Sunday afternoon the Irish easily dispatched the woefully overmatched but phenomenally named Stetson Hatters 80-49 to improve to 2-0 on the young season. See the word young there? Get used to it, because Mike Brey is going to be referencing it a lot this season.
In his post-game interview, Brey mentioned the "older unit" getting the team off to a great start and the "younger unit" playing well in relief. I'll wait until this plays out over the course of the non-conference season to see how I feel about the distinct dichotomy, but if I had to guess I think I'll be mildly annoyed. To Brey's credit, he emptied the bench early and often, with all five reserves getting at least 12 minutes and no starter playing more than 27, but the distribution of those precious 200 minutes is going to be something to monitor as the season goes on.
The whole team played well, shooting 56.1% from the floor, 9-of-17 from 3 (52.9%) and assisting on a total of 22 of 32 field goal makes. They were careful with the ball (only seven turnovers) and took care of things on the boards (38-27), completely dominating the Hatters like they should. There is a lot to celebrate here, but I'm also going to worry a bit.
My main concern comes with how much Demetrius Jackson and Garrick Sherman are going to play. Jackson was great on Sunday afternoon, going 4-of-5 from the field, hitting his lone three-point attempt and grabbing three boards to go with three assists. His ability to get to the rim is unmatched on the team, and while his presence either means Eric Atkins is sitting or the Irish are going small, I think Brey needs to lean on the frosh more and more as we cruise towards the December 3 showdown at Iowa.
Sherman played well yesterday after a woeful debut on Friday night, but I'm interested to see how he responds when the competition gets taller and tougher. The Michigan State transfer had fallen out of the rotation last year prior to five overtimes and front line attrition resulting in a great performance against Louisville, but with two intriguing options on the bench in Austin Burgett and Zach Auguste, Brey can't afford to give Sherman 28 minutes a game in conference play just because. Sherman will have to continue to earn those minutes.
So my completely premature concern for this season can be summed up thusly: Brey is going to conflate "older" with "better" and distribute minutes in a way that drives me insane. Hopefully the youth movement is good he can't help but deepen the rotation. We shall see.
A few bullet points to close us out:
- If Jerian Grant is Good Jerian Grant all season, he might win ACC Player of the Year. For the second straight game Grant was in control, scoring 15 points, dishing out six assists and perhaps most importantly for Grant, contributing zero turnovers. Obviously the perimeter defense he's shredding will stiffen when we reach conference play, but this is fun so far.
- Captain Pat Connaughton just does really neat stuff and will be in the crunch-time lineup whether the team goes big (where he'll play the three) or small (I think you can steal minutes with him at power forward). Against Stetson, Connaughton finished an alley-oop dunk, knocked down a pair of threes, grabbed six boards and blocked two shots in 23 minutes of play. And we get another year with him after this! Very exciting.
- Also exciting is Austin Burgett, who at this early point in the season is doing a nice job of combing bounciness (a nice baseline dunk) and touch (knocking down a three and another 18-footer). If he can hold his own on the boards, he's going to become a prominent member of the rotation as a stretch four.
- The Irish's next game is Sunday at noon against the Fightin' Larry Birds of Indiana State.