Top 25 Countdown: No. 23 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 22-12, 13-5 Big East (3rd); Lost to Xavier in the Opening Round of the NCAA tournament

Head Coach: Mike Brey

Key Losses: Tim Abromaitis, Alex Dragocevich

Newcomers: Garrick Sherman, Cameron Biedschied, Zach Auguste, Eric Katenda, Austin Burgett

Projected Lineup:

G: Eric Atkins, So.
G: Jerian Grant, Jr.
F: Pat Connaughton, So.
F: Scott Martin, Sr.
C: Jack Cooley, Sr.
Bench: Garrick Sherman, Jr.; Cameron Biedschied, Fr.; Zach Auguste, Fr.; Austin Burgett, Fr.; Joey Brooks, Sr.

Outlook: The key losses section of this preview is deceiving. Yes, Tim Abromaitis played for the Irish last season, and no, he’s no longer with the program. But in all actuality, Abro — a first-team all-Big East caliber forward — had zero effect on the Irish finishing third in the Big East last season. In fact, Notre Dame went 0-2 with him in the lineup last year — a 29 point drubbing at the hands of Missouri that was followed up the next night with a loss to Georgia. Abro tore his ACL in a practice following that second loss, an injury that ended his career and, according to most pundits, ended any hope of the Irish being at all competitive.

But as the season progressed, the Irish only got better. Starting with a double-overtime win over Louisville in January, Notre Dame ended the season winning 12 of their last 16 Big East games, which included a victory over then-undefeated and No. 1 ranked Syracuse that sparked a nine-game winning streak. The ‘Burn Offense’ that Brey had made famous the previous two years was back in full force, and while the Irish probably have enough talent on their roster to play a different style, I’d expect the Burn to once again be in full effect this season.

Why?

Because Notre Dame’s lineup is perfect for it.

Last season, I went into detail on how the Burn Offense works, but I’ll give a quick summation here: Brey, essentially, wants his team to drain the shot clock on every possession, getting the ball into the hands of a play-maker with 10 or 12 seconds left in the possession. Then he spreads the floor with shooters and runs a high-ball screen, allowing his guards to use their natural ability to create a good shot, be it for themselves or by finding a teammate for an open look.

Brey has two terrific options in his back court to take on that role of play-maker in juniors Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins. Combined, the two averaged 24.4 points, 9.1 assists and just 4.1 turnovers last season, numbers that are more impressive when you consider the fact that the Irish were one of the 20 slowest teams in the country, according to Kenpom. It’s reasonable to expect those two to improve on those numbers this season. Last year was Atkins’ first in the role of starting point guard, while Grant is technically a redshirt sophomore. He sat out his first season in South Bend with a foot injury, but Notre Dame lists their athletes based on academic year, not athletic eligibility.

At the forward spots, Brey has a pair of versatile players capable of spreading the floor in Patrick Connaughton and Scott Martin. Connaughton, a sophomore, went through some shooting slumps as a freshman, but had a few games throughout the year that showcased what he can do when he gets hot. Ask Villanova, who watched him hit seven threes in an overtime loss to the Irish. He’ll need to be more consistent, but the ability is there. Martin wasn’t even supposed to be on the team this year, but thanks to back-to-back redshirt seasons — after he sat out a season transferring from Purdue, Martin tore his ACL — he was granted a sixth-year of eligibility by the NCAA. He had his worst year shooting the ball in 2011-2012, but the lefty is always a threat to score on the perimeter.

Even if Martin doesn’t improve much this season, his return was important because it bought Brey a year where he could have his quartet of freshmen forwards learn from the veteran Martin. Austin Burgett and Eric Katenda are face-up four men who can step out and stroke the ball from three. Katenda is still battling an eye injury, however, and won’t be eligible to play until January if he doesn’t redshirt. Burgett needs to spend a season in the weight room. Zach Auguste is a lanky and athletic low-post presence with a very high ceiling but a long way to go until he turns that potential into production. Cameron Biedscheid may be the freshman that sees the most playing this season, as he’s more of a wing and would be able to spell Connaughton on nights when the sophomore’s shot isn’t dropping.

Ironically, I’ve made it this far into the Notre Dame preview without mentioning arguably their most important player in big man Jack Cooley. There are a number of reasons that Luke Harangody’s doppelganger is incredibly valuable to Brey: for starters, he’s an excellent rebounder — especially on the offensive end of the floor — that gets a lot of easy buckets off of missed shots. He’s also the only reliable low-post presence on the roster. But, more than anything, Cooley is an excellent screener simply because he’s massive. He’s listed at 6-foot-9, 246 pounds, but that number seems low when you walk by him. With the frequency that Notre Dame utilizes screen-and-rolls, that’s a major factor for this team.

