Notre Dame’s Supporting Cast Provides Staying Power

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 6th, 2015

Most of the accolades associated with Notre Dame’s 14-1 start have been bestowed on star senior Jerian Grant, the ACC’s second-leading scorer and top assist man. Skepticism over the Irish’s relatively unimposing non-conference slate were correlated questions about how the team would operate when Grant was held in check. After a thrilling one-point win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill last night, the Notre Dame trio of Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton have silenced those questions and put the rest of the conference on notice that the Irish are a team capable of contending with the ACC’s elite.

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

It was apparent early in Monday’s game that North Carolina’s top defender, J.P. Tokoto, was tasked with slowing Grant. He and the other Tar Heels who took turns defending the explosive wing were extremely successful, as Grant contributed a season-low eight points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field and eventually fouling out. With as much as Grant has produced this year — he uses a quarter of the Irish’s offensive possessions — such a performance would have appeared to doom the Irish in a tough road environment. Instead, Mike Brey’s team showed that its supporting cast is strong enough to overcome his occasional lack of production by contributing a combined 49 points and 16 rebounds.

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ACC Stock Watch: Holiday Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 26th, 2014

As the holiday break kicked in, some ACC teams and players were probably thrilled to review their last few weeks of action with family and friends. Others were undoubtedly just glad they had some time away from the hardwood to refresh and reset expectations. We’ve now had three weeks since we last evaluated the state of the conference’s players and coaches, so here’s the Holiday Edition of the ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. All the Fighting Irish have done since we last checked in is to reel off five straight wins, bringing their overall record to 12-1 (including an early ACC win over Florida State). Mike Brey’s team is one of the most dynamic offensive groups in the country, averaging 86.1 points per game and putting up 94 and 91 points, respectively, in blowout wins over Purdue and Northern Illinois. More impressive than the overall offensive output in those two games is that Jerian Grant scored a total of 21 points on just 5-of-22 shooting from the field. Once the All-American candidate returns to form, look out.
  • Virginia. Don’t look now, but the Cavaliers are finally getting their due as a serious national title contender. Tony Bennett’s team may be even better defensively this year than last, holding a talented Harvard team to eight first-half points en route to an impressive 76-27 win following a 17-point victory over rival VCU in Richmond two weeks prior. Duke and Louisville have gotten the majority of the attention so far, but the Cavaliers’ 11-0 start is something more pundits on the national scene are paying attention to.
Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia's throttling of Harvard proved they're a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia’s latest win, a throttling of Harvard, proved the Cavaliers are a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

  • North Carolina. For all of the talk about this team’s uneven play and noticeable deficiencies, the Tar Heels actually have put together a nice stretch since our last stock watch. Although they fell to Kentucky in Lexington, it took the Wildcats’ best shooting day of the year to knock off the Tar Heels by a mere 14 points (plus North Carolina actually outscored the Cats in the second half). In addition to blowout wins over East Carolina and UNC-Greensboro, the Heels won an important non-conference battle with a good Ohio State team last weekend. At 8-3, there are still some reasons for pessimism in Chapel Hill, but you can’t ignore that Roy Williams’ team has earned some solid wins while playing the ACC’s toughest non-conference schedule.

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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 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? ( - 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:

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

  • 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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“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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Notre Dame Needs Its Frontcourt to Emerge

Posted 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.

Eric Atkins ( AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

Eric Atkins Anchors a Stellar Irish Backcourt ( AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

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.

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ACC M5: 10.22.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on October 22nd, 2013


  1. Backing the Pack: Is Virginia flying under the radar? Well, according to returning win shares, the Cavaliers are criminally underrated. The past two years, returning win shares has correctly picked the ACC champion while remaining mostly accurate throughout the standings with a couple of big exceptions (here’s looking at you, Virginia Tech). Win shares make Tony Bennett’s squad the team to beat in the ACC thanks to Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell returning. Duke still comes in second by a significant margin, if you were wondering.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Donna Ditota checked in on Wake Forest’s Tyler Cavanaugh, Steve Donahue and Notre Dame (separately, of course). I can’t say it enough: Don’t overlook Boston College this year. The Eagles aren’t the most talented bunch in the ACC but they have boatloads of experience and could make a dramatic leap if they can avoid the injury and sickness bugs. Also of note is Ditota pointing out Mike Brey’s football-inspired strategy of redshirting most of his freshmen. However, this year Demetrius Thomas should see plenty of playing time as a true freshman. His minutes could represent a crack in Brey’s system.
  3. Duke Basketball Report: Barry Jacobs took a look at the most three-point reliant players in the ACC last season. Three of the top 11 players most in love with shots from beyond the arc ended up transferring away from the league. That leaves Lonnie Jackson, Patrick Heckmann (Boston College) and Pat Connaughton (Notre Dame) as the trio of returning starters who most rely on shooting from deep. This season you can almost certainly expect to add Duke’s Andre Dawkins to the list.
  4. AP (via Panama City News Herald): Today is a big day in Coral Gables. Miami (and the rest of the world) is set to find out the results of its appeal to the NCAA’s Committee of Infractions surrounding all the Nevin Shapiro-related allegations. If the NCAA has its long-term self-interest in mind, it will accept Miami’s self-imposed bowl bans and move on. If it wants to shed more light on the embarrassingly cavalier investigation of the Hurricanes that ended in the firing of many compliance employees — the NCAA will bring the hammer down. Donna Shalala, Miami’s president, has never come across as frightened of or intimidated by the organization, so I suspect a harsh punishment would be appealed in the judicial system shortly thereafter.
  5. Stat geeks rejoice! Ken Pomeroy has changed his algorithms to discount blowouts. While the new results don’t make for huge swings in his ordering, they did help knock Wisconsin and Belmont down a peg or two.
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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.


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).

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Season in Review: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted 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.

Preseason Expectations

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.

Jack Cooley,Mike Brey

Mike Brey must adjust to a life without Cooley in 2013-14 (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

The Good

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.

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