Top 25 Countdown: No. 23 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 22-12, 13-5 Big East (3rd); Lost to Xavier in the Opening Round of the NCAA tournament

Head Coach: Mike Brey

Key Losses: Tim Abromaitis, Alex Dragocevich

Newcomers: Garrick Sherman, Cameron Biedschied, Zach Auguste, Eric Katenda, Austin Burgett

Projected Lineup:

G: Eric Atkins, So.
G: Jerian Grant, Jr.
F: Pat Connaughton, So.
F: Scott Martin, Sr.
C: Jack Cooley, Sr.
Bench: Garrick Sherman, Jr.; Cameron Biedschied, Fr.; Zach Auguste, Fr.; Austin Burgett, Fr.; Joey Brooks, Sr.

Outlook: The key losses section of this preview is deceiving. Yes, Tim Abromaitis played for the Irish last season, and no, he’s no longer with the program. But in all actuality, Abro — a first-team all-Big East caliber forward — had zero effect on the Irish finishing third in the Big East last season. In fact, Notre Dame went 0-2 with him in the lineup last year — a 29 point drubbing at the hands of Missouri that was followed up the next night with a loss to Georgia. Abro tore his ACL in a practice following that second loss, an injury that ended his career and, according to most pundits, ended any hope of the Irish being at all competitive.

But as the season progressed, the Irish only got better. Starting with a double-overtime win over Louisville in January, Notre Dame ended the season winning 12 of their last 16 Big East games, which included a victory over then-undefeated and No. 1 ranked Syracuse that sparked a nine-game winning streak. The ‘Burn Offense’ that Brey had made famous the previous two years was back in full force, and while the Irish probably have enough talent on their roster to play a different style, I’d expect the Burn to once again be in full effect this season.

Why?

Because Notre Dame’s lineup is perfect for it.

Last season, I went into detail on how the Burn Offense works, but I’ll give a quick summation here: Brey, essentially, wants his team to drain the shot clock on every possession, getting the ball into the hands of a play-maker with 10 or 12 seconds left in the possession. Then he spreads the floor with shooters and runs a high-ball screen, allowing his guards to use their natural ability to create a good shot, be it for themselves or by finding a teammate for an open look.

Brey has two terrific options in his back court to take on that role of play-maker in juniors Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins. Combined, the two averaged 24.4 points, 9.1 assists and just 4.1 turnovers last season, numbers that are more impressive when you consider the fact that the Irish were one of the 20 slowest teams in the country, according to Kenpom. It’s reasonable to expect those two to improve on those numbers this season. Last year was Atkins’ first in the role of starting point guard, while Grant is technically a redshirt sophomore. He sat out his first season in South Bend with a foot injury, but Notre Dame lists their athletes based on academic year, not athletic eligibility.

At the forward spots, Brey has a pair of versatile players capable of spreading the floor in Patrick Connaughton and Scott Martin. Connaughton, a sophomore, went through some shooting slumps as a freshman, but had a few games throughout the year that showcased what he can do when he gets hot. Ask Villanova, who watched him hit seven threes in an overtime loss to the Irish. He’ll need to be more consistent, but the ability is there. Martin wasn’t even supposed to be on the team this year, but thanks to back-to-back redshirt seasons — after he sat out a season transferring from Purdue, Martin tore his ACL — he was granted a sixth-year of eligibility by the NCAA. He had his worst year shooting the ball in 2011-2012, but the lefty is always a threat to score on the perimeter.

Even if Martin doesn’t improve much this season, his return was important because it bought Brey a year where he could have his quartet of freshmen forwards learn from the veteran Martin. Austin Burgett and Eric Katenda are face-up four men who can step out and stroke the ball from three. Katenda is still battling an eye injury, however, and won’t be eligible to play until January if he doesn’t redshirt. Burgett needs to spend a season in the weight room. Zach Auguste is a lanky and athletic low-post presence with a very high ceiling but a long way to go until he turns that potential into production. Cameron Biedscheid may be the freshman that sees the most playing this season, as he’s more of a wing and would be able to spell Connaughton on nights when the sophomore’s shot isn’t dropping.

