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.

Arizona PF Ira Lee cited for DUI

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Tuesday afternoon it was announced that Arizona sophomore power forward Ira Lee was been cited for driving under the influence on Saturday.

Lee was ultimately released, and according to the Arizona Daily Star he faces misdemeanor charges for failing to yield at an intersection, driving under the influence as a minor (Lee is 20 years old) and extreme DUI involving a blood-alcohol content above .20. Lee is set to be arraigned on September 10.

In a release the Arizona basketball program announced that the incident has been referred to the Dean of Students for review and “the Athletics Department is reviewing the incident for team consequences.”

As a freshman Lee served as a reserve behind starters Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic in the Arizona front court, averaging 2.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.2 minutes per game. With Ayton and Ristic both off to the professional ranks, Lee is expected to be a key contributor in an Arizona front court that includes transfers Chase Jeter (Duke; sat out last season) and Ryan Luther (Pittsburgh), sophomore Emmanuel Akot and freshman Omar Thielemans.

Loyola celebrity nun Sister Jean celebrating 99th birthday

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CHICAGO (AP) — Sister Jean is celebrating her 99th birthday months after gaining national attention as chaplain of the Loyola-Chicago basketball team that reached the NCAA Final Four.

The university held a campus party with students and school staffers Tuesday for Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt. The Catholic nun became a celebrity last March for her fandom and for praying before each game for her Ramblers — and for their opponents.

Schmidt says her health is better some days than others as she’s been recovering since last year from a broken hip. She received a number 99 basketball jersey and a birthday cake frosted in the team’s maroon and gold colors.

Players say they’re still inspired by her example.

Ramblers guard Marques Townes describes her simply as “Genuine, sincere, passionate, loving, caring, sweetheart.”

NC State PG Blake Harris granted immediate eligibility

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When former Missouri point guard Blake Harris transferred to NC State in January, the expectation was that he would not be eligible to compete until the end of the fall semester. However that will not be the case, as Tuesday afternoon NC State announced that Harris has been granted immediate eligibility.

Harris started nine of the 14 games in which he played at Missouri, averaging 3.8 points and 3.1 assists in just under 14 minutes per game. The addition of the former 4-star prospect gives NC State head coach Kevin Keatts additional depth and talent at the point, which is key given the up-tempo, pressure style the Wolfpack generally play.

In addition to Harris, NC State will also be able to call upon sophomore Braxton Beverly and junior Markel Johnson, with those two being part of a team that won 21 games and reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015 last season.

In total NC State will have three transfers from Division I schools eligible to compete in 2018-19, with guards Devon Daniels (Utah) and C.J. Bryce (UNCW) ready to go after sitting out last season.

One player who will not be available for the Wolfpack this season is forward Manny Bates, with it being announced that he will redshirt after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder. Bates, a 6-foot-11 forward from Fayetteville, North Carolina, dislocated the shoulder in early August.

The NC State front court will be led by newcomers, with grad transfer Wyatt Walker (Samford) and junior college transfer Derek Funderburk among the options.

Xavier lands commitment from four-star big man

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Xavier picked up their third commitment in the Class of 2019, adding an under-the-radar prospect in Zach Freemantle, a 6-foot-9 forward out of New Jersey.

Freemantle currently ranks 129th in 247 Sports composite ranking, but will likely move up after a strong July landed him a handful of high-major offers.

He’ll join Elias King and Daniel Ramsey, two more four-star prospects, in Travis Steele’s first real recruiting class for the Musketeers.

VIDEO: You need to see this Zion Williamson mixtape

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Zion Williamson made waves across the internet over the weekend as we got our first chance to get a glimpse of college basketball’s resident Viral King in Duke’s exhibition trip up to Canada.

So with that in mind, let’s go back and look at Williamson’s mixtape from his senior season of high school. I’ve never seen someone make in-game windmills and between-the-legs dunks look so commonplace.