The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are the latest team to be featured in our series of ACC Basketball previews to help get you ready for the 2014-15 season.
We’re going in alphabetical order through every team in the new-look ACC, but we’ll be excluding Duke – seeing as how the Blue Devils already receive a fair amount of coverage on this site.
If you’ve missed any of our previous previews, I encourage you to check them out to get an idea of the landscape around the ACC. We’ve already covered Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, N.C. State and North Carolina.
The Irish are looking to bounce back after a disappointing first year in the league. Let’s see if there’s reason for optimism.
2013-14 Record: Overall – 15-17 | ACC – 6-12 (13th Place)
Games against Duke this season: Wednesday, January 28 at Notre Dame & Saturday, February 7 at Duke
Aside from Boston College, a strong case could be made for Notre Dame being the most disappointing team in the ACC last year.
The Fighting Irish were hoping to make a splash in their first season in the ACC and appeared to have a backcourt that would lead them to success, but it wasn’t the case.
This team looked shaky in the early part of the nonconference schedule and was exposed in home losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State, but the wheels fell off when Jerian Grant was suspended due to academic violations. Grant was the team’s best scorer and most explosive, experienced playmaker and his loss was a major problem for Mike Brey.
In looking back at Duke last season, I think the 79-77 loss to the Fighting Irish in South Bend was the most disappointing loss of the season for the Blue Devils. The NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer was certainly more impactful, but that was against a veteran squad that presented matchup problems for Duke. The Blue Devils had no business losing to this Notre Dame team. At all.
Key Players: Jerian Grant, Demetrius Jackson, Pat Connaughton
Jerian Grant returns to the Irish this season and will try to make up for lost time after missing the majority of last year because of a suspension. He’s a versatile guard with good size who can create his own shot and handle the ball, and he’ll need to play at an All-ACC First Team type level in order for Notre Dame to be successful.
Demetrius Jackson is a hometown kid and former McDonald’s All-American that is the type of recruit Mike Brey doesn’t typically have at Notre Dame. He struggled in conference play last season but will be expected to take on a bigger role now that point guard Eric Atkins has graduated.
Pat Connaughton has the potential to be the best three-point shooter in the ACC this season, and he’s the type of long-range perimeter threat that makes the Fighting Irish offense effective. He played 37.2 minutes per game last year, which was third in the league, but still managed to shoot nearly 38% from beyond the arc. Connaughton is a shooter who will be able to keep the Irish within striking distance against most teams.
X-Factor: Zach Auguste
Zach Auguste has had to wait for his time to make an impact in the paint for Notre Dame. Jack Cooley was the star during Auguste’s freshman season and last year was about Garrick Sherman, a fifth-year senior.
Now it’s time for the 6’10”, 240-pound junior forward to take on a bigger role. He’s battled injuries during his first two years with the program, but this will be his best opportunity to establish himself as a legitimate presence in Mike Brey’s frontcourt.
Does anyone else think Notre Dame is a program trending in the wrong direction?
Last season was just the second time in the past eight seasons that Mike Brey has failed to take the Fighting Irish to the NCAA Tournament, but I get the impression this is a program that has reached a plateau.
With three upperclassmen in Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton and Zach Auguste, this is an experienced group that should be able to contend for a spot in the upper half in the ACC standings. I’m just not sure they have a coach who can guide them there.
Also, aside from a December 3 game at home against Michigan State, the Irish have a fairly laughable nonconference schedule. I look forward to seeing how home games against Coppin State, Grambling State, Chicago State and Fairleigh Dickinson prepare Notre Dame for road trips to Cameron Indoor Stadium and Louisville. #goacc