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2014 point guard Larry Austin verbally commits to attend Tennessee

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With Antonio Barton (who transferred in from Memphis) and Jordan McRae out of eligibility after the 2013-14 season, the Tennessee Volunteers had room for more talent on the perimeter.

The key word in that statement is “had,” because on Thursday 2014 point guard Larry Austin Jr. became the third verbal commitment in that class for head coach Cuonzo Martin. Austin, who attends Lanphier High in Springfield, Ill., joins shooting guard Jordan Cornish and power forward Phil Cofer in Tennessee’s 2014 recruiting class.

A 6-1 point guard who played this spring/summer with the St. Louis Eagles (alongside Texas commit Jordan Barnett), Austin is regarded as one of the top defensive point guards in his class. Tennessee, which will look to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011, beat out Illinois and Kansas State (Austin held offers from other high-major schools as well) for Austin’s pledge.

According to [Lanphier head coach Blake] Turner, Tennessee has been recruiting Austin “for quite some time.” Assistant coach Jon Harris began the recruitment, while Martin, who hails from East St. Louis, became heavily involved recently, helping close the door.

“Coach Martin has been a very strong recruiter as a head coach,” Turner said. “Out of all the schools that recruited Larry, I can honestly say that he’s been one of the top head coaches. It carries a little more weight when the head coach calls.”

In 2014 Austin and Cornish will join a backcourt that will have just two upperclassmen, Armani Moore (2.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and Quinton Chievous (2.5, 2.4). Tennessee adds two talented freshmen to the mix this season in shooting guard Robert Hubbs and point guard Darius Thompson, with even more likely being required of those two when Barton and McRae graduate.

The one question for Tennessee down the road is what they do in the front court. Jeronne Maymon, healthy after missing all of last season due to a knee injury, is a redshirt senior and there’s also the question of whether or not Jarnell Stokes would once again put off turning pro after deciding to return to Knoxville for his junior campaign.

The Vols have the highly-regarded Cofer coming in, but there isn’t a great amount of depth in the paint when looking past the 2013-14 campaign. With one scholarship left to be filled, chances are that Tennessee isn’t done on the recruiting trail for that very reason.

But with the three verbal commitments they already have, there’s no doubt that Tennessee is in a good position moving forward.

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VIDEO: Duke’s Grayson Allen beats No. 7 Virginia at the buzzer

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia sparks come-from-behind win over No. 13 Louisville

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia (32) goes up for a shot over Boston College’s Idy Diallo (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)
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Demetrius Jackson scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half and Steve Vasturia scored 15 of his 20 points in the final 20 minutes as Notre Dame landed a 71-66 win over No. 13 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The Fighting Irish trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half, but Vasturia’s hot shooting combined with Notre Dame holding Louisville to just 15 points in the final 15 minutes made all the difference.

The Fighting Irish are not as good as they were last season, but they are built in a similar mold. Jackson, as we expected, as become one of the nation’s most dynamic point guards, impossible to slow-down in isolation and ball-screen actions. Steve Vasturia emerging as a legitimate secondary option offensively and Zach Auguste is one of the nation’s most underrated big men and one of the most dangerous as the roll-man in ball-screens.

Combine all of that with a handful of shooters creating space and Bonzie Colson’s emergence as a force on the offensive glass, and Mike Brey once again has one of the nation’s most lethal offensive attacks.

Where they struggle is on the defensive end of the floor, which is what makes the end of Saturday’s win so meaningful. The Irish entered the day ranked 232nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which more or less means they’re as good as a bad mid-major program at keeping their opponents from scoring.

But they don’t have to be great to be able to win games.

They have to be good enough and they have to get important stops.

That’s precisely what happened on Saturday.

Whether or not that actually becomes a trend for this group will be something to monitor — it happened for Duke during last year’s NCAA tournament — but the bottom-line is this: Notre Dame does something better than just about anyone else in college basketball, and that’s score the ball.

On the nights they are able to gets some stops, they are going to be able to win some games. In the last eight days, they’ve proven that, beating North Carolina, Clemson on the road and Louisville.

And that makes them dangerous in March.