2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 24 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 25-10, 11-7 (Big East); Lost in the Round of 64 to Iowa State

Head Coach: Mike Brey (14th season at Notre Dame: 285-142, 136-79 Big East)

Key Losses: Jack Cooley, Scott Martin

Newcomers: Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem, Austin Torres, Eric Katenda

Projected Lineup

G: Eric Atkins, Sr.
G: Jerian Grant, Jr.
G: Patrick Connaughton, Jr.
F: Tom Knight, Sr.
C: Garrick Sherman, Sr.
Bench: Cameron Biedscheid, So.; Zach Auguste, So.; Demetrius Jackson, Fr.; Steve Vasturia, Fr.; VJ Beachem, Fr.

They’ll be good because …: Notre Dame has one of the most talented perimeter attacks in the country. They’re led by a pair of veterans in senior Eric Atkins and redshirt junior Jerian Grant, two skilled, athletic playmakers that combined to average 24.5 points and 11.0 assists while shooting 37.2% from three. Throw in top 25 recruit Demetrius Jackson, another talented lead guard, and Mike Brey’s club will play quite a bit of small ball.

It’s not only the ball handlers, either. Pat Connaughton, who also plays on Notre Dame’s baseball team, is a big, physical guard that is a lights-out three-point shooter and can mix it up in the paint when he has to. Throw in big wings Cameron Biedschied, a sophomore, and Steve Vasturia, a freshman, and the Irish should be able to use a lot of four-guard sets. Remember how tough it was to slow down that 2012 Missouri team? Notre Dame could end up looking something like that on the offensive end of the floor.

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But they might disappoint because …: Isn’t that what Notre Dame does every postseason? Mike Brey was one of the most consistent and most successful coaches in the Big East during his 13 year run in the league, but he hasn’t been out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2003, when the likes of Chris Thomas, Matt Carroll and Torin Francis were still in South Bend. Brey has gotten his team to the tournament six of the last seven seasons with four Round of 64 knockouts and two losses in the Round of 32.

The biggest concern with this group is their front court. Jack Cooley, who was a double-double machine the last two seasons, graduated. That leaves a pair of veterans in Garrick Sherman and Tom Knight as well as sophomore Zach Auguste. Sherman and Knight are solid role players that will throw around their size, but neither will strike fear in the heart of opposing coaches. Auguste is the most talented of the group, but he’s not quite ready to be a featured big man. The good news? With Notre Dame’s perimeter strength, Brey’s trio of bigs won’t be asked to do much more than defend, run the floor and crash the glass.

Outlook: This group is perfectly set up to make quite a bit of noise in their first season in the ACC, and I think this is the the that ends Notre Dame’s streak of early round tournament exits. Brey isn’t exactly running the Burn Offense anymore, but he’s still playing a slower brand of basketball. Last season, the Irish used a lot of the shot clock, putting the ball in the hands of their talented playmakers and allowing them to attack the basket, often off of a high-ball screen. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see Notre Dame play a quicker tempo this season, however.) With three skilled lead guards and a number of shooters to keep the floor spread, this roster is built for success playing that style.

Yes, the same could have been said about the Irish last season, but there is one key difference: Demetrius Jackson. Grant (36.3 mpg) and Atkins (38.3 mpg) rarely came off the floor last season. With Jackson in the mix this year, those two should be able to get more rest without the Irish offense taking a significant hit. Like any team, there are a number of unknowns with this group, but if Auguste and Biedscheid improve as sophomores (Biedscheid was 7-44 from three in February and March and missed 25 of his last 28 from downtown) and Jackson and Vasturia can have an impact immediately, this could be a top four team in the league.

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.