It’s also worth mentioning the addition of Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman. He didn’t put up huge number under Tom Izzo — 3.1 points and 2.6 boards — but spending two years in the Michigan State system should allow him to bring a measure of toughness and physicality that Notre Dame needs.

Predictions?: Mike Brey is one of the most underrated coaches in the country, and he has a team with quite a bit of talent that fits very well into the system he wants to run. They are also experienced; this group basically returns their entire rotation from the team that finished third in the Big East last season. Louisville is the best team in the Big East, and, for my money, Syracuse is the second best. But Notre Dame is not far off the pace.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Quinnipiac set to hire Villanova assistant Baker Dunleavy as new head coach

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Quinnipiac will introduce Villanova assistant coach Baker Dunleavy as the team’s new head coach on Tuesday, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Dunleavy has helped the Wildcats to a national championship and multiple Big East championships as the team’s associate head coach. A former walk-on for Villanova who transitioned into a director of operations and later an assistant coach, Dunleavy is the son of Tulane head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. Baker’s brother, Mike Dunleavy Jr., is still playing in the NBA as well.

The 34-year-old Dunleavy has experience with a championship program at Villanova so it will be interesting to see what he can do running his own program for the first time. Quinnipiac hired Dunleavy to replace Tom Moore, who was fired after 10 years with the program.

The Bobcats went to an NIT and made a few other postseason appearances under Moore but the program has never been to the NCAA tournament since making the transition to Division I in the late ’90s.

Report: Duquesne hires Akron’s Keith Dambrot as new head coach

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Duquesne has hired Akron head coach Keith Dambrot to the same position, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman.

The 58-year-old Dambrot has been head coach at Akron since 2004 as he’s helped the program to three NCAA tournament appearances.

The former high school coach of LeBron James at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School in Akron, Dambrot won two Ohio state championships with James before becoming an assistant coach at Akron in 2001. Dambrot eventually took over the head job over from Dan Hipsher.

Dambrot is reportedly getting a seven-year deal from Duquesne so the Dukes are making a major investment in him to turn around the basketball program.

Duke’s Christian Laettner shouts out North Carolina’s Luke Maye on Twitter after winning jumper over Kentucky

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Duke and North Carolina don’t have much in common.

But the historic college basketball rivals now have the distinction of earning late Elite Eight wins over Kentucky that involved a No. 32 making the winning shot.

Blue Devil legend Christian Laettner is famous for his 1992 buzzer-beater over Kentucky in the Elite Eight and he made sure to give some love to North Carolina sophomore Luke Maye after his own Elite Eight shot knocked out the Wildcats.

Rice’s Marcus Evans becomes one of top available transfers

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Rice sophomore guard Marcus Evans will transfer and play his final two seasons elsewhere, he announced on Monday.

The 6-foot-2 Evans has been a major scorer the last two seasons for the Owls as he averaged 19.0 points per game this season after putting up 21.4 points per game as a freshman.

With Rice head coach Mike Rhoades taking the VCU opening and the program struggling to consistently win, Evans seeking to play elsewhere should not come as much of a surprise.

Evans will have to sit out a transfer season before having two more years of eligibility but he should be one of the best options available this offseason. A proven scorer who has become more well-rounded this season, Evans could be a high-quality addition to any program this offseason.

A native of Chesapeake, Virginia, it will be interesting to see if Evans decides to play closer to home.

NBA Draft Stock Watch: Who has helped themselves in the NCAA Tournament?

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The term ‘prisoner of the moment’ is never more fitting than when weighing just how valuable an NCAA Tournament star turn is for a kid’s potential success as an NBA player.

We see it every year. Big tournament performances during deep runs in the dance is a great way to inflate draft stock while disappointing exits are an easy way to hurt it, even if it goes against the season-long data that is telling us something about a player. 

Who are the players that helped themselves the most this March? And who may have put a damper on their chances of hearing their name called early on draft night?

STOCK UP

Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has played his way into the discussion as a potential first round pick by leading South Carolina to the Final Four. He has the physical tools to be an excellent defender in the NBA, and he certainly has the toughness and physicality, but it’s his shot-making that is the game-changer for him. He shot 39.4 percent from three on the season and is hitting 43.2 percent from beyond the arc in the tournament, and while the knuckle-ball action on his jumper is concerning, at some point it’s fair to wonder whether or not his less-than-ideal form is less important than the fact that it goes in. Thornwell, who was the SEC Player of the Year this season, will be an interesting 3-and-D candidate come draft night, and the spotlight on him from averaging 25.7 points while leading the Gamecocks to the Final Four will only help.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox solidified his standing as a potential top five during the tournament. The red flags are still there — Can he make threes in the NBA? — but at the end of the day, the NBA Draft is about whether or not you want one guy or the other guy. This is a draft that is absolutely loaded at the point guard spot, and for the second time this season, Fox outplayed a guy that many have slotted above him, Lonzo Ball. In the Sweet 16, he put up 39 points, the most impressive individual performance of the tournament, as Kentucky skated by UCLA more easily than most of us expected. Ball should probably still be considered the better, but when you’re sitting in that room making those decisions, it’s not going to be easy to bypass the guy that bested him twice.

