Eric Atkins

Eric Atkins, Quinn Cook

Eric Atkins, Notre Dame beat No. 7 Duke, turn around their season?

1 Comment

source:

For the first time in 19 games against former assistant coaches, Mike Krzyzewski has been beaten.

And while it isn’t necessarily a surprise that it was Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey that did it, it is a surprise that it happened this season.

The Fighting Irish were dealt a bad hand last month when it was announced that leading scorer Jerian Grant would be leaving school for the second semester due to an academic issue. That left a Notre Dame team that had been struggling with Grant in the lineup shorthanded, and the fact that they were taken to overtime by Canisius in their first game in the post-Jerian era was not exactly promising.

But if there is anything that Brey has proven that he’s capable of doing, it’s overcoming adversity on his roster. And on Saturday, his Irish used a late 20-4 run to turn a 60-50 deficit into a 70-64 lead in their 79-77 win over the Blue Devils.

Eric Atkins led the way for the Irish, finishing with 19 points and 11 assists while completely dominating the game on the offensive end of the floor. There really isn’t any other way to put it. He’s averaging 24.5 points and 9.0 assists in the two games without Grant.

He’s not alone, however. Pat Connaughton finished with 16 points — including a pair of momentum-changing dunks late in the second half — while Garrick Sherman chipped in with 14 points and eight boards, helping the Irish to control the paint against the smaller Blue Devils. Austin Burgett (five boards, five blocks) provided energy off the bench while Steve Vasturia (3-for-5 from three) came in and helped stretch the floor.

Put it all together, and what you get is Notre Dame’s biggest win of the season.

By far.

Remember, this is a team that lost to Indiana State and North Dakota State at home, that choked away an eight point lead in 51 seconds against Ohio State at the Garden. This is a team that had been written off as a contender in the ACC before the lost Grant for the year. But the Irish made a statement on Saturday afternoon. They’re not going to roll over and die just because a couple of pundits said they would.

This isn’t the first time that Brey has had to manufacture a turnaround. Remember when Luke Harangody injured his knee in 2010 and the Irish were forced to turn to the ‘Burn Offense’? That turned their season around, and they won their last six regular season games before making the NCAA tournament. Or what about in 2012, when Tim Abromaitis tore his ACL and the Irish still managed to win 13 Big East games?

Are the Irish really back?

Is this group actually going to be able to win against the best in the ACC once teams have a chance to scout and game-plan what they do without Grant?

Who knows.

But the bottom-line is that writing off the Irish — writing off Mike Brey — is never a good idea.

College Hoops Week in Review: Eric Atkins, Kentucky come through in big moments

Andrew Harrison
Leave a comment

source:

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Eric Atkins, Notre Dame

For Notre Dame, the last week as been about as rough as a week can be on a college basketball team. Let’s start with the obvious: leading scorer Jerian Grant, a redshirt senior that had been in the program for four years, left school for the second semester after dealing with an academic issue. That came a day after the Irish collapsed against No. 3 Ohio State, blowing an eight point lead in 51 seconds and missing out on a chance to land a marquee victory that would have helped nullify home losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State.

In their first game since their season changed, the Irish came out flat, missing 12 of their first 14 shots and digging themselves a big first half hole against a better-than-you-think Canisius team looking to land a big road win of their own. That’s when Eric Atkins took over, popping off for a career-high 30 points and leading the Irish to an overtime win that they simply had to get for their confidence and to protect a chance at earning themselves an at-large bid. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that a loss would have been a crushing blow for the Irish. But a win, especially a win where their senior point guard went into takeover mode, is a step in the right direction.

They were good, too:

  • Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Ennis finished with 20 points, a pair of assists and, once again, without a turnover as the Orange overcame a 25-7 deficit in a 16 point win against then-undefeated Villanova.
  • Deandre Kane, Iowa State: Kane averaged 17.0 points, 7.7 boards and 5.0 assists in their Diamond Head Classic title. More importantly, Kane, who entered the title game against Boise State 5-for-20 from three on the season, went 4-for-6 from beyond the arc.
  • Antoine Mason, Niagara: The nation’s leading scorer had a season-high 39 points in a 68-65 win over Brown.
  • Matt Stainbrook, Xavier: Stainbrook had 21 points and 10 boards in a win over Wake Forest in the Skip Prosser Classic. That came after going for 17 points and six boards in a win at Alabama.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kentucky Wildcats

source:  What is there to say about this Kentucky team that hasn’t already been said in the two days since they knocked off then-No. 6 Louisville in Rupp Arena, 73-66? Julius Randle was as dominant as could be in the first half, but when he went out with cramps in the second half, the Wildcats continued to control the game. The Harrison twins — specifically Andrew, the point guard — were terrific down the stretch. Alex Poythress made some of the hustle plays that Big Blue Nation has been waiting for him to make for a season and a half. And, most importantly, the Wildcats put together arguably the best 40 minutes of defense that they have put together this season.

