The leaves are showing some color and the night air is bringing the chill. It must be that time of the year again… can you feel it OFDers? The echo of squeaking sneakers, the pulse of the dribbles and the smooth sound of leather passing through nylon… It’s basketball season once again. We all know that the landscape of college sports as a whole is changing with all the conference realignment. After this season, Big East basketball will never be the same and in a few years CW, alstein and I will be writing about our conference games at Durham and Chapel Hill.
But let’s not look too far ahead, the 2012-2013 season is upon us and we here at One Foot Down fully expect it to be a good one – and this time, from the get-go.
This will be the part one of a three part positional preseason preview - returning backcourt, returning frontcourt and freshmen - for this year’s Irish roundball squad those three posts will be followed by an overall season and conference preview where all three of us basketball writers chime in with our thoughts on the upcoming season.
First off, we wanted to make a quick note that senior Joey Brooks will be redshirting this season but will stay with the squad, practicing and helping with the team on a daily basis, especially with the young players whom CW will cover with much gusto in the coming days. Mike Brey indicated in his preseason media day presser that Brooks will stay with the team through graduation. Inside sources indicate that Brooks will pursue a 5th year of eligibility elsewhere while working on a graduate degree.
The first name to bring up is returning captain and point guard Eric Atkins. Atkins was the youngest co-captain that Brey has ever had (Chris Thomas was the other sophomore captain during Brey’s tenure at Notre Dame) last season and this year he, along with Scott Martin, will be the veteran voice both inside and outside the huddle. Atkins chipped in 12.1 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists a night while 39.4% shooting from the field. The Irish point man improved as a long range shooter last season – making 45 out of 120 attempts (just a shade under 38%) and grew more aggressive towards the end of the season when it came to putting his head down and getting to the rim.
As the point guard of Brey’s motion offense, Atkins will have an even bigger role than he did last season as he’ll have to initiate all of the plays which is a role he was eased into last season with Martin being the lead voice on the defensive side and giving Atkins pointers all year. This is very much analogous to a veteran offensive lineman being the eyes and ears for a young quarterback, but unlike Everett Golson, Atkins is now a entering his third year as a starter. If Atkins can take care of the ball at the level that he did his freshman season – when he was among the nation’s leaders in assist to turnover ratio - more so than that of last season, Brey’s motion offense should be in good hands.
Atkins’ backcourt mate is his roommate, fellow Maryland native and best friend Jerian Grant. Last season was Grant’s first season after sitting his freshman year and the DeMatha product put up 12.3 points a shade under 3 rebounds while leading the team in assists at 5 per night. Grant is also a volume shooter - as evinced from his team leading 326 field goal attempts last year – and will play the role of primary scorer for the Irish this year.
If ball control was Atkins’ Achilles’ heel last season, Grant’s was missed shots. While Grant was clutch in most games – he had multiple big time long range jumpers and displayed great gusto and swag down the stretch of every game – he had a habit of starting slow and cold when it came to shooting the ball from the floor. Grant is an elite foul shooter and a fantastic passer, especially for an off-guard, so he needs to take the initiative of going to basket more to draw contact. Look for Brey to use Grant in more iso and pick and roll situations than he did last season.
In last year’s preseason preview I said that returning 5th year forwards Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin would have to combine for 30 points and 15 rebounds a night for Notre Dame to be successful. The same can be said for these two this season. Atkins and Grant will log heavy minutes (both will play at least 36 minutes a night and when one of these two aren’t on the court, freshman Cam Biedscheid will play the other guard spot) and for the Irish to call this season a success – the Irish backcourt will have to combine for 30 points and 10 assists a night.
Atkins mentioned in his media day interview that everyone on this team will be playing with a chip on their shoulder – especially he and Grant – considering how last season ended (consecutive losses to Louisville in the Big East semis and a first round exit against Xavier in the dance). Considering how hungry, young and talented these two are, that’s a warning to all those that will have to guard them over the next 6 months.