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.

Bates-Diop, No. 22 Ohio State top Minnesota 67-49

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NEW YORK (AP) — Keita Bates-Diop had 17 points and 12 rebounds, leading No. 22 Ohio State over Minnesota 67-49 Saturday for its seventh straight win.

The game was part of a two-sport Big Ten doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. At night, Minnesota and Michigan State were set to meet in hockey.

The Buckeyes (17-4, 8-0 Big Ten) used a 24-2 burst to overcome a 10-point deficit midway through the first half. They stayed in control, and went on to match last season’s win total.

Kaleb Wesson added 15 points and eight rebounds for Ohio State.

Amir Coffey, who missed five games because of a shoulder injury, scored 11 points for the Golden Gophers (14-8, 3-6). Jordan Murphy had 13.

Maye, Pinson help No. 15 UNC beat Georgia Tech 80-66

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Luke Maye had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 15 North Carolina beat Georgia Tech 80-66 on Saturday.

Theo Pinson added 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Joel Berry II and Cameron Johnson finished with 16 points apiece to help the Tar Heels (16-4, 5-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).

They shot 42 percent and dominated the glass, building a 46-25 rebounding advantage and scoring 26 second-chance points to Georgia Tech’s four.

Jose Alvarado scored 17 points and hit four 3-pointers, including one that pulled the Yellow Jackets to 70-62 with about 3½ minutes left. But he fouled Berry on the Tar Heels’ ensuing possession — and then stepped over him, earning a technical foul with 3:21 to play.

Berry hit three of the four free throws he was awarded to put North Carolina’s lead into double figures to stay. The Tar Heels were 19 of 24 from the line, while Georgia Tech was just 3 of 6.

Josh Okogie led Georgia Tech (10-9, 3-3) with 18 points, while Ben Lammers and Abdoulaye Gueye each had 12. The Yellow Jackets were just 5 of 18 from 3-point range.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets had won four in a row before this two-game run against top-15 opponents. After suffocating against No. 2 Virginia’s ACC-best defense, Georgia Tech couldn’t keep up with North Carolina’s fast-paced offense, which averages nearly 83 points — especially after one stretch in which it had two field goals in 10-plus minutes.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels’ winning streak remains intact, but Berry had a rough day until his free-throw bonanza all but iced it. The most outstanding player at the Final Four finished just 3 of 17 from the field and was just 1 of 8 from long range.

VIDEO: Ted Valentine apologizes to Joel Berry for incident

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Two weeks ago, during a North Carolina loss at Florida State, official Ted Valentine missed an obvious foul committed on Joel Berry that resulted in a turnover.

When Berry went to ask TV Teddy about the no-call, the veteran referee turned his back on Berry.

Literally.

Today, prior to Georgia Tech’s game at North Carolina which Valentine officiated, he apologized to Berry for the previous incident:

“He was just telling me that he apologized for what he did,” Berry said after the game. “That’s all he said, just apologized and made sure that there was nothing wrong between us and I told him it was all good, it was in the heat of the moment.”

Xavier’s win over Seton Hall shows they’re still a team to be reckoned with

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J.P. Macura had arguably the best game of his career as the senior guard helped will No. 11 Xavier to a 73-64 road win over No. 19 Seton Hall in the Big East on Saturday.

Putting together a strong effort on both ends of the floor, Macura finished with 27 points, five rebounds and three assists as he punctuated a Musketeers comeback with a monster tip dunk in the game’s final minutes. This was arguably the biggest win of the year for Xavier — the first road win against a top-25 team and a comeback after losing for a sizable chunk of the contest.

Macura’s efforts on both ends as the star in this one proved how dangerous Xavier can be and why they’re still a force to be reckoned with for the rest of the season. Already hovering in the range of a No. 2-3 seed, the Musketeers should elevate into the top ten of the national rankings after another bloodbath week for the best teams in college basketball.

