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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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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ACC M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Louisville Courier-Journal: Louisville’s Rick Pitino came out victorious over Minnesota’s Richard Pitino on Friday night in a U.S. Coast Guard hangar in Puerto Rico, 81-68. Afterward, the elder Pitino admitted that he never wanted to play this game, knowing that a win over his son’s team would cause him so much parental agony. Louisville’s coach also said that Montrezl Harrell was the clear difference between the two teams, as the junior All-America candidate led the way with 30 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Harrell also showed off a newly found outside shooting touch, making 3-of-4 three-point attempts after only hitting a pair of threes all of last season. He appears to have addressed another issue in the offseason as well, as he knocked down 9-of-10 free throws after a woeful season from the stripe last year (46.4%). Already a dominant interior player, this guy may now be almost impossible to defend.
  2. Macon Telegraph: Brian Gregory may have found an answer to Georgia Tech’s offensive problems from a surprising source. Lanky sophomore Quinton Stephens, who scored more than 10 points only once during his rookie campaign, erupted for a game-high 22 in the Yellow Jackets’ 80-73 home win Friday over intrastate rival, Georgia. Stephens connected on an impressive 6-of-8 from three-point land, a positive sign for Gregory’s team, as the team only made 31.5 percent from deep last season.
  3. ESPN.com: Pittsburgh had an unexpected struggle on Sunday afternoon in the Petersen Events Center, holding off Samford, 63-56, in a game where the Panthers never held a double-figure lead against a team picked to finish at the bottom of a weak Southern Conference. In related news, Jamie Dixon announced that junior Durand Johnson has been suspended for the entire 2014-15 season for undisclosed reasons. Johnson missed the second half of last season after tearing his ACL and had been struggling with a bad ankle this preseason, but apparently there is some other issue as Dixon would surely have mentioned his injuries if they were the cause of the suspension. Pittsburgh is allowing Johnson to remain with the program and continue to practice with the team during his suspension.
  4. UND.com: Notre Dame is off to an impressive start to the season, winning two games at home by large margins. On Friday night the Irish blew out Binghamton, 82-39, and then destroyed Navy, 92-53, on Sunday afternoon. This was against the same Navy squad that only lost by five points to Michigan State in Friday night’s opener. It seems that junior Zach Auguste is thriving as the primary post player in Mike Brey’s four-out/one-in lineup this year. Auguste has already set consecutive career high scoring marks with 19 in the opener and 20 against Navy. Keep an eye on the Irish during pre-conference play.
  5. ESPN: The ACC is off to a good start, winning 21 of its 22 opening weekend games. The lone loss came Sunday afternoon in Boston’s TD Garden, as Boston College fell to Massachusetts, 71-62, in the Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader. Coming into Jim Christian’s debut season, the Eagles needed to show some improvement on the defensive end, and they did so in Friday’s opening win over New Hampshire. But they struggled to guard UMass on Sunday without fouling, as the Minutemen shot 46 free throws and outscored the Eagles by 14 points from the foul line.
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ACC Preseason Power Rankings

