The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were in the Big East for 18 years. The 2013-14 season will mark their first year in the ACC. Head coach Mike Brey brings in a talented and experienced Irish team that will be one of the best teams in their inaugural ACC season.
The Fighting Irish will rely most heavily on their version of a big three. Their big three consists of seniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant along with junior Pat Connaughton. The three have all been starters for the Irish the majority of the past three years and will be ready for any test the ACC brings.
Atkins and Grant are the leaders of this team and Notre Dame will go as far as these two seniors take them. Grant is a steady point guard who averaged 11.2 points per game and 5.5 rebounds last year in 38 minutes per game. His most important quality may be his ability to not turn the ball over. He averaged only 2.1 turnovers per game last year even with logging all those minutes. He is the steady force of this team who will need to look to score the ball a little more this year after double-double machine Jack Cooley graduated last year.
Grant is the team’s most talented player. He has a very good chance to be an All-ACC first team player this season. Last year he averaged 13.3 points per game to go along with 5.5 assists and was a second team All-Big east performer. He is an excellent playmaker at 6-foot-5, which is evident by his assist numbers. He can get to the basket whenever he wants because of his quickness and size. He struggled from the three-point line last season shooting only 34.4 percent. If he can improve upon that number, he is going to be one of the toughest matchups in the entire ACC.
Connaughton, who has started the majority of his games as an Irish, will round out the talented backcourt. He will be called upon to guard the other team’s most talented weakness because of his will and toughness, according to Brey. Last season he averaged 8.9 points per game and 4.7 rebounds. Brey says he wants Connaughton to be more aggressive on offense and that will be something to look for because if him, Atkins and Grant are all putting pressure on the defense, this team will be tough to handle.
To add to those three guys, Brey brought in what most people consider his best recruiting class of his career at Notre Dame. The class consists of Demetrius Jackson, V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia and Austin Torres. Jackson, a McDonalds All-American, is the gem of the class and will make a huge difference immediately for the Irish. The people over at Notre Dame’s SB Nation Site, One Foot Down, raved about him and what he has shown in the preseason. He will backup Atkins and bring energy and athleticism off the bench. He is extremely strong and loves to attack the basket. If Notre Dame ever comes out sluggish or needs a change of pace, Brey will have the luxury of entering Jackson into the lineup. As the freshman becomes more comfortable, he may see time alongside Grant and Atkins, which would be an explosive unit.
It seems Brey always has an experienced time and this one is no different. He returns four starters (the other being Tom Knight) from a 25-win team a year ago. They should have no problem being thrown into the ACC and having success. An experienced team and experienced coach always bodes well late in the college basketball season.
Notre Dame will finish in the top four of the ACC. They were picked fifth in the preseason, but I think they are better than Virginia, who was ranked fourth. Brey will lead this team to their fifth-straight NCAA tournament and eighth-straight 20-win season.