Mike Brey and company are making the rapid transition to the ACC which, in Brey's mind, requires a bit of a change in philosophy regarding his roster. In the Big East, the Irish took on multiple identities as the nature of the conference shifted, going from a run and gun, catch-and-shoot mentality to a slower-paced, bruising team. In moving to the ACC, Mike Brey is likely to adapt by making his team smaller, quicker, and better outside shooters than we have seen in recent years. Why's that? Here's what Brey had to say about that in a recent interview:
"In the ACC, when you ask guys who have coached in both leagues, like Leonard Hamilton, he says the biggest difference is the second big...spreads you out and can make a shot." He continued to say later on, "The Big East was more brute force. If they had a wide open 15 footer, they'd still try to come at you and drive it down your throat. In the ACC, guys are going to take it a little more often."
He even went on to say that he would like to try out a three guard lineup with Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant, and freshman Demetrius Jackson. With that in mind, we'll take a look at where the roster stands now and what Mike Brey is looking for in the upcoming recruiting class.
Here is the 2013-2014 roster based on their remaining basketball eligibility. They are using up all of their 13 allotted scholarships.
Mike Brey will certainly miss Atkins, who he has relied on to control tempo for pretty much 40 minutes a game, something he will probably continue to do this season. Atkins still has plenty to prove as a scorer in his senior season. Sherman might enjoy the ACC a bit more than he did the Big East, which was often more "brute force" than he could handle. On the flip side, Knight relished in that environment, and I have a feeling we will be seeing him in a lot of foul trouble in a league that actually calls fouls. True in-the-paint players like these guys might become more of a thing of the past for Mike Brey moving forward.
Juniors (2) - Pat Connaughton, Jerian Grant (RS)
Is there a more polarizing player than Jerian Grant? He nearly made the 12-man USA roster for the World University Games and is a potential NBA draft pick, but Irish fans had some choice words for his shot selection and turnovers, especially late last season. He is the only player who can create his own shot (hopefully Jackson and Biedscheid can change that) and was absolutely vital to the offense. Hopefully, he can continue to develop and mature, because as I've said before, if he does, then he can be one of the most dominant players in the country.
Connaughton lit up Madison Square Garden last March and is the type of wing player that is absolutely essential in the ACC. The conference change is ideal for him and he could emerge as a star in his final two seasons.
Reports from summer practice are very favorable in regards to Biedscheid. He is apparently taking over during their intra-squad scrimmages and has recovered from very low confidence in the second half of last season. This is very good news, as the Irish need him to become the star he was as a recruit moving forward at the important wing positions.
Katenda, who lost vision in one of his eyes two years ago, is now suffering from plantar fasciitis and cannot seem to catch a break. Everyone is still hopeful that he will be able to contribute and looks to be an ideal 4 or small 5 if he can. Burgett probably should've accepted a redshirt last year but is a good stretch 4 if he can continue to develop.
Zach Auguste moves to the ACC as perhaps the most athletic big man in a very talented league. He should get more minutes and may compete for a starting nod over Garrick Sherman and is the future for ND in the post.
Freshmen (4) - VJ Beachem, Demetrius Jackson, Austin Torres, Steve Vasturia
This is one of the best classes in Mike Brey's career and is ideally balanced. It is all headlined by Jackson, who will be the team's starting point guard by his sophomore year. Torres is likely to redshirt this season, and the Irish will need him to step in quickly after they lose Knight and Sherman next year. Vasturia and Beachem both have opportunities to play, but neither are guarantees. Beachem can be a stretch 4 in this league and is cut from the same cloth as Biedscheid, while Vasturia is a lights-out shooter and very capable ball-handler. He might be able to play at the 1, 2, or 3 in the ACC. With this class, no positions are really lacking on this roster looking beyond the upcoming season, which is a great position for Mike Brey and staff to be in.
