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.

Friday’s NCAA Tournament Recap: Irvine, Oregon, Liberty land upsets

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Caleb Homesley, Liberty

Homesley popped off for 30 points on Friday night, going 10-for-16 from the floor and 5-for-11 from three as he led the charge for the Flames in their upset of No. 5-seed Mississippi State. The most important sequence of the game, however, was when Homesly made the biggest impact. He scored 14 of his 30 minutes in a four-minute second half stretch that saw the Flames go on a 16-4 run and turn a 63-53 deficit into a 69-67 lead.

Not a bad way to get the first NCAA tournament win in the history of the program.

TEAM OF THE DAY: UC Irvine

The Anteaters were the one upset pick that we got right, so to reward them, we have named them the Team of the Day! Irvine got 19 points, six boards, four assists and four steals from Evan Leonard and 19 points from Max Hazzard as they held No. 4-seed Kansas State to 37.9 percent shooting and Barry Brown to one of his worst games of the season.

GAME OF THE DAY: Tennessee 77, Colgate 70

The weirdest game of the day happened in the South Region, as No. 15-seed Colgate lost their best player to pink eye, trailed by as many as 14 points and then made a furious push, banging home three after three after three, to take a 52-50 lead on Tennessee with 12 minutes left. Tennessee would eventually get three massive jumpers from an ice cold Admiral Scholfield to put the game away, but it was the roller coaster of all roller coasters.

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Lovell Cabbil, Liberty

The Flames hit a number of big shots in their upset of No. 5-seed Mississippi State on Friday night, but none was bigger than this shot that Cabbil hit with about a minute left. It put Liberty ahead, and the Flames would never relinquish the lead:

WTF OF THE DAY: Nahziah Carter, Washington

Nahziah Carter, Jay-Z’s nephew and a wing for the Washington Huskies, tried to throw down the best dunk in the history of dunks on Friday night. The shot-blocker here is Neemias Queta, a 6-foot-11 Portuguese monster with a shot of playing in the NBA:

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Iowa Hawkeyes

The Hawkeyes dug themselves a 13 point first half hole against Cincinnati after spending the final month of the season playing like they were tanking. This thing looked like it was going to get ugly, but it went the other way. The Hawkeyes caught fire in the second half and moved on to the second round where they will face off with No. 2-seed Tennessee.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Iowa State Cyclones

The Cyclones finally looked like a top 10 team when they ran through the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City. We thought it would last. Maybe we actually got on the bandwagon, just a little bit, and it all blew up in our face. The Cyclones lost to Ohio State in the first round on Friday night.

“But I wasn’t back on the bandwagon,” he said, sobbing, using his busted bracket as a tissue. “I wasn’t back on the bandwagon.”

THREE MORE THINGS TO KNOW

1. ALL THREE No. 1 SEEDS PLAYED BADLY

The ACC sent three No. 1 seeds to the NCAA tournament, and all three of them decided that they didn’t need to show up for the first half of their games on Friday. Virginia dug themselves a 14 point hold before beating Gardner-Webb by 15 points. Duke was trailing North Dakota State deep into the first half before losing by 23 points. North Carolina completed the trifecta, trailing 38-31 late in the first half before pulling away to win 88-73.

2. THE PAC-12 PICKED UP TWO IMPRESSIVE WINS

Arizona State got their tails kicked by Buffalo on Friday night, but the Pac-12 actually looked pretty good in the first round of the tournament. Washington absolutely smoked Utah State while Oregon, tied at the half with Wisconsin, ended up winning 72-54 and advancing to the second round of the tournament as a No. 12 seed.

3. JUSTIN ROBINSON IS BACK

The big news for Virginia Tech is that their star point guard Justin Robinson came back after missing 12 games, and while he wasn’t great, he did managed to score nine points and finish with a pair of turnovers, even if he turned the ball over four times. The Hokies won, 66-52.

Dominant first half pushes No. 4 Virginia Tech into second round

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East Region No. 4 Virginia Tech earned the program’s first NCAA tournament victory in 12 years Friday night, as it rode a dominant first half to a 66-52 win over No. 13 Saint Louis.

Buzz Williams’ team limited the Billikens to 18 first half points, taking a 22-point lead into the half as a result. The Hokies weren’t at their best offensively in the second half, but the work done in the first half was more than enough as Saint Louis could get no closer than nine points.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way for Virginia Tech with a game-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals, with Kerry Blackshear adding 15 points and Ahmed Hill ten. The Hokies shot just 41.7 percent from the field, but a 22-for-27 night from the foul line and a 12-point edge in points from the charity stripe made up for that.

Defensively the Hokies were outstanding in the first half, and would limit the Billikens to 37.3 percent shooting from the field and 4-for-23 from three. Travis Ford’s team, which erased halftime deficits in three of its four wins at last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament, outscored Virginia Tech 34-26 in the second half.

Javon Bess, who sparked the second half rally with some big shots, led three SLU players in double figures with 14 points, with D.J. Foreman adding 12 points and Tramaine Isabell Jr. 11.