Ironically, I’ve made it this far into the Notre Dame preview without mentioning arguably their most important player in big man Jack Cooley. There are a number of reasons that Luke Harangody’s doppelganger is incredibly valuable to Brey: for starters, he’s an excellent rebounder — especially on the offensive end of the floor — that gets a lot of easy buckets off of missed shots. He’s also the only reliable low-post presence on the roster. But, more than anything, Cooley is an excellent screener simply because he’s massive. He’s listed at 6-foot-9, 246 pounds, but that number seems low when you walk by him. With the frequency that Notre Dame utilizes screen-and-rolls, that’s a major factor for this team.

It’s also worth mentioning the addition of Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman. He didn’t put up huge number under Tom Izzo — 3.1 points and 2.6 boards — but spending two years in the Michigan State system should allow him to bring a measure of toughness and physicality that Notre Dame needs.

Predictions?: Mike Brey is one of the most underrated coaches in the country, and he has a team with quite a bit of talent that fits very well into the system he wants to run. They are also experienced; this group basically returns their entire rotation from the team that finished third in the Big East last season. Louisville is the best team in the Big East, and, for my money, Syracuse is the second best. But Notre Dame is not far off the pace.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Kansas State’s Dean Wade out indefinitely with foot injury

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Kansas State senior and preseason all-american Dean Wade is out indefinitely due to the injury that he suffered in Saturday’s win over Georgia State.

Wade went down in the second half grabbing his right foot. He later was seen walking on crutches. Wade missed the majority of last year’s run to the Elite Eight due to a stress fracture in his left foot.

“Obviously I’m disappointed for Dean and his family,” coach Bruce Weber said in a statement that was released by the school on Sunday evening. “He has worked hard to get back from his injury from last season to have a great start to his senior year. I know that he will work equally hard to rehab and come back strong.”

No specifics on the kind of injury or the timetable for Wade’s return were given. Through nine games, Wade was averaging 13.6 points, 7.8 rebound and 3.2 assists this season. Kansas State entered this week ranked No. 25 in the AP Poll. They are 7-2 on the season.

When he was out last year, Weber opted to play a lineup with four guards, starting Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes, Cartier Diarra and Xavier Sneed alongside Makol Mawien.

Saturday’s Things To Know: Huge wins for UNC, Kansas, Indiana

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Juwan Morgan, Indiana

Juwan Morgan really loves playing at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

A year after setting his career-high by scoring 34 points in a win over Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic, Morgan broke that record by dropping 35 points as No. 25 Indiana won their fourth-straight one-possession game, picking off Butler, 71-68.

Rob Phinisee is going to be the guy that makes all of the highlight reels after this game — we’ll get to that in a minute — but Morgan was the hero for Indiana. They’re no where near a position to be able to win this game at the buzzer if Morgan doesn’t keep this thing close. Butler controlled the game for 35 minutes. They led by as many as 11 points. They were up by two or three possessions for the majority of the second half, but Morgan did just enough to keep Indiana connected.

Butler was never able to pull away, and in the end, that is what cost them the game.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Belmont Bruins

The Bruins of Nashville paid a visit to the Bruins of Westwood and left with a 74-72 victory. They did this despite trailing by 12 points in the second half and while their star forward Dylan Windler spent much of the afternoon struggling with the length and athleticism of UCLA’s frontline. And given what we know about this UCLA program, it should surprise exactly no one that the Bruins lost this game because they got beat on a backdoor cut.

This was another in a long line of bad losses for the Pac-12 this season. While Washington was smoked by No. 13 Virginia Tech and Utah was embarrassed by No. 19 Kentucky, the good news here is that the weekend wasn’t a total loss. No. 20 Arizona State found a way to beat Georgia after trailing by 14 while Stanford overcame a big first half deficit against Eastern Washington in Palo Alto.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Robert Phinisee, Indiana

Also known as the new Big Shot Bob:

SATURDAY’S BIGGEST WINNERS

NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels picked up a massive win over No. 4 Gonzaga, a win that this program really needed after a disappointing run through the non-conference portion of their schedule. We spent quite a bit of time on that game already today, so read that here.