Posted by mpatton on November 14th, 2014

Over the last two weeks, we have previewed each team individually to go with several more articles to get you ready for ACC basketball (first tip: 6:00 PM ET in Durham). Links to the previews can be found in each of the preseason power rankings listed below. Also look for our preseason conference awards which will publish later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Duke Blue Devils 1. Duke (58): Everyone knows about the freshmen, and they are sensational. But are Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon ready to put together a consistent season from start to finish? That answer may determine whether the Blue Devils are Final Four-bound or facing another early departure from the Tourney.
Virginia Cavaliers T2. Virginia (53): Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell didn’t light up the scoreboard in Charlottesville, but their leadership and savvy was key in Virginia’s magical run last year. Can Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson assume larger roles and keep Tony Bennett‘s team in the national limelight?
North Carolina Tar Heels T2. North Carolina (53): Everyone knows about Marcus Paige, and the Tar Heels should be better at the line and from three with the addition of some talented freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have to bring it every night in the paint for this team to reach its potential.
LouisvilleLogo 4. Louisville (52): The Cardinals probably have as good a shot as any of the top four. While they will have to learn how to play a new set of conference opponents in unfamiliar arenas, the ACC will have to adjust to Rick Pitino’s style of pressure defense with multiple schemes. Most of the key contributors are now gone from the 2012-13 National Championship squad, but the program brings a culture used to winning at the highest level.
Syracuse Orange 5. Syracuse (42): There are a lot of questions about the Orange after Tyler Ennis’ and Jerami Grant’s early departures. Jim Boeheim has a talented team that won’t be an easy out, but there are a lot of questions about how the offense will run with another freshman, Kaleb Joseph, at the helm.
Florida State Seminoles 6. Florida State (38): The Seminoles haven’t been their usual defensive selves the past two seasons, but this year Leonard Hamilton has three experienced big men along with a cadre of long perimeter players. Aaron Thomas may be the most underrated player in the ACC, which bodes well for things in Tallahassee this year.
Pittsburgh Panthers 7. Pittsburgh (37)Jamie Dixon has a tradition of replacing departed stars with veterans. For Pitt to win games against the ACC’s elite, Cameron Wright and James Robinson must continue that trend and get some help, maybe a year earlier than the norm, from the talented sophomore class. One would think they are due for a healthier year than last, when midseason injuries really set the team back.
NC State Wolfpack 8. NC State (34): T.J. Warren is gone, so this team has to find its offense by committee. Tyler Lewis is too, so Cat Barber will have to be efficient and also seek his own shot. The maturation of a young frontcourt will be key. Mark Gottfried has historically impressed with low expectations.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 9. Notre Dame (32): It won’t be a surprise if Zach Auguste makes a big jump in production as a junior, but beyond that is nothing but unproven post players. With the perimeter filled with talent and experience, keeping Auguste healthy and out of foul trouble may be the key as the Irish try to make a dramatic jump in the standings. Jerian Grant is a contender for ACC Player of the Year.
Miami Hurricanes 10. Miami (25): Arguably the best coaching job in the country last year happened in Coral Gables. If Jim Larranaga gets this team to improve, the Hurricanes will be significantly better than many expect. Manu Lacomte needs to make the leap and lead a young team in a very tough conference.
Clemson Tigers 11. Clemson (18): Brad Brownell showed that even without a ton of obvious roster talent, the Tigers will be competitive — especially on defense. This season he has to prove that again without K.J. McDaniels. It’s unclear who the go-to player will be, so Clemson’s offense could hold this team back.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 12. Wake Forest (17): Wake may be ready for a solid rise in the ACC standings as early as next year. This year will be a challenge, but momentum could be built towards a good 2015-16 season. Juniors Devin Thomas on the inside and Cody Miller-McIntyre in the backcourt will dictate how good this team is.
Boston College 13. Boston College (12): A year and coach removed from last year’s disappointing effort leave a lot of questions in Chestnut Hill. Olivier Hanlan will always be worth the price of admission, but he may not have enough supporting cast to escape the dregs of the ACC unless Dennis Clifford can finally stay healthy.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (10): It’s really hard to see Brian Gregory surviving as coach here if the Yellow Jackets don’t make the postseason this season. It’s also hard to see this Georgia Tech team finishing in the top half of the ACC, which is what it would probably take to get that NCAA bid — or even a trip to the NIT. The odds of Gregory being in Atlanta after March 2015 are not very good.
Virginia Tech Hokies 15. Virginia Tech (6): Virginia Tech will again be among the cellar-dwellers in the ACC, but at least it has come cachet with the hiring of Buzz Williams. They’ll be serviceable in the backcourt with Devin Wilson returning, but it will be a year or two before we can evaluate the viability of the Hokies as competitive in the conference.

Miscellaneous Power Rankings Notes:

  • Coach K reloadsDuke was the top choice again this year with another one-and-done big man, but the Blue Devils weren’t the unanimous pick. Virginia and Louisville both got a first place vote.
  • Clear Contenders: North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia (in some order) rounded out everyone’s top four, marking a distinct upper tier in the conference.
  • Media/Microsite solidarity: For the second season in a row, no teams differed from the preseason media poll by more than two spots.
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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 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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ACC Big Men Have Bright Futures: Will Their Teams Follow?

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 22nd, 2014

It is often bandied about that guards win games (along with defense) because they have the ball in their hands most often and thus affect the action more than other positions. While this is certainly a valid viewpoint, interior post players can often mean the difference between a championship team or a bubble team. The popular mindset is that big men take longer to develop in the college ranks because of the learning curve required to manage their combination of power, size and dexterity. Most post players come to the Division I ranks with a limited post game but raw with athleticism and length, prized characteristics that NBA GMs in every professional franchise covet.