And Xavier is showing plenty of balance by having multiple players who can take over a game. Senior Trevon Bluiett (15 points) is the All-American candidate who has often been celebrated for much of his career but he doesn’t need to play to his best for the Musketeers to beat strong opponents.

Macura seems to feed off of certain situations and the Seton Hall home crowd chanting at him must have done something to help ignite a big performance. Diving for loose balls and knocking down big shots, Macura made plays all over the floor as he’s capable of taking over a game when Xavier needs him.

Others like Kerem Kanter on the interior, Kaiser Gates on the wing, or Naji Marshall running the wing also chip in plenty of points. This team can use balanced scoring with the heavy lifting being done by the hot hand as a dangerous concoction that’s tough for opponents to stop.

Just 10 days ago, Xavier was reeling following a loss to Providence and a blowout road loss to Villanova in Philadelphia. After a three-game winning streak that includes a blowout win over Creighton and a comeback win over Seton Hall on the road, the Musketeers are right back in the Big East title race.

The next month also proves to be fairly average from a scheduling standpoint for Xavier. There isn’t a ranked opponent on the schedule until a rematch with Seton Hall in Cincinnati on Feb. 14 and another big home game against No. 1 Villanova looms right after.

If Xavier continues to pile up wins — they do have tourney-caliber opponents in Butler, Creighton and Marquette — and sweep Seton Hall, then they’ll still get a home game against Villanova that could decide the conference. If both teams keep winning that could even be an important game for the No. 1 seed discussion.

Don’t look now, but Xavier is right back in the top ten and they could stick around for a bit.

Trae Young’s 48 points not enough as Oklahoma State upsets No. 4 Oklahoma

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Trae Young snapped out of his slump, tying a Big 12 record and setting a career-high by scoring 48 points, but No. 4 Oklahoma still fell in overtime on the road against in-state rival Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys jumped out to a 25-6 lead as Young continued to struggle early on in the first half. The Sooners trailed 42-30 at the break, but they were able to rally throughout the second half and only headed to overtime after Kendall Smith hit a three to tie the game at 73 with 6.2 seconds left. Young missed a three at the buzzer that would have won the game.

This win puts Oklahoma State squarely in the bubble conversation. The Cowboys are now 13-6 on the season. They’re only notable wins to date are Oklahoma and Florida State, but they’ll have plenty of chances to add to that résumé over the final two months of the season.

The loss is the second in a row and third in the last five games for the Sooners. All three of those games came on the road, where it has been nearly impossible to win in the Big 12.

Since Texas Tech won at Kansas and TCU won at Baylor on January 2nd, Big 12 road teams have gone 2-22. (At the time of this posting, TCU was trailing at Kansas State and Kansas was yet to tip off at home against Baylor.) Those two wins were Kansas at TCU and Kansas at West Virginia, meaning that for the last 18 days, the only team to win a road game in the Big 12 is the program that has won 13 straight Big 12 regular season title.

With that in mind, Young’s performance was … almost promising?

There is no shame in this loss. Yes, it puts the Sooners two games behind the Jayhawks in the conference title race, but winning the Big 12 regular season title isn’t their only goal this year, and for Oklahoma to come anywhere near reaching any of those goals, they’re going to need Trae Young to be better than he has been over the course of the last two weeks.

Young was in the second half on Saturday. Where the concern truly lies is with the supporting cast. Young shot 14-for-39 from the floor in this loss. The rest of the Oklahoma team shot 14-for-43. Young shot 8-for-20 from three. His teammates shot 2-for-15. Young made all 12 of his free throws. His teammates shot five and missed two. Young scored 48 points. Every other Sooner combined for 33.

As I wrote last week, part of the reason for Young’s struggles was because he was trying to do too much.

Maybe this is why.

It’s a catch-22.

Young needs to be able to trust that his teammates can make winning plays when defenses key on him and take him out of the game, but his supporting cast – Brady Manek, Christian James, Kameron McGusty – need to give him a reason to trust them.