KENTUCKY: The Wildcats looked like they had a point to prove on Saturday. After seeing one of their teammates transfer out of the program and after dealing with a week where everyone was talking about why this group was so overrated, whether or not John Calipari can still win with the one-and-done model and if Kentucky has lost their edge, the Wildcats came out and whipped up on poor Utah, their first impressive performance of the season. They won 88-61, and it will be interesting to see where this team goes from here.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs landed a really important home win over Cincinnati, 70-59, in one of their only relevant non-conference games this season. Mississippi State is now 9-1 on the season — tied for the best record in the SEC — but this may be their best win to date, depending on how you feel about victories over St. Mary’s, at Dayton and Clemson. If Ben Howland is going to get this group to the NCAA tournament, this was a game he needed.

SATURDAY’S BIGGEST LOSERS

BUTLER: In a game they really, really needed to win, Butler dominated Indiana for 35 minutes, held Romeo Langford in check and blew up Indiana’s last-second play … before watching Phinisee’s game-winner go in. The Bulldogs are now 7-3 on the season with losses to Indiana, Saint Louis and Dayton. In a Big East where there may not actually be a good win available, this is a bad spot to be in. A trip to Florida on Dec. 29th is suddenly a critical game.

GEORGIA: Tom Crean is not going to be happy about the way that this one ended. The Bulldogs led by as many as 18 points in the first half against No. 20 Arizona State and still somehow managed to find a way to lose, 76-74, at home despite Arizona State’s late-game execution being horrendous.

UAB: UAB had a chance to get a signature win on Saturday evening, and they couldn’t put it away. Jared Harper scored 23 of No. 8 Auburn’s last 30 points as the Tigers outlasted UAB in overtime, 75-71. This could have been a season-defining win for the Blazers. Now it is a warning for Bruce Pearl’s team that they cannot expect to sleepwalk through the season and win the games they want to win.

SYRACUSE: We thought the Orange had gotten things figured out after landing a come-from-behind win over Georgetown last Saturday, but it turns out we were wrong. The Orange let B.J. Stith score all 18 of his points in the second half as they lost to Old Dominion in the Carrier Dome, 68-62. The Orange are now 7-3 on the season with losses to ODU, UConn and Oregon. Not good.

FINAL THOUGHT

There are nine teams that are still undefeated this season.

Some of them are simply a product of scheduling (Houston, St. John’s) while some of them are good mid-majors that went out and won a buy game or two (Buffalo, Furman). There are a couple of true national title contenders that remain unblemished (Virginia, Michigan) and a third (Texas Tech) that is more dangerous this season than anyone realizes.

And then there is Kansas, and there is Nevada.

I cannot figure out either of these teams.

We’ve been over the issues that are plaguing Kansas this season. I wrote 1,000 words on them right here. No Udoka Azubuike is forcing Dedric Lawson to play in a position that is not his best when Kansas doesn’t actually have a player to fill the ideal role for Lawson, and all of that is happening as Quentin Grimes is struggling to find his footing and the rest of the Kansas perimeter attack is … well, it’s just Lagerald Vick.

The Jayhawks have not looked dominant for a full 40 minutes yet this season — they struggle to put together an entire half — and they could have three or four losses at this point in the year.

But they’re 9-0.

Is this a good thing (good teams win when they play bad, and Kansas will figure it out) or is this something that we should be very, very worried about (at some point, this is going to catch up with them).

And then there is Nevada, who has trailed at the half in three of their last four games after turning a 40-33 halftime deficit into a 72-68 win over South Dakota State. They haven’t really beaten anyone that matters — winning at Loyola and at USC isn’t impressive, although the win over Arizona State in LA will carry some weight on Selection Sunday — and we might not see them play an NCAA tournament team again until the NCAA tournament.

But there is also something to be said for a team full of veterans struggling to get up for the dregs of non-conference play when classes are done and they’re just thinking about holiday break.