Kennedy Meeks is a handful in the paint (USA TODAY Sports)

Kennedy Meeks is a handful in the paint (USA TODAY Sports)

The ACC this season is rich in young frontcourt talent that is likely to stay for more than a year in the collegiate ranks. North Carolina is a great example of the conference’s youthful exuberance in the post, sporting a terrific breadth of versatility in that regard. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are the tip of the iceberg, both terrific rebounders with vastly different approaches.  At 290 pounds, Meeks is a strong and sturdy freshman who isn’t a terrific leaper but uses his body and angles to score and rebound the offensive glass very well. He also possesses one of the nation’s best outlet passes, a perfect conduit for guards Nate Britt and Marcus Paige to start Roy Williams’ break. Johnson, on the other hand, is a long beanpole of a forward who has had a breakout sophomore year for the Tar Heels, ranking fourth in ACC field goal percentage at 54.5%. UNC’s frontcourt depth doesn’t completely end there, though, as the Heels also have 6’10”, 280-pound sophommore Joel James, who is a load in the paint but hasn’t found consistent playing time this season. Freshman Isaiah Hicks too has a bright future ahead of him at UNC; the McDonald’s All-American recorded seven blocks and pulled down an insane 30 rebounds in his state’s high school championship game last year. But the ACC’s young frontcourt brigade of talent doesn’t end in Chapel Hill.

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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: 10.18.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on October 18th, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Jamie Dixon doesn’t sound too worried about the new rule changes that are designed to open up the floor a little for offensive players: when asked about the new rules, Dixon retorted, “We will see if they are going to call it.” Pittsburgh‘s defense under Dixon is known for being some of the most physical in the country, although the Panthers don’t rely on hand checks nearly as much as Louisville. But Dixon hit on the most important part of the supposedly drastic changes: They don’t matter unless they’re enforced. These aren’t new rules like the unpopular elbow rule; they’re changes in emphasis. Duke’s Tyler Thornton, for one, isn’t thrilled with the stricter definition of charges.
  2. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Brian Gregory got some big news yesterday, as Tennessee transfer Trae Golden received a hardship waiver that will allow him to suit up this season for the Yellow Jackets. Golden will give the team much-needed experience at the point guard position, where sophomore Solomon Poole struggled mightily last year. Poole had an unthinkable turnover rate of 44.5 percent — meaning he turned it over on nearly half the possessions he was involved in. Golden won’t make Georgia Tech a contender, but he should make them much tougher to beat.
  3. Boston Globe: Boston College felt much more respected this year at media day. The Eagles were picked eighth, a far cry from their last place pick a year ago. Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson are the real deal. Don’t be surprised if both end up on all-ACC teams when all is said and done. Dennis Clifford – sidelined much of last year with a nagging knee injury — may prove the difference between being a dangerous team and a team that makes then NCAA Tournament, though you don’t want to be too optimistic about a guy rehabbing two knee surgeries. Regardless, Steve Donahue’s squad should be fun to watch.
  4. Washington Post: Akil Mitchell leapt onto the ACC scene last year as an athletic double-double machine who made watching Virginia much more enjoyable. This wasn’t the first time Mitchell surprised people on the basketball court: In middle school he was cut twice (thanks to being the damning “stout and slow” according to his father), in high school he couldn’t dunk as a 6’5″ sophomore (to teammate and rare dunker Seth Curry’s chagrin), and he had his offer revoked by George Washington. It will be interesting to see how Mitchell deals with moving from the upstart underdog to a much better-known star role this year.
  5. Notre Dame: Mike Brey’s team will be without sophomore forward Zach Auguste for the next four to six weeks according to a school release. Auguste broke his hand in practice last week. This deals a blow to the team’s frontcourt, which needs to find a way to replace star Jack Cooley. While he likely won’t miss “important” games, Auguste will miss valuable time getting used to his expanded role.

EXTRA: Make sure to catch part two of Walker Carey’s chat with Len Elmore, Mike Gminski, and Bret Strelow.

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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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Big East M5: 01.31.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 31st, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2) 

