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ACC Basketball Preview #13 - Notre Dame

Put last year aside. The Irish will be a factor this season.

Former Duke assistant and current Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey wins the Jack Nicholson Impression Award hands down.
Former Duke assistant and current Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey wins the Jack Nicholson Impression Award hands down.
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

When Mike Brey was hired at Notre Dame in 2000, someone - we think it was Skip Bayless but time is merciless - printed an absolute tirade.

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Notre Dame was giving up on basketball, he said, and hiring Brey - Mr. Vanilla - was the equivalent of a white flag.

It was wrong then and it's wrong now. Brey has done a really solid job at Notre Dame. He's 300-159 at Notre Dame and he's had just four seasons with less than 20 wins. Three of those came in the Big East which, like the ACC, was hypercompetitive. Given Notre Dame's high academic standards and it's even more impressive.

Last year was one of the down years- his first losing season ever at Notre Dame - and it was directly tied to the absence of 6-5 Jerian Grant.

Grant was dismissed due to an academic issue. He played against #3 Ohio State on Dec. 21st and Notre Dame lost by three,  64-61.

A few days later, without Grant and his 19 ppg, Canisius took Notre Dame to overtime.

The Irish rallied to upset Duke, but after that things went downhill. Notre Dame lost six of its next seven games and never recovered.

Among the losses: State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

To his credit, Grant returned to Notre Dame to make things as right as possible. He'll be welcomed back by 6-9 Pat Connaughton, who had a nice summer job pitching with the Orioles farm system.

Zach Auguste is back too. The 6-10 junior is

Eric Katenda also returns, but the 6-9 Frenchman didn't contribute a lot last year and is blind in his left eye. Expectations can't be too high.

Fellow junior Austin Burgett was trusted with minutes - 14.8 minutes a game - but his contributions weren't statistical. Burgett, 6-9, shot just .426 from the floor and averaged 3 ppg.

Local product Demetrius Jackson (6-1) is also back after a somewhat disappointing freshman year. A highly regarded prospect, he may be primed for a big year.

V.J. Beachem, 6-8/200, is skinny but athletic. He could develop into a very useful player, but he wasn't there as a freshman. Twenty new pounds of muscle should help.

Steve Vasturia, a 6-5 shooting guard, is a classic Brey sort of player. He's not enormously athletic but he is skilled and a better athlete than people might think. As a senior, maybe sooner, he should be a really dangerous player. Brey likes him: he played more as a freshman than did Jackson, largely because he's an excellent defender.

Austin Torres sat out last year with a knee problem. We wouldn't anticipate him being a dominant player or anything, but like Connaughton, Auguste and Vasturia, he has a chance to shine in Brey's system.

Freshman Martinas Geben, a 6-9 Lithuanian import, has range out to the bonusphere and is rumored to be better than expected.

Six-foot-five Bonzie Colson is not a freak athlete but he is sneaky good, exactly the sort of player Brey tends to get: someone who is just a bit imperfect for the recruiting analysts, but who can undeniably play.

Matt Farrell can certainly play. The incoming point guard was one of the better players in New Jersey. Color Brey impressed: "Matt is a natural fit for our program because of his feel for the game. He's got an edge about him when he plays, kind of like Kyle (McAlarney) and Ben (Hansbrough) did when they were here and has a burst of speed off the dribble. He plays with a great deal of confidence, has a high basketball IQ and gives us another ball-handler in the backcourt."

So what to expect this year? Notre Dame may have some trouble with inside play, but the Irish should be a disciplined and smart team. Grant brings back his scoring but he excels at finding the open man as well. The Irish boasts a solid perimeter game and if Geben is ahead of schedule to help the frontcourt, so much the better.This should be an NCAA Tournament team.