Friday’s game also marked the return of Virginia Tech point guard Justin Robinson, who had not played since late January due to a foot injury. The senior finished the game with nine points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals, and while he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (2-for-7 from the field) Robinson’s presence will only help the Hokies as they look to play deep into the tournament.

Next up for Virginia Tech will be No. 12 Liberty, which upset No. 5 Mississippi State in the first game of the evening session in San Jose.

No. 11 Ohio State advances after landing upset of No. 6 Iowa State

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Chris Holtmann has been to five straight NCAA tournaments since he took over as the interim head coach at Butler during the 2014-15 season.

And after his No. 11-seed Ohio State Buckeyes outlasted No. 6-seed Iowa State, Holtmann can say that his streak remains intact: He has still never lost a game in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Kaleb Wesson scored 21 points and grabbed 11 boards, overpowering a smaller Iowa State team in the paint and carrying the Buckeyes back to the second round of the dance for the second straight season with a 62-59 win over the Cyclones. Wesson missed a front end of a one-and-one with 10 seconds left in the game, but Nick Weiler-Babb missed a wide-open three from about 23 feet that would have tied the game.

And with that, the Buckeyes will advance to take on No. 3-seed Houston for the right to play in the Sweet 16.

But the talking point coming out of this game isn’t going to be Ohio State vs. Houston, it’s going to about the future of the Iowa State head coaching position. Avery Johnson is negotiating a buyout with Alabama. Steve Prohm grew up in Georgia and is an Alabama alum. There is more than a little smoke surrounding his potential move to Tuscaloosa, and if that does happen, it opens the door for what was almost unthinkable a couple of months ago: A return to Ames for former Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg.

And that, in turn, has repercussions that will reverberate throughout the college coaching world. Because Hoiberg was fired by the Chicago Bulls earlier and has been heavily linked with a move to Nebraska to replace Tim Miles, who has not been fired or seen his season come to an end.

This will be fascinating to see get put into motion and where these coaches will land.

But what’s clear is that this process couldn’t start until Iowa State’s season came to an end.

Here we are.

No. 9 UCF beats No. 8 VCU, earns first-ever NCAA tournament win

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East Region No. 9 UCF made history Friday night, picking up the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory as it beat No. 8 VCU by a 73-58 final score. The reward for the Knights is a shot at top overall seed Duke Sunday night, with head coach Johnny Dawkins facing his mentor for the second time in his coaching career.

UCF grabbed control of Friday’s matchup with a 19-0 run that began in the first half, with VCU going nearly eight minutes without scoring a point. Mike Rhoades’ team rallied in the second half but could get no closer than nine points before the Knights put the game away.

B.J. Taylor led three double-digit scorers with 15 points, and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall was the difference-maker in the front court. In addition to scoring 13 points the senior big man also accounted for 18 rebounds and five blocked shots. In addition to the blocks there were shots that Fall altered, and even a couple forced turnovers in which VCU paid the price for making rushed decisions around the basket.

Aubrey Dawkins added 14 points, with Terrell Allen and Frank Bertz scoring nine apiece. With UCF’s win the 9-seeds were 4-0 in first round matchups in this year’s tournament, and three of the wins (UCF, Washington and Oklahoma) were by 15 points or more.

Malik Crowfield led the way for the Atlantic 10 regular season champions with 11 points and De’Riante Jenkins added ten, but VCU shot just 31.1 percent from the field and 6-for-26 from three on the night. UCF used multiple defenses throughout the night, going to a zone when Fall was on the floor and man-to-man when the center was on the bench. The Knights will use a similar formula Sunday in hopes that it will slow down Duke’s talented freshman scorers.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Sunday second round tip times, announcers

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All times Eastern

12:10 p.m.: South No. 10 Iowa vs. No. 2 Tennessee (Columbus; CBS); Brian Anderson/Chris Webber/Allie LaForce

Approx. 2:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 9 Washington vs. No. 1 North Carolina (Columbus; CBS); Anderson/Webber/LaForce

5:15 p.m.: East No. 9 UCF vs. No. 1 Duke (Columbia; CBS); Jim Nantz/Bill Raftery/Grant Hill/Tracy Wolfson

6:10 p.m.: West No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 3 Texas Tech (Tulsa; TNT); Brad Nessler/Steve Lavin/Jim Jackson/Evan Washburn

7:10 p.m.: East No. 12 Liberty vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (San Jose; TBS); Spero Dedes/Steve Smith/Len Elmore/Ros Gold-Onwude

Approx.: 7:45 p.m.: South No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Virginia (Columbia; truTV); Nantz/Raftery/Hill/Wolfson

Approx. 8:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 11 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Houston (Tulsa; TNT); Nessler/Lavin/Jackson/Washburn

Approx.: 9:40 p.m.: South No. 13 UC Irvine vs. No. 12 Oregon (San Jose; TBS); Dedes/Smith/Elmore/Gold-Onwude