Notre Dame: In another Saturday exhibition, Notre Dame used a balanced attack to best Minnesota-Duluth, 88-71, at the Joyce Center. Mike Brey was encouraged by the performances of his point guard, Demetrius Jackson, and big man, Zach Auguste. With established senior leaders Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton manning the wing, the play of Jackson and Auguste could be the difference as the Irish try to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, Auguste will shoot better from the foul line than the 3-for-9 performance he delivered in this contest, but based on last year’s foul shooting mark (48%), this may not be a solvable problem for the junior.
  4. Syracuse: Coming off a rough week dealing with the NCAA Infractions Committee, Syracuse almost had an equally alarming start this week. The Orange needed to rally from a 15-point deficit to overtake traditional Canadian college basketball power, Carleton, by a score of 76-68. Freshman Kaleb Joseph will be in the spotlight this year, taking over the point guard job from Tyler Ennis. The good news is that the rookie showed gerat promise, leading the team to the win with 19 points. A couple of concerns for the Orange, though, were their huge deficit in total rebounds (45-31) and poor shooting (0-6 FG) by Trevor Cooney.
  5. Duke: On Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke rolled Livingstone in its first exhibition game of the year, 115-58. The much ballyhooed freshmen class performed well, with three of the group scoring in double-figures and the fourth, Tyus Jones, handing out 11 assists. A surprise starter this year apparently will be Matt Jones. Most pundits expected either senior Quinn Cook or junior Rasheed Sulaimon, or perhaps even both, to be starters when this season got under way, but the veteran guards came off the bench in this contest. On the other hand, the sophomore Jones helped his cause, burying 5-of-8 three-point attempts after only making 3-of-21 during his entire freshman year. The Blue Devils should face a tougher test in Saturday’s second and final exhibition game, when they take on defending NCAA Division II national champion Central Missouri.
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ACC M5: Operation Basketball Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 29th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. TheACC.com: Coaches and players from all 15 ACC schools will meet the media in Charlotte for a full day of ACC Operation Basketball, and our own RTC ACC microsite correspondent Lathan Wells will be on hand to take in the entire proceedings. It’s sure to be an eventful day with so many developing stories heading into the season. We have a loaded Louisville team led by legendary coach Rick Pitino joining the league; the nation’s top recruiting class arriving at Duke; a strong defending champ returning many key pieces at Virginia; and, of course, the big-time off the court issues. It will be interesting to hear Commissioner John Swofford’s commentary about the academic scandal at his alma mater North Carolina, as well as the ongoing NCAA investigation into Syracuse’s program. Follow Lathan @rtcACC for frequent live reports throughout the day.
  2. ESPN: Virginia hopes to be more than a one-hit wonder after sweeping both the ACC regular season and tournament titles last season. This ESPN.com article reveals a Tony Bennett who is focused on not letting last year’s success create too big a sense of accomplishment, and with good reason — Virginia became only the fourth school not named Duke or North Carolina to win the ACC Tournament in the last 18 years. In each of the other three instances — which includes Miami and Florida State from the previous two seasons as well as the 2004 Maryland squad — the subsequent year did not include a winning conference record. That shouldn’t happen this year, though, with the Cavaliers returning a solid nucleus.
  3. Notre Dame Media: This is a really neat video that features Mike Brey and his recent foray in a US Navy Blue Angels fighter jet. Fighting Irish Digital Media along with the Blue Angels take you right into the seat with the Notre Dame coach in what he called a “trip of a lifetime, and an honor.” Perhaps all the abrupt twists and turns will prepare Brey for a better second go-round in the ACC, where up and down seasons can come easily.
  4. Andy Katz: In a recent 3-Point Shot segment, ESPN‘s Andy Katz talks about a couple of ACC topics. First of all, he reviews comments from Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory concerning some of the newcomers that he will need to come through in a big way. Many think that this could be Gregory’s last season in Atlanta if he doesn’t produce an NCAA Tournament team. Katz also brings up an interesting possible fallout issue from the North Carolina scandal that has to do with academic performance incentives in college coaches’ contracts. It’s worth a viewing.
  5. TheState.com: New Boston College coach Jim Christian is preaching a fast paced offense, as many coaches do when taking over a listless program that needs an infusion of energy. It remains to be seen if his words translate to reality when the Eagles take the floor this season — and speaking of “floor,” the head coach won’t be the only thing new this year, as the playing court in Conte Forum will have a new look as well.
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ACC Preview: Notre Dame’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 28th, 2014

This team preview is part of the ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Will the Irish get enough production from their big men?

