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.

Jordan Mathews three sends No. 1 seed Gonzaga past No. 4 West Virginia

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Jordan Mathews hit a three with less than a minute left and West Virginia missed a pair of threes on the final possession of the game as No. 1 seed Gonzaga won a dogfight, 61-58, over No. 4 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

Mathews, who finished with 13 points on the night, spent 4:30 on the bench before checking into the game right before hitting the eventual game-winning three.

No. 3 Oregon advances after thriller with No. 7 Michigan

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Oregon is returning to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season following a thrilling, 69-68, victory over No. 7 Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Kansas City on Thursday night.

In a game in which neither team could fully grasp control of the game, it came down to the wire. Michigan held a 3-point lead with two minutes to play. Jordan Bell, who was unquestionably the deciding factor in this contest, came up with the first of several critical hustle plays down the stretch. He knifed in on a missed free throw, for lay-in, cutting the deficit to one.

On the ensuing Michigan possession, Bell didn’t block it but affected Derrick Walton Jr.’s shot enough to force the miss. Tyler Dorsey, the other hero for the Ducks, continued his stellar play this month with a go-ahead layup after he spun through the Wolverine defense. Bell’s close out on D.J. Wilson sent his 3-point attempt way off the mark. Bell would corral another offensive rebound on the other end of the floor, and while Dylan Ennis left the door open for Michigan following another missed free throw, Bell, deservedly, rebounded Walton’s miss as time ran out.

“Do whatever you can to win,” Bell told reporters after the game. “Me, get every rebound, offense or defense, help my team out as much as possible.”

Bell had 16 points and 13 rebounds. Tyler Dorsey poured in 20 points. Walton Jr., who front-rimmed a potential game-winner at the buzzer, ended his collegiate career with stat-line of 20 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. Zak Irvin added 19.

Dillon Brooks is definitely the star, but Bell and Dorsey could round out a big three that could lead the Ducks to Phoenix.

Before the start of the Pac-12 Tournament championship game on March 11, Oregon announced that Chris Boucher would miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. How would this effect Oregon’s defense days before it began its quest for a Final Four?

Bell has helped answer those questions on Thursday night. He’s a big reason why Oregon outscored Michigan, 34-16, in points in the paint. But his greatest impact was how he slowed down the two-headed monster of Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson, two forwards whose increased production is a big reason why Michigan’s unlikely run extended into the second weekend of the tournament. The duo scored a combined 19 points off 7-of-20 shooting.

The other for Oregon was the continued offensive tear of Dorsey. In six postseason games, the sophomore two-guard is averaging 23.0 points per game. Playing at this level, Oregon has another go-to scorer, one who has no issue taking a big shot late in the game. In either matchup in the next round, that should come in handy. Dillon Brooks, one of college’s toughest matchups, will either be busy with Purdue’s massive frontline or locked in an all-out war with Kansas’ Josh Jackson the perimeter.

“I’m really fortunate to have Jordan for three years and Tyler for two and Dillon Brooks,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “We’ve just been really fortunate. We’ve got good players and guys that are unselfish. They want to win. They’re competitive. We got down four there and guys could have gave into it. They didn’t. They fought their way back. Shows you what kind of competitive spirit they’ve got.”

The Ducks, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, will face the winner of top-seeded Kansas and No. 4 Purdue on Saturday night at the Sprint Center.

“We know Purdue is really big and Kansas is Kansas,” Altman said.

WATCH: Steve Alford end practice with half-court shot

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford ended practice on Thursday by drilling a half-court shot on the first attempt.

According to the Associated Press, this has been a season-long battle between the UCLA coaching staff and the players.

“Truth be told, we’ve been getting slaughtered. We’ve got guys like Lonzo (Ball) literally takes a jump shot from the timeline. We were just lucky that they only got one shot at it. I think coaches are down about eight on the half-court shots this year. I told them, though, that the coaches are ahead at the Sweet 16. I don’t think they’re buying it.”

No. 3 seed UCLA is set to play No. 2 seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night in Memphis. The Bruins defeated the Wildcats, 97-92, in a non-conference matchup on Dec. 3.

Florida State guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes to enter NBA draft

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes is entering the NBA draft.

The 6-foot-4 junior made his announcement on Instagram on Thursday and also informed the school of his decision. He did not say whether he intends to hire an agent, a move that prevent him from returning to school.

Rathan-Mayes averaged 10.6 points per game this season and averaged 4.8 assists, which was sixth in the conference. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.6-to-1 was third in the ACC.

The All-ACC defensive team selection helped Florida State (26-9) reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. The Seminoles advanced to the second round before a 91-66 loss to Xavier.

Rathan-Mayes averaged 12.4 points in his three seasons with the Seminoles and is the 46th player in school history to reach 1,000 points.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Rutgers guard Corey Sanders to enter NBA Draft

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers sophomore guard Corey Sanders is entering the NBA draft.

In making the announcement Thursday, the university said Sanders will not sign with an agent.

Sanders will be able to attend workouts scheduled by NBA teams and will be eligible for invitation to the league’s combine next month. Players have until 10 days after the combine to remain in the draft or return to school, as long as they don’t sign with an agent.

Sanders started 31 of 33 games this season, averaging 12.8 points and 3.2 rebounds.

Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said Sanders needs to make an informed decision on his future.

“My dream has always been to play in the NBA,” Sanders said. “I look forward to determining where I am in that journey.”

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.