Recruiting the Class of 2014
The Irish will be losing three seniors after the upcoming season, including their captain point guard, Eric Atkins. Each graduating player has an obvious replacement in the younger classes, with Demetrius Jackson stepping in for Atkins and Auguste and Torres taking over for Sherman and Knight. Beyond that, the Irish do need to be prepared for the possibility that Jerian Grant forgoes his final year to enter the NBA draft, as crazy as that may sound to those that watched him struggle down the stretch last season. That said, Mike Brey is reportedly looking to stock up on bigger, inside-out type of players in the class of 2014 and has zeroed in on about 8-9 recruits in the hopes of bringing 2 or 3 on board. Brey might like to leave a scholarship open for a transfer following the upcoming season, and I am sure he has a couple names in mind for that possibility as well.
Bigs - Bonzie Colson, Martin Geben, Obi Enechionyia, Abdul Malik Abu, Paul White
Each of these guys could probably also be listed as wing players, but Mike Brey has hinted at going smaller following the move to the ACC, so I think these types of players will often be playing at the 4 or even 5 more and more going forward. They all are capable inside-out guys even if not true back-to-the-basket players. If you're looking for a commitment in the near future, Geben is the most probable candidate. The Lithuanian who now lives in Maryland has a top four including Maryland, Villanova, Virginia, and Notre Dame, and the ND staff likes where they stand.
Enechionyia was pumped about receiving his offer from ND back in March and appears to be, like Geben, another possible pull for Mike Brey out of Maryland. Malik Abu looks likely to be UConn-bound, which is too bad because he looks like a future star. White appears to be in no hurry but has a lot of the big boys coming after him, including Arizona and Georgetown.
Colson is a recent offer whose recruitment is really just getting off the ground. He only recently received his first major offers, including from Notre Dame, and is a Rhode Island legacy. He is basically a power forward in a small forward's body, but the Irish have been watching him and building a relationship for a long time. Colson is not looking to make a decision anytime soon, but Notre Dame will likely be a major player moving forward.
Wings - Trevon Bluiett, Devin Robinson, Reid Travis
All three players here are top 50-type recruits and would fit right into Mike Brey's ACC-ification of the roster much like Biedschied and Beachem from the last two classes. Bluiett appears very unlikely with Michigan as the team to beat for the Indianapolis forward, with Indiana and Butler as major players as well. The staff is working harder on Travis and Robinson at this point.
For Robinson, they are battling with UConn and Indiana with programs like Louisville and Duke just now arriving on the scene in his recruitment. The Irish, especially assistant Anthony Solomon, established a great relationship early on with Robinson and are definitely players here but are obviously fighting with some tough programs for Robinson's services.
As far as Travis is concerned, the Minnesota forward has offers from coast-to-coast, including Gonzaga where he recently visited. He probably has the best post presence of anyone on this list and would be an ideal 4 for the Irish. Most of the B1G is coming after him hard, including the newly-hired Richard Pitino at home state Minnesota, and some Pac 12 schools are getting his attention as well. It's hard to see Notre Dame being too much of a player for Travis, but they have been recruiting him hard for a long time now and continue to do so, which means they feel like they have a real shot.
Guards - Matt Cimino
The only player listed here without an offer yet, Cimino has been blowing up a bit over the summer with offers from Boston College, Kansas State, and Virginia. The sharp-shooter out of Massachusetts is a former teammate of Irish big man Zach Auguste and is looking for an elite academic school in addition to a fit for basketball. Assistant coach Solomon is shadowing Cimino much of the summer to determine whether or not to offer. If they do, Cimino could quickly be on commitment watch, as he has said he would like to decide before his senior season.
2015 names to watch - Jalen Coleman, Chase Jeter, Luke Kennard, Matt Ryan, Stephen Zimmerman
The 2015 class is likely to be more well-rounded in terms of positions, especially if Brey saves a scholarship from the 2014 class and doesn't find a match on the transfer market. The Irish are in great early position with the names listed above. Point guard Coleman, from LaPorte, IN, and center Zimmeman (who attends Bishop Gorman HS in Las Vegas) would be the top names on the board.