  1. Mike Aresco mentioned the likelihood of Big East and Catholic Seven schools scheduling future non-conference series in his comments the other day in Connecticut. Fittingly, neither of the first two programs to arrange such a continuation will play in the Big East in two years. Syracuse and St. John’s will kick off a home-and-home in Madison Square Garden on December 15, extending a century-old intrastate rivalry. While the second game will have no affiliation whatsoever with the Big East, it’s an encouraging bellwether of other efforts to preserve existing Big East rivalries. That’s certainly the impression given in a statement from Syracuse AD Daryl Gross, which begins “As we continue to aggressively secure rivalries that are dear to us…” Perhaps the political entanglements of realignment won’t trample all of the conference traditions fans appreciate.
  2. It’s a moot point, but one Kevin Ollie’s team should feel proud of: the consensus is that UConn would be comfortably in the NCAA Tournament field right now, were they eligible. Before last night’s win over Rutgers, Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi projected that the Huskies would be seeded between #7-#10, checking in “the low 30s on the S-Curve” in Lunardi’s ESPN Bracketology. Much of the preseason conjecture on UConn’s outlook focused on whether they could stay motivated this season, but Shabazz Napier puts it simply: “You don’t play to lose games.” “It probably hasn’t hit a lot of guys that we’re almost done,” Napier continued, “I think the guys understand that we’re doing this for something bigger. We’re doing this to get ready for next year.”
  3. Prior to hosting Villanova last night, Notre Dame had lost a slumping starter to injury and dropped two of its last three games at the Joyce Center. Meditating on the Fighting Irish’s 65-60 win over Nova, Brian Hamilton at the Chicago Tribune says Notre Dame’s “new reality,” characterized by energetic contributions coming from unimaginable places, “might not be a bad thing.” In his second start in Scott Martin’s stead, Tom Knight scored efficiently in double digits again (10 points, four rebounds, two blocks). Talented freshmen Zach Auguste (four points) and Cam Biedscheid (18 points) contributed off the bench, with the latter scoring a career-high on 5-of-7 three-pointers. “It’s fun watching the new vibe that we have,” said Brey. For now, it’s a promising reality.
  4. In this week’s power rankings, Luke Winn points out that Russ Smith leads the nation with 7.6 transition possessions per 40 minutes, scoring 1.212 points per opportunity. To put that in perspective, deft transition scorer Shabazz Muhammad only scores 1.011 points per possession on 6.9 average chances per ballgame. That statistic underscores that Louisville isn’t utilizing its best offensive asset when the Cards haven’t scored more than seven fast break points in any of their past four games.
  5. Cincinnati managed to overcome a 10-point deficit last night with a hobbled Cashmere Wright to rally past a reeling Rutgers team, 62-54. Though Wright had eight days to rehabilitate his knee after a tough loss to Syracuse, the point guard still struggled to find his shot in 20 minutes of playing time. He’s shooting a paltry 15.7% since returning from injury: He followed last week’s 2-of-13 shooting outing against Syracuse with a 1-of-6, six-point affair tonight. Though Sean Kilpatrick and a defensive lift from Justin Jackson propelled the Bearcats, Wright’s recovery will be pivotal to their contention for a Big East title. According to Kilpatrick, you can’t fault his point guard’s effort: “With the injuries he has, I can’t see anyone playing through it. But he always gives us his everything. That’s a leader for you. He gives you everything until he can’t walk anymore.”
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Knee Issues, Slump Jeopardize Scott Martin’s Starting Job at Notre Dame

Posted by Will Tucker on January 23rd, 2013

After a surprise 14-1 start that drew on steady veteran leadership, Notre Dame suddenly finds itself losers of three of the last four games and at 3-3 in the Big East, coming off an historic home loss to Georgetown. Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the team’s 10-day collapse is that Scott Martin, one of its most dependable veterans, has become a big part of the problem. Mired in a slump and showing signs of the knee injury that has plagued his six year-career, Martin will likely be the first casualty to an imminent shake-up in Mike Brey’s starting lineup. Martin has averaged 1.8 PPG on 2-of-11 shooting over the agonizing four-game stretch. He logged a season-low 18 minutes against the Hoyas before his aggravated knee and poor performance sidelined him for the remainder of the game. Prior to his recent skid, Martin had been enjoying the most productive season of his career, averaging 9.7 PPG and hitting at 50% from behind the line. But his dramatic slump has reduced his scoring and minutes to the lowest averages of his career.

(Credit Elsa/Getty Images)

Mike Brey says Martin’s knee pain affects every phase of his game (Credit Elsa/Getty Images)

Mike Brey attributes the forward’s struggles to the knee that was visibly nagging him against Georgetown: “I feel for him. He’s trying to give us stuff but the knee has been an issue. I think it’s affecting all of his phases.” In fact, it wasn’t until Tuesday morning that we learned Martin underwent a second surgery on the left knee that had previously forced Martin to redshirt in 2009-10. The operation took place over this past summer and was evidently kept under wraps, but the toll taken on the 24-year-old big man is clearly noticeable. “I don’t know how much he’s going to be able to practice the rest of the year,” Brey said; “It’s nothing major, it’s just a lot of wear and tear on a knee that’s had two surgeries.” Don’t be surprised to see 6’10″ freshman Zach Auguste (3.2 PPG, 1.6 RPG in 6.2 MPG) enter the rotation in Martin’s stead. The former four-star recruit is brimming with talent, but has only logged a total of four minutes of Big East experience. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to a sudden expanded role.

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