Jordan Bell, Oregon: Bell, a senior, has been one of the best defensive players in the country all season long, and never was that more apparent than when he went for 11 points, 13 boards, eight blocks and four assists against Kansas in the Elite 8. He totally changed that game, making Landen Lucas look like an eighth grader without any confidence and forcing the Jayhawks to miss a number of shots in the lane simply because they were aware that Bell could be lurking. He was probably worth a second round pick already, but that game very likely ensured that he will here his name called at some point on draft night.

Tyler Dorsey, Oregon: Dorsey is a shot-maker. That’s what he brings to the table offensively. He can score. He’s gone for at least 20 points in all seven tournament games — Pac-12 and NCAA — that Oregon had played this year, and he hit innumerable big shots in the process, including a game-winner against Rhode Island in the second round and a pair of absolute daggers against Kansas. Undersized scorers come a dime-a-dozen at that level, but Dorsey ensured that he will get a shot this spring.

D.J. Wilson, Michigan: Wilson has been one of the most intriguing prospects in college basketball this season given his size, athleticism and skill-set, and the attention that Michigan got as the darling of the conference tournaments and the first weekend of the NCAA tournament certainly didn’t hurt. I’m not convinced he’s in a position to be a first round pick, but I am certain that, if he opts to declare for the draft and sign with an agent, there will be a team willing to bet on the meteoric rise he had this year continuing.

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

STOCK DOWN

Lonzo Ball, UCLA: With all the hype surrounding the Ball family heading into his showdown with De’Aaron Fox and Kentucky in the Sweet 16, you would’ve expected Lonzo, who has been terrific this season, to shine on the biggest stage. But that’s not how it went. He was completely overshadowed by Fox, who went for a career-high 39 points when they went head-to-head, bowing out of the tournament with nothing but a Sweet 16 to show for it. There’s a risk in making over-arching judgements on a player based off of one or two games when a season’s worth of data is telling you something else, but it is fair to note that Ball was outplayed in both of his matchups with another potential top five pick at his position.

Josh Jackson, Kansas: We’ve seen all season long what Josh Jackson can do on a basketball court, and one bad game where he got into foul trouble in the first four minutes is not going to change the way that scouts view his ability on the court. The concern with Jackson has nothing to do with basketball. It’s the off-the-court stuff, and it’s his temper. The biggest red flag surrounding him right now is an incident at a bar where he did more than $1,000 worth of damage to a person’s car. He got a few technical fouls this season. Against Oregon, he got into it with Duck players. Whether that affected his play, only Jackson will know, but it’s not all that hard to connect those dots. It’s easier to teach a 19-year old that cares too much to tone it down — the maturity that comes with getting older certainly helps — than it is to get a guy with no heart to be intense and tough, but that’s something NBA teams are going to have to consider when they decide whether to take Jackson in the top three of a draft this loaded.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Justin Patton, Creighton: Patton is incredibly talented and loaded with promise, but after seeing the dip in his production once Mo Watson went out with a torn ACL — 14.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on a 74 percent shooting vs. 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds on 61 percent shooting post Watson — is concerning. Throw in that he was totally underwhelming against an undersized front line of Rhode Island in a first round loss, and there will be questions asked about whether or not he is a guy that is worth a first round pick.

Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard, by all accounts, had a terrific season. He’s a skilled scorer that can get his buckets in a number of different ways. He’s a lights-out shooter with an advanced array of moves to create space to get his shot off and a knack for scoring around the rim with both hands. But the concerns with him is whether or not he will be able to do so against guys that are as athletic and strong as NBA wings are. Picking a second round matchup with a South Carolina team loaded with those kind of defenders to have his worst game of the season wasn’t exactly ideal timing.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart does everything well, and he certainly proved throughout the season that he had improved on the things that he needed to improve — shooting, playmaking, ability off the dribble. But the concern with Hart is whether or not he’s going to be able to get his own shot when the guys he plays against are bigger, quicker, more athletic and just as tough as he is, and the way Villanova bowed out of the tournament — with Hart being unable to create a shot or draw a foul on a drive to the rim — is a perfect summation of the concerns NBA teams have about him.