The Irish took on the #4 NAIA Team, the St. Xavier Cougars in their first exhibition game of the 2011-2012 Basketball season and displayed all the different looks that this year's Notre Dame team could put out on the floor as all 10 available players saw action in the 90-72 win
Wooden Award Candidate Tim Abromaitis paced the Irish with 28 points scoring in every way from the FT line to a thunderous dunk previously unseen from the Co-Captain. The most positive takeaway from tonight's game also came from Abro as well - his new and improved quick release. Last season there were times creating a spot up shot for Abro was a challenge for the Irish offense because of his beautiful-but-deliberate shot release. On Tuesday night, he displayed a shot with a quicker formation of the shot angle and release with more of a flick of the wrist than he had before. Considering his 3 three point field goals, I would say the accuracy has largely stuck with him.
Eric Atkins also looked comfortable in his new full time floor general role putting up 19 points and dropping 6 dimes while only committing 1 turnover. If I had to use one word to describe how the young guard looks- it would be "smooth." Everything from his movement to his shot looks a lot silkier than it did last season and in Mike Brey's intricate motion offense, a smooth looking PG is a major plus.
With Co-Captain Scott Martin sitting out because of a lingering ankle injury, both sophomore Jerian Grant and junior Joey Brooks were in the starting lineup Tuesday night. Then sophomore Alex Dragicevich replaced Grant in the second half starting 5. So it looks like the 5th starter spot is still a bit muddled, and frankly may not matter considering the contributions all three can make to this team.
While Brooks struggled with his shooting, he excelled in other areas of the game particularly on defense as he moved his feet well and defended the SG, SF, and PF position interchangeably all night. He was physical on both ends, drawing fouls and sweeping for offensive rebounds. He also displayed some improved playmaking ability dropping some dimes that ended in dunks for Jack Cooley and Abromaitis.
Grant showed why people around the program have been so excited about him displaying outstanding speed and athleticism, an element ND hasn't had in a 2 guard in quite some time. His shooting needs to continue to improve and he was at times too eager on the defensive end, but he and Atkins look like they can combine to be among the most athletic backcourts in the country.
Dragicevich played early and often both on the wings and also as the backup PG showing flashes of the advantages of having a 6'7" PG. He showed the ability to both stop on a dime and hit a pull up and also good change of pace dribble penetration.
It was encouraging to see all three big men play well as Jack Cooley, Tom Knight and Mike Broghammer all rebounded well and were active on both sides of the ball. It was especially nice to see Broghammer, who has struggled with chronic knee injuries, on the court and his first play was a swooping putback dunk off a Brooks miss. Cooley was especially impressive dominating the smaller Cougar frontcourt w ith 14 points 11 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Freshman Patrick Connaughton proved why he was Massachusetts' Mr. Basketball hitting corner 3's, skying for rebounds and even making plays for others. Brey doesn't usually like to utilize freshmen, but Connaughton may have something to say about that this year.
This year's Irish squad is younger, more athletic and different from Irish squads of recent memory. They can play a fast paced transition oriented style with Atkins, Grant and Brooks manning the backcourt with Abro and Martin playing the trail bigs or go very big by having both Knight and Cooley out there in the front court with Abro. The versatility that the current 10 man roster presents is promising and, I believe, even tangible - so while Brey may be trying to lower expectations, this Irish squad doesn't seem to be buying any of it.
Guards Roosevelt Green and Brad Karp kept the Cougars in the game for the first 30 minutes with 19 and 25 points respectively.