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.
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
– 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.
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.