Kentucky needed this. I don’t subscribe to the idea that there is no such thing as a must-win game in December, because this was a must-win game for the Wildcats. It has nothing to do with their resume or their NCAA tournament chances, rather they had to get this game because the pressure and scrutiny that they would have faced otherwise would have been overpowering. They needed tangible evidence that this wasn’t going to be a repeat of 2012-2013. They needed proof that they are getting better, getting closer to the national title contender that we all believed they wold be back in October. They got it.

They were good, too:

  • Iowa State: The Cyclones continue to roll along without a blemish on their record. This week, they went out to Hawaii and won the Diamond Head Classic.
  • Missouri: The Tiger’s big three of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross will be tough for opponents to matchup with all season long. On Saturday, they went into Raleigh and knocked off N.C. State in come-from-behind victory.
  • South Carolina: Frank Martin’s group got off to an ugly start this season, but a 3-1 week that included two wins over Akron and a win over St. Mary’s is a step in the right direction.
  • Syracuse: The Orange came from 18 point down to beat then-undefeated Villanova by 16. That’s quite a turnaround.

Eric Atkins comes up big in Notre Dame’s overtime victory over Canisius

atkins
1 Comment

With the announcement that leading scorer Jerian Grant was done for the season for academic reasons, it was clear that Notre Dame needed to figure out how they would account for the 19.0 points and 6.2 assists per game that the senior provided. Given Grant’s impact on both ends of the floor, this is not a situation in which the Fighting Irish simply “replace” him with one of their young bench players.

But in their tough 87-81 overtime victory over Canisius on Sunday afternoon, the way in which Notre Dame will account for that personnel loss was crystal clear.

Eric Atkins, who entered the game shooting just 39.8% from the field, played every second and accounted for a career-high 30 points (10-for-15 FG) and seven assists to lead the way for Notre Dame. He was joined in double figures by forwards Garrick Sherman (17 points, ten rebounds) and Zach Auguste (12 points, eight rebounds), and Notre Dame also received some valuable contributions from their newcomers.

Demetrius Jackson, who will be a key figure moving forward alongside Atkins and Pat Connaughton on the perimeter, V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia all provided valuable minutes against Canisius, with Billy Baron and company giving Notre Dame all it wanted and then some. That freshman trio may have combined for “just” 15 points, but if Notre Dame is to have any shot of getting to the NCAA tournament without Grant they’ll need to chip in.

On Sunday afternoon they did that, and as a result Notre Dame avoided what would have been a third home loss of the season with a game against No. 9 Duke next on the horizon.

But the most important development for Notre Dame moving forward is the play of Atkins, who was aggressive offensively in the team’s first game without Grant. With Grant on the floor Atkins attempted just six shots in Notre Dame’s stunning loss to No. 3 Ohio State last weekend, and it’s obvious that Mike Brey will need his point guard to be even more aggressive now that Grant’s gone.

Notre Dame’s done this before under Brey, with suspensions (Kyle McAlarney) and injuries (Scott Martin, Luke Harangody and Tim Abromaitis) simply resulting in the formation of a “new” team that still found a way to be successful. With those prior successes in mind, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to rule out Notre Dame this season.

New Year’s Resolutions: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Mike Brey
Leave a comment

Over the course of the holiday week, we at College Basketball Talk will be detailing what we believe will be the New Year’s Resolutions of some of the nation’s most talented, most disappointing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood.

Who else made Resolutions? Click here to find out.

WHAT DOES NOTRE DAME PROMISE TO DO MORE OF?: Expand their rotation.

  • Why it will happen: Mike Brey doesn’t really have a choice but to expand his rotation and give more minutes to Zach Auguste, Tom Knight, and Austin Burgett. With news breaking after Notre Dame’s game against Ohio State at Madison Square Garden that star guard Jerian Grant would no longer be with the program due to an academic issue, Brey has been put in a tough position. The Irish’s bench only accounts for 21.1% of the overall minutes to begin with, and taking Grant’s 35.6 mpg out of the picture makes matters worse. Brey no longer has the option to play with a small line-up like he favored. Auguste or Knight now will most likely move into the starting five.
  • Why it won’t happen: Unless Mike Brey tries to play basically his starting five with just one off the bench, this will happen. I still think Notre Dame has a chance to be decent in the ACC, but they are in a world of trouble as things currently stand. There were already flaws with this team; compound that with taking Grant out of the equation, and things look bleak. The onus falls on Zach Auguste and Tom Knight to really log quality minutes in the front-court — they have both been hot and cold this season.

WHAT DOES NOTRE DAME SWEAR THEY WILL DO LESS OF?: Settling for outside shots.

