Monday, January 6, 2014

season preview: Notre Dame (and a little more)

Media prediction: 5th of 15

Last season:

Record: 25-10 (11-7); Big East 6th seed
Postseason: NCAA 7 seed; lost in 1st round
KenPom: 37th of 347

Returning scoring: 47.9%
Returning rebounding: 46.9%
Returning assists: 52.5%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Eric Atkins (Sr.)
SG: Demetrius Jackson (Fr.)
SF: Pat Connaughton (Jr.)
PF: Zach Auguste (So.)
C: Garrick Sherman (Sr.)


F Austin Burgett (So.)
F Tom Knight (5Sr.)
G Steve Vasturia (Fr.)
F V.J. Beachem (Fr.)

Coach: Mike Brey (14th season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Boston College, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia
Once: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Maryland, Miami, NC State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Just when you think they're halfway dead and buried - thanks to the loss of their star player to academic issues - Notre Dame goes and beats Duke to open their ACC career.  That's the Domers for you.  Returning to glory since 1925, and sometimes actually even doing it.

The aforementioned academic casualty is leading scorer Jerian Grant, who was averging 19 ppg before he was forced out of school.  Grant is working on returning next season, but for now, the Irish have to make do without a player who could score from anywhere he liked, and with only nine scholarship players left on the roster, it's a thin group that's left to pick up the pieces.

The scoring burden now falls largely on the shoulders of three players.  The first is point guard Eric Atkins, who responded to the big-game pressure against Duke with 19 points and 11 assists.  A senior point guard can do a lot for an offense.  Even before Grant was lost, the Irish depended extremely heavily on Atkins; he averages over 36 minutes a game.  The backcourt is absurdly thin and ND doesn't have anyone else they trust at the point.  Fortunately, Atkins is a well-rounded and highly capable player.

The other two scorers are center Garrick Sherman and small forward Pat Connaughton.  Connaughton is an excellent three-point shooter, and Sherman is a big and somewhat rangy center.  These two, like Atkins, have good, well-rounded games for their positions, giving Notre Dame a versatile attack.

In the backcourt, the fourth starter is freshman Demetrius Jackson, a decent secondary scorer who opens up just enough space for the primary options to be effective.  Without Grant, however, Mike Brey has chosen to go big in the starting lineup, trying out senior Tom Knight and sophomore Zach Auguste, both standing 6'10" to complement the 6'11" Sherman.  Auguste appears to be the more effective player; his rebounding and shooting percentages are both higher, and Knight saw only six minutes of action against Duke.  Brey will also bring 6'9" forward Austin Burgett off the bench and toss a few minutes the way of freshman V.J. Beachem, too.  If you count Connaughton in the frontcourt, that makes six forwards out of the nine scholarship players on the roster.

The ninth is lightly-used freshman Steve Vasturia, whose role is mainly limited to off-the-bench threes.  Neither he nor Beachem see a great deal of time, but Vasturia's role greatly increased in the wake of Grant's departure; he played 22 minutes in each of Notre Dame's last two games.  Brey has no choice, lest Atkins and Jackson be forced to play every minute the rest of the season.

Even with Grant, the Irish have had their ups and downs.  A blowout loss to Indiana State is a low point, as is another loss to North Dakota State.  But the Irish also played Ohio State very tough and, of course, knocked off Duke.  Their versatile scoring and senior point guard and center make them a dangerous team that's difficult to defend.  Their own defense can leave them at times, though.  And they run the risk of wearing their scorers down as the season goes on.

Without much in the way of a signature win outside the conference - Indiana's the best they got - Notre Dame will likely also spend much of the season on the bubble.  I think, given the offensive talent they have, that they'll end up on the right side of it when all's said and done, but it's not a given.  With Grant they'd be a 90% shot to make the tourney; they're still better than 50/50, but without much margin for error either.


So I got the chance this weekend to soak in a little hoops, both current and old.  The stink of the Tennessee game, I'd say was not fully removed by the Florida State win.  Road win, yes, very nice.  The ol' RPI loves that.  Lord knows we need it, and getting off on the right foot is a must.

FSU, however, was uncharacteristically (for a Leonard Hamilton team) sloppy and unfocused.  Mentally the Seminoles were somewhere in Mongolia.  They only finished with 16 turnovers, but most came in the first half to let UVA grab a big lead.  UVA also laid another suck-egg at the free throw line.  Pretty soon teams are going to incorporate hack-an-Ak into their strategy.

UVA should've blown FSU out of the water, mainly by hitting more free throws, but then, they also shouldn't have been blown out by Tennessee, either.  Should've lost, yes, but shooting 11-for-18 on threes is not repeatable by most opponents.  The pack-line is going to give up that many attempts naturally; if Missouri State had seen a shot or two fall, we might be lamenting that game too.  It's just that the defense, designed to take its chances with opposing three-point shooters, sometimes gets burned.

Despite the 82 points given up in Knoxville, seeing a more consistent offensive effort remains the focus of this team.  Other than offensive rebounding (weird for a TB team) they really don't do anything particularly well on offense.  Too many turnovers, cruddy free-throw shooting, and too low of a three-point percentage too.

Final note: ESPN has got some evil production crew people.  You just know the reason we got like seven slo-mo replays of Evan Nolte's finger dislocation and a long, hopeful look at the pop-it-back-in procedure was because poor Doris Burke made it clear she didn't want to see it.  Smart lady, that Doris Burke, but she walked us all right into that one.

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