Notre Dame’s inaugural season in the ACC was a rough one, as the Irish snapped a seven-year streak of 20-win seasons and instead finished with the first losing season of Mike Brey’s coaching tenure in South Bend (the six ACC wins were also a conference low for one of his Notre Dame teams). A big reason for the fall was the December suspension of the team’s best player, guard Jerian Grant, for academic reasons. Grant returns for his senior year, a huge addition, but the Irish must also find a way to replace the inside production of the graduated Garrick Sherman.

Is Junior Zach Auguste Ready to Step-Up his Production? (m.southbendtribune.com - Robert Franklin)

Is Junior Zach Auguste Ready to Step Up his Production? (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune)

In each of the last seven seasons, Notre Dame has had a big man who averaged over 13 points per game. In all but one of those years, that post player also pulled down at least seven rebounds per game. When Brey looks at his returning roster, he only sees two bigs with any collegiate experience. With no incoming post players to count on, the 14-year Notre Dame coach has to hope one of his veterans can make a big jump in production. The most logical choice is 6’10” junior Zach Auguste, who averaged 16 minutes per contest last year. One thing in his favor is the recent history of Irish big men developing to provide big jumps in production. The table below shows that Auguste’s two post predecessors came through with solid years when they received a corresponding increase in minutes. The other semi-experienced returning big man is junior Austin Burgett, who averaged 15 MPG in 28 games, but was not very productive (3.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG) when on the floor. Perhaps 6’9″ freshman Martin Geben can have an impact. According to scouts, he has a reputation of being physical and fundamentally sound, and may be ready to contribute right away. Read the rest of this entry »

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What’s on the Mind of the 15 ACC Programs Right Now

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 17th, 2014

With the start of the ACC college basketball season rapidly approaching, allow us to put on our psychoanalyst’s hat to determine what’s on the mind of each of its 15 member programs right now. Some are of the optimistic variety, while others are fearful at what they see lying ahead. All of them, though, are hoping to contribute to discussions lauding the ACC as the nation’s preeminent college basketball conference this year. Let’s jump into each program alphabetically.

  • Boston College: Blind optimism. The reality is that the Eagles, even with an all-ACC caliber star in Olivier Hanlan, are likely one of the three worst teams in the conference. But there’s a new coach around in Jim Christian, and thanks to the usual roster turnover, few remaining pieces to recall the 8-24 debacle of a year ago. Buying in to a new coach and system may not be a problem, but production on the court will continue to be.
  • Clemson: Loss. That loss is a huge one, in the departure of NBA draft pick K.J. McDaniels, who was their best player on both sides of the ball last year and led the team in four statistical categories. A 10-win improvement from the year before earned Brad Brownell a six-year contract extension, but how will this team score enough to win even if it replicates its defensive success of a year ago?
Jim Christian's hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC's fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)

Jim Christian hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC’s fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)

  • Duke: Motivation. Not just because of a stellar recruiting class that includes their first dominant center in some time in Jahlil Okafor and the overall potential to be in the mix for a championship. There’s also the internal motivation for Quinn Cook to keep a hold on the starting point guard role in light of the arrival of stud freshman Tyus Jones, and Rasheed Sulaimon’s motivation to show that an early-season slump last year (temporarily earning him a place in Coach K’s doghouse) was an aberration. Oh, and that first round NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer could light a fire of some sort, too.

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ACC Teams Struggling to Adapt to Styles of New Programs

Posted by Christopher Kehoe on January 16th, 2014

Much was made of the three former Big East teams entering the league this season and having to adapt to the ACC’s style of play. This notion was supported by the simple fact of sheer numbers; the returning ACC teams would number 12 teams while the Big East was sending over only three units. What did not get enough preseason attention was how the ACC as a whole would adapt to the very different styles of play of the three incoming teams, all quite successful programs in their own rights. Notre Dame under head coach Mike Brey is known for its selfless team basketball, execution, cutting and the extra pass, while developing a litany of elite low post big men like Luke Harangody, Jack Cooley, and now Garrick Sherman. While the Irish lost its best player in Jerian Grant for the year, their style of play was on display and ultimately decided the outcome in a statement win against Duke.