  • Why it will happen: With Grant no longer playing, Notre Dame will revert back to playing a more traditional three guard, two forward line-up, rather than going small with four guards and a forward. As such, expect Notre Dame to go inside more often and continue featuring Garrick Sherman, along with Auguste / Knight. For a team that shoots collectively 76% from the line, they should be attempting more than 21.5 FT per game. Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton have both taken more three-pointers than free throws. While they are both proficient from the perimeter, they cannot continue to settle for that shot.
  • Why it won’t happen: The last time Notre Dame got to the line at a high rate was during the 2010-11 season. That year, they boasted a front-court consisting of the dual-threat Tim Abromaitis, Tyrone Nash, and Scott Martin — Nash shot free throws at one of the highest rates in the country. The problem: Notre Dame simply doesn’t boast forwards of this caliber on this year’s team. It’s unrealistic to expect Atkins and Connaughton to all of a sudden become different players. Grant has shot the most free throws — far and away — this season. In his absence, it’s hard to see who will get to the charity stripe regularly.

Notre Dame chokes away eight-point lead in 58 seconds vs. No. 3 Ohio State

Notre Dame v Iowa
1 Comment

There is no questioning No. 3 Ohio State’s ability on the defensive end of the floor.

Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott may be the two best on-ball defenders in the country, and Sam Thompson isn’t too far behind them. The Buckeyes have played a fairly weak schedule, but it’s not a mistake or a statistical fluke that they currently sit as the best defensive team in the country, according to KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that, on a night where Ohio State was stymied by Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone, it was the Buckeye defense that came to the rescue.

The Irish had a 58-50 lead with 58 seconds left when Jerian Grant threw the ball away. It ended up being the first of three Notre Dame turnovers in the span of 18 seconds, two of which came against Ohio State’s stifling press and all three of which led to two points for the Buckeyes. After Demetrius Jackson gave Notre Dame a four point lead with two free throws, Pat Connaughton fouled Lenzelle Smith shooting a three. Smith hit all three free throws and followed that up with a lay-in to give OSU the lead after Steven Vasturia missed the front end of a one-and-one.

On the ensuing possession, Grant lost the ball off of his leg. After two Ohio State free throws, Grant was fouled but only hit one of the two free throws. All told, Grant had three turnovers and a missed free throw in the final minute. It was not his finest moment.

A game-tying three from Jackson bounced harmlessly off the rim, and Notre Dame left the Garden with a 64-61 loss.

And with that, Ohio State remained undefeated, although the Irish did well to expose the Buckeye’s biggest flaw. Thad Matta’s boys really struggled against Notre Dame’s 2-3 zone in the second half. They don’t have enough weapons on the offensive end of the floor. They don’t have enough creators, and when their best defensive lineup is on the court, there just isn’t enough perimeter shooting and no one to park in the middle of the zone.

Think about it like this: the Buckeyes have to have LaQuinton Ross on the court because he is their most dangerous scorer in the half court. But he’s painfully streaky and quite simply not a good on-ball defender. Notre Dame was outscoring Ohio State 32-17 at one point in the second half largely because they allowed whoever Ross was guarding to attack the rim.

There aren’t many teams that can field a lineup with four quality ball-handlers like Notre Dame can, so the Buckeyes should be able to hide Ross defensively on most night. When that’s the case, their defense is good enough to keep them in the game against anyone. But there are certain matchups — teams with four perimeter players, like Michigan, or Duke, or Wisconsin — that will give them some trouble.

As far as the Irish are concerned, this is just a crushing, devastating loss.

Teams don’t lose when they have an eight point lead with 58 seconds left on the clock. The Irish collapsed in a game that they really, really needed to win. Notre Dame has lost to Indiana State and North Dakota State at home this season, but those results would have been forgiven with a win over a top five team in the country at a neutral site.

It will be interesting to see where Notre Dame goes from here. They collapsed. They choked. There’s no other way to put it. The Irish played perfect basketball for 19 minutes in the second half before giving it all away. This is the kind of game that can destroy the confidence of a team.

Notre Dame gets Canisius next Sunday before hosting No. 8 Duke at home to kick off ACC play.

Notre Dame beats Stetson with ease

Fighting Irish's Brey holds his team back against Eagles during their NCAA men's college basketball game at the 2013 Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York
Leave a comment

Notre Dame had little problem disposing of Stetson on Sunday afternoon winning 80-49.

After struggling to put Miami (OH) away for much of their opening game on Friday night, a 74-62 win, the Irish left no doubt against Stetson today getting out to a 51-21 halftime advantage.

The starting Notre Dame backcourt was impressive as usual, despite not playing for much of the second half, as Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant, and Pat Connaughton combined for 33 points on 11-17 shooting from the field and 6-10 from 3PT.

The Irish have one of the top perimeter attacks in the country, and another weapon can officially be added to this attack in the form of freshman guard Demetrius Jackson.

Jackson was one of Notre Dame’s top recruits in their 2013 recruiting class, and he showed why against Stetson as he totaled nine points on 4-5 shooting, to go along with three assists and three rebounds in 18 minutes of action. If Jackson develops into a reliable player off the bench to spell Eric Atkins at point guard, Mike Brey’s offensive attack becomes that much more potent.

Notre Dame figures to be tested much more next Sunday as they host Indiana State out of the Missouri Valley, one of the top mid-major teams in the country.