Notre Dame Fighting Irish Mike Brey reacts to call as they play Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Big East NCAA men's basketball tournament game in New York

Notre Dame rounding into form with Big East semis looming


Notre Dame has never made it past the Big East tournament’s semifinals, but as they erased an early 17-4 deficit to knock off Marquette 73-65 on Thursday night, the Irish look like they may be able to make some noise in the tournament after all.

The biggest reason why? They are starting to get contributions from up-and-down their lineup.

Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley have struggled through two games in New York. Jerian Grant has played better, but even his 17 points, six boards, six assists, three steals and two blocks on Thursday was tainted with a 4-15 shooting performance.

That’s Mike Brey’s Big Three struggling, and yet here the Irish are, with a grudge match set with Louisville for the right to play for the Big East title.

Much of the credit has to fall on the shoulders of Patrick Connaughton, whose averaging 19.5 points while shooting 12-18 from three and seemingly making every big shot through two games. He’s been aided by big performances from Tom Knight (19 points, nine boards vs. Rutgers) and Garrick Sherman (16 points vs. Marquette).

Put it all together, and the Irish are weaseling their way back to looking like one of the Big East’s best.

That’s praise that doesn’t come easy for a team that has built a reputation for being great in the regular season and awful in March. Whether or not that changes this year is still to be determined, but if the past two days are any indication, the Irish aren’t going to need Herculean performances out of their three stars every night this month.

There is balance on the roster, and that’s big. Why? Because Atkins and Grant played 40 minutes tonight after combining for 72 minutes on Wednesday. And to rest their legs tomorrow, they’ll get to matchup with Louisville’s back court.

Taking some of the responsibility off of those two will take some of the load that they have to bear.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.