Notre Dame basketball: Fans wonder about ACC expectations

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

EDITOR’S NOTE: Notre Dame men’s basketball beat writer Tom Noieheld a online chat Thursday afternoon. Below is a portion of thetranscript, which can be read in full at southbendtribune.com. Thenext chat will be Thursday, Aug. 1 at noon.

Jim, New York City

What in your opinion would constitute a successful first year in the ACC?

A successful season for Notre Dame in the Atlantic Coast Conference would be double-digit league victories, a top-five conference finish, a win in the opening-round tournament game and above everything — EVERYTHING — else, doing something in the NCAA tournament.

Moving to the ACC will be a challenge, but this is a team that returns four starters and has a veteran core. There may be a few lessons learned along the way, but Notre Dame is one of the biggest teams in the league this season.

For some of the problems some of the ACC teams may present, Notre Dame also can make it tough for other teams. And regardless of what league he Irish call home, it's beyond time to do something in the NCAA tournament. It's the same situation as last year in terms of postseason success — if not now, then when?

Dave, Washington, D.C.

Any concerns that there isn't a verbal commit in the 2014 classyet? I remember having at least two in last year's class at this pointin the summer.

No concern that Notre Dame doesn't have a commitment from a prospect who will be a senior in the fall. And here's why: Notre Dame has three scholarships — at the least — to offer high school seniors. The Irish will lose Eric Atkins, Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman. Two bigs and a guard.

Given that Mike Brey aims every year to stay old, I think he'd prefer to sign at least one high school senior (Devin Robinson? Martin Geben?) and take two transfer big men. That addresses the Irish need for size as well as keeps the program old.

Also keep in mind that eight of the 13 scholarship players will be freshmen or sophomores this season. There's talent in the underclassmen, and there also are questions. Most pressing right now is to figure out if Eric Katenda can overcome his health issues and contribute, and determine if Austin Burgett can be a true stretch-4 guy like Rob Kurz or Scott Martin. If both can play, that changes the seemingly immediate need to sign a prep player or two.

If both can't, then the lack of a commitment may catch up to the coaching staff. But there's so much unknown right now. Let's see how it all plays out.

Mac, Edwardsburg

Do you see the Irish utilizing a slightly different offense with the three-guard approach? Just wondering if a fast-breaking, pressing, attack might be used with these three guys.

It will be interesting to see how the Irish will play this season — fast, slow, a combination of styles. Mike Brey has never had this combination of speed, quickness, scoring ability and flat-out athleticism to utilize with his three-guard look of Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson.

He can and will play all three together, maybe for extended stretches. He'll be able to rest Atkins and Grant for more than just 30 seconds here or there.

Jackson is going to play — a lot. He might not start, but there's no reason to think he cannot match Atkins' freshman year when he played 25.4 minutes a game.

And it's not just the hometown kid. Don't sleep on V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia and sophomore Cameron Biedscheid. There are plenty of different pieces.

If the season started tomorrow, the starting lineup likely would be Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman. But don't forget about Zach Auguste. He's the most gifted big man the program has had in a decade.

Many possibilities abound.

Jim, New York

Here are a couple of areas where I can see ND having to make adjustments on defense. 1) I believe that there will be a much quicker whistle in the ACC. 2) ND will have to guard more athletically gifted perimeter players. 3) They will face some post players who are legitimate threats to score. What are your thoughts?

Great point on the whistle department. It will be interesting to see how games are called differently in the ACC. And guarding perimeter players may be less of a concern — but still a concern — with guys like Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste on the roster.

In talking with some long-time ACC hoops guys, they believe that outside of Syracuse, Notre Dame may have the most talented, experienced big men in the league this season.

For as many problems as other teams might give the Irish, it's time guys like Knight and Sherman and Biedscheid and Grant become matchup nightmares.

Guest

Interesting thought on transfers earlier. I think it's a pretty good way to get talent that you may not necessarily have been able to get right out of high school. Any idea how the staff approaches transfers? Do they only look at guys on other squads that were recruited initially by ND? I know that's what they did with Sherman.

Not necessarily. Say a player at a certain school wants to transfer and shows an interest in Notre Dame. He'll contact the basketball office, at which point the coaching staff will gauge their interest based on whether the player fits their style, has any baggage that may be an issue and can even help the program.

If there's mutual interest, it's like recruiting all over again. There was mutual interest from both sides when Kyle Wiltjer decided that he may or may not transfer from Kentucky. He would have been a great fit, but Notre Dame doesn't have an available scholarship for him.

Dave, Washington, D.C.

Any thoughts on what might be the team's weakness(s) this season?

Consistent production on both ends in the low post. You knew last year, and really the last two, that Jack Cooley was going to offer a double-double for points and rebounds. He was the main guy in terms of rebounding.

How do the Irish compensate for his absence? Can Garrick Sherman and Tom Knight tag-team in the low post to consistently make a difference?

Both showed flashes last season, but both also had nights when they disappeared. That can't happen for two fifth-year guys.

Kevin

Can you give us a scouting report on Steve Vasturia? Seems a little more perimeter oriented than Pat Connaughton? Maybe a Matt Carroll, but not quite the shooter? Being the only non-Indiana freshman he's the one we don't really know a ton about.

Love his game, mainly because it's like an old man's game. He's a high basketball IQ guy who just knows how to play — how to get open and make a shot, how to find the open guy in traffic. Physically, he reminds me a lot of former Irish guard Colin Falls.

Vasturia looked lost the first night I saw him and I left the gym wondering how he might fit. As lost as he looked that night, he was really good the next. You could see he just knows how to play.

Don't know if I would compare him just yet to Matt Carroll — a first team All-Big East guy and future NBA guard. But Vasturia's going to be a solid guy. Maybe more.

Guest

What have you seen from Austin Torres? I was one who never really understood that signing.

Patience. There's plenty to work with there, and potential, but it's going to take time. There are times when he looks overmatched, but others where he can crash the glass, get a dunk, snag a rebound or block a shot that you see his athleticism.

There's no hurry with him. You may not understand the signing in 2013, but it may make a whole lot of sense in 2015. Let's see how it plays out.

Saint Knute

Not being from the area, does Demetrius Jackson have the leadership qualities as well in his arsenal? Since Ben Hansbrough left, it seems that part of the team is sorely lacking.

As Ben Hansbrough would say, Demetrius Jackson has some "dog" in him — which is exactly what this team has lacked since No. 23 drove Notre Dame to a 27-7 record.

And Jackson's number this season? 23.

One of the most pressing issues right now for Notre Dame, as it determines its recruiting need,s is learning if Eric Katenda can overcome his health issues and contribute.