Pitt's James Robinson is a large reason they are 16-1 (Photo: pittsburghpanthers.com)

Pitt’s James Robinson is a large reason the Panthers are 16-1 (Photo: pittsburghpanthers.com)

Syracuse’s famous 2-3 zone has helped in establishing itself as one of the best teams in the nation and has put the Orange among a group of three unbeaten teams remaining. Their defense has flummoxed ACC opponents to the tune of allowing only 50.0 PPG to ACC foes through their first four games. They clearly have taken charge and dominated the tempo in their outings, most recently holding UNC a full 30 points below its season average of 75.6 PPG. While it remains early in the ACC race, so far it seems obvious that both Syracuse and Pittsburgh have been forcing their own tempo and style of play on their opponents and not vice versa. Jamie Dixon’s Panthers are known for their toughness and gritty play, both of which were evident in their recent 12-point road victory over N.C. State. Famed ESPN analyst Dick Vitale confirmed this theory and perception when he noted: “There are certain programs that get certain labels that help them big-time psychologically… the mindset is where you’re at a negative before you ever start playing, and I think Pittsburgh has that, that label of being tough.”

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Georgia Tech and Notre Dame Exhibit Holes in Saturday Match-up

Posted by CD Bradley on January 12th, 2014

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. When the schedules initially came out, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech expected to look very different in their third ACC game than they did on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. For the Irish, things started to devolve in the preseason with the redshirt of Cameron Biedscheid, who then announced his transfer to Missouri after Christmas. Then Jerian Grant, a preseason All-ACC selection who led the Irish in points, assists, and steals, was lost for the season due to an academic issue. Then on Saturday, frontcourt reserve Tom Knight didn’t make the trip to Atlanta due to a sprained ankle.

Georgia Tech's defense on Eric Atkins and his Notre Dame teammates (Getty)

Georgia Tech’s defense on Eric Atkins and his Notre Dame teammates were crucial in Saturday’s win. (Getty)

Georgia Tech has health issues of its own. First freshman point guard Travis Jorgenson tore his ACL in the Yellow Jackets’ fourth game. Then sophomore Robert Carter, who was averaging 10.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game (with a 29.8 defensive rebounding percentage, sixth best in the country), suffered a torn meniscus. Sophomore point guard Solomon Poole, the team’s top backcourt reserve, missed the game on Saturday with a migraine. As Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory put it, “It was two teams who were trying to re-discover themselves with guys out.”

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“Reinvented” Notre Dame Is Not Done Yet

Posted 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.

Notre Dame's First ACC Game Went Swimmingly in South Bend (USAT)

Notre Dame’s First ACC Game Went Swimmingly in South Bend (USAT)

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.

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Assessing the Impact of Jerian Grant’s Dismissal From Notre Dame

Posted by Christopher Kehoe on December 23rd, 2013

Notre Dame’s already diminishing ACC chances took an even greater hit over the weekend when star guard Jerian Grant was dismissed for the remainder of the season for academic reasons. Grant was averaging 19.0 PPG and 6.2 APG for the 8-4 Fighting Irish and was largely considered one of the best guards in the ACC and the country. The 6’5″ senior was shooting 51.8 percent from the floor, 40.8 percent from three, and was clearly a major cog in coach Mike Brey’s attack. Grant, in conjunction with Notre Dame, put out a brief news release Sunday regarding his dismissal. He was apologetic and mature in addressing the public, taking full responsibility for his actions and saying he hopes to be back in an Irish uniform next season. In the release he said, “I take full responsibility for my lack of good judgment and the poor decision that I made. I have no one to blame but myself for the situation.”

ND's Jerian Grant (Photo: US Presswire / Richard Mackson)

Jerian Grant Is Done For the Season (Richard Mackson/ US Presswire)

Notre Dame has had some struggles out of the gate, losing an uncharacteristic November game for the first time in Brey’s tenure and most recently blowing an eight-point lead with less than a minute to play versus Ohio State on Saturday. The loss of a team leader in Grant will set the Irish back even further with ACC play rapidly approaching. Look for McDonald’s All-American and freshman combo guard Demetrius Jackson to start playing heavier minutes and establishing himself more often on the offensive end. Senior guard Eric Atkins will likewise need to be more aggressive in looking for his shot and take on more responsibility in Grant’s absence. Don’t be surprised to also see the continued ascent of fan favorite Garrick Sherman shouldering a more extensive burden of the offense.

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