So we’ll see what happens with both of these teams, but even their most avid supporters should admit that their team isn’t playing great right now.

No. 8 Auburn outlasts UAB 75-71 in overtime

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Jared Harper scored 23 of Auburn’s last 30 points and finished with 31 to help the No. 8 Tigers outlast UAB 75-71 in overtime Saturday night in the Mike Slive Invitational.

In front of a crowd of 15,856, the budding in-state rivals raced to the overtime finish via the 3-point arc. After Harper scored 12 of the Tigers’ last 15, UAB’s Jeremiah Bell hit a pair of triples in the final 40 seconds, including a contested shot with 10 seconds left to send the contest to overtime. Bell finished with 13 points. Guard Jalen Perry led the Blazers (6-4) with 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

Chuma Okeke added 11 points for Auburn (9-1).

Harper took over in the overtime period, scoring or assisting on 25 of Auburn’s final 32 points. That streak began midway through the second half when Harper converted on a coast-to-coast lay-in. The basket tied the game after UAB led by as many as seven in the half.

“We’ve got Jared Harper and they don’t,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “That happens a lot of the time against a lot of people. We have him and they don’t.”

BIG PICTURE

UAB

Saturday marked the 21st meeting in the series since UAB began playing basketball 40 years ago. Auburn leads 11-10. Pearl said postgame that the teams are in talks about possibly renewing a contract to play yearly.

AUBURN

Forward Danjel Purifoy played in his first game since March 8, 2017, after sitting out all last season due to eligibility concerns. After serving a nine-game suspension this year, he scored two points and had one rebound in seven minutes.

No. 18 Mississippi State beats Cincinnati 70-59

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STARKVILLE, Miss. — Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters scored 14 points each, Reggie Perry and Tyson Carter both added 12, and No. 18 Mississippi State beat Cincinnati 70-59 on Saturday night.

Mississippi State (9-1) used a 7-0 run midway through the second half — holding the Bearcats scoreless for more than four minutes — to break a tie game and take a 52-45 lead.

The Bulldogs were able to keep a fairly comfortable advantage the rest of the way. Mississippi State shot 12 of 23 (52 percent) from 3-point range. Peters added nine assists.

Perry came off the bench to score 10 points in the first half, giving Mississippi State some much-needed offense after starting forward Abdul Ado picked up two quick fouls. The 6-foot-10 freshman was a McDonald’s All-American and has quickly earned an increased role with his ability to score both inside and outside.

Mississippi State hit 7 of 12 3-pointers in the first half to take a 37-32 halftime lead.

Cincinnati (9-2) had its nine-game winning streak snapped. The Bearcats never looked comfortable offensively and shot just 37 percent from the field.

Jarron Cumberland led Cincinnati with 21 points. Keith Williams added 15.

BIG PICTURE

Cincinnati: The Bearcats had some good moments but couldn’t generate much offense when they needed it during the final 10 minutes. They scored 27 points in the second half.

Mississippi State: It’s another quality win for the Bulldogs, who have won six straight. Perry’s continued development is a big plus for Mississippi State. Peters continues to play very well with his combination of scoring and floor vision.

No. 13 Virginia Tech holds off Washington 73-61

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Nikell Alexander-Walker scored 24 points to lead No. 13 Virginia Tech to a 73-61 victory over Washington on Saturday night in the Air Force Reserve Boardwalk Classic.

Justin Thomas, Kerry Blackshear and Ahmed Hill each added 10 points for the Hokies (9-1), who won their fourth straight. They led by 18 points at halftime.

Matisse Thybulle scored 16 points to lead Washington (7-4), which pulled within seven points with nine minutes left but couldn’t get any closer. David Crisp scored 12 points, and Naz Carter had 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds.

The Huskies (7-4) pulled within seven points with nine minutes left in regulation but couldn’t sustain the comeback.

Virginia Tech shot 42.9 percent from the field and a swarming defense limited Washington to 35.6 percent while forcing 15 turnovers.