A tip o' the cap to our wee friends at One Foot Down. SHILLELAGH!
The 2012-13 Irish seemed like another defensive-minded, scrappy bunch. Aside from bowing out of the NCAAs to Iowa State, how does your fan base feel about last year's results?
Last year's team was opportunistic defensively, and certainly improved as the year wore on. They finished 122nd in defensive shooting percentage and 87th in overall scoring defense last year without any real ability to pressure the ball or a traditional shot blocking big man. Brey does a good job mixing man and zone, and they played very good team defense without any individual stat or player that jumps out at you. I think they got the scrappy moniker from the televised marathon duel with Louisville. A game like that shows the heart of a squad like ND, and did all of us proud.
As for the fan base, it is largely divided. You have old guys, like me, who remember the times where NCAA bids were nothing but a dream. We're thrilled with any year that sniffs the top 25 and a low-stress selection Sunday, and Brey delivered that again last year. Last year's team finished tied for 5th in the deepest league in the country, and made a run to the Big East semi's. However, flaming out in such spectacular fashion v. ISU takes a lot of the shine off that accomplishment. The other side of the fan base is growing weary of a team that seems to play beautiful basketball in January, only to fade in March.
What's the biggest piece you've lost since last season?
The Jack Cooley double-double machine has left the building. Cooley averaged 13/10 in 30 minutes per game in 2012-2013, and his inside presence will be sorely missed. Cooley brought a lot of that toughness and scrappiness that fueled the Irish last season. It was fantastic to have a guy on the block you knew you could throw it in to and get a consistent performance night after night. This year's front line has some big shoes to fill as Cooley takes his game to Turkey.
Who is the player who needs to step up the most this year?
Jerian Grant. Jerian played well enough last year to be known as far more than just Harvey Grant's son. The Notre Dame guard averaged 13ppg while handing out 5.5 assists per game. His microwave performance at the end of regulation in the Louisville game snached overtime out of what was looking like an 8 point loss. He has 3 point range, but needs to improve on his 35% career shooting from behind the arc. He shot ND out of a few games last year, and has a tendency to get a little loose with the ball from time to time; averaging nearly 3 turnovers per game.
Grant is an electric athlete, and the ultimate "x-factor" on the season. His roommate, senior PG Eric Atkins, is the steady force and unquestioned leader of the Irish, but success will largely hinge on Grant's ability to bring consistency to go with his tremendous talent.
Who is the player UVa fans ought to look out for the most?
The same one we're all looking out for, freshman guard Demetrius Jackson. Arguably the biggest recruit since Chris Thomas, Jackson comes to Notre Dame fresh off the McDonalds All America circuit, and as the 24th rated recruit in the ESPN top 100. Jackson adds depth and youthful exuberance to a veteran backcourt. Mike Brey hasn't had a lot of depth at the PG position, and Jackson's ability to play the 1 or the 2 will help early and often this season. Moreover, Jackson loves to get up and pressure the ball. ND has traditionally been a very compact defensive team, but with Jackson giving the starting backcourt some depth and crazy athleticism, look for ND to get up and pressure the ball much more this season. We're hearing reports from early practices that this freshman is the real deal.
What's your outlook for the season? What's a success, what's a failure, and what's something you can live with
We have an author in our football Q&A's who likes to give a best, worst, and most likely set of scenarios, so with a shout out to pburns, here's what I've got...
Zach Auguste's wrist heals quickly, and he develops into a beast rebounder and defensive presence inside. Tom Knight plays a steady workman role, and Garrick Sherman flourishes against a less physically imposing schedule. The backcourt rotation is all we wished for, and Grant plays like an all-ACC first teamer. We finish a solid 3rd in the standings and make a run in to the ACC finals, pick up a 3'ish seed and this is finally the year we use our depth and experience to make a Final Four run.
Auguste is rusty coming off the broken wrist. Sherman is who we thought he was and Knight looks slow against ACC competition. We do ok at home and versus the bottom 4 of the conference, but end up taking a 8 or 9 seed in to Greensboro and don't even sniff the weekend, making for a stressful Selection Sunday.
Most Likely Case:
The team gels well and transitions nicely to the new league. The less physical style suits the roster and while Brey occasionally struggles with rotation, enough depth emerges to fight for a top 4 finish in the league and we play well enough to make some noise in Greensboro. A five seed puts us in a dreaded 5/12 game in March and half the fan base stays hopeful, while the other half thinks, "Here we go again."
Any way you look at it, it'll be a fun ride.