Tobacco Road respect: Notre Dame picked fourth in ACC
If given the chance to pen an Atlantic Coast Conference preseason men’s basketball poll, rank the teams from one to 15, there’s no doubt where guard Demetrius Jackson would place the Notre Dame name.
Not in the No. 4 spot, where the Irish were slotted Wednesday after a vote of the conference media was released to close the 54th-annual Operation Basketball. Not around fifth or sixth or seventh, where assorted preseason magazines have the team that won the conference tournament championship last March. In Jackson’s eyes, there’s only one place to put this team. His team.
Right at the top. Ahead of everybody’s No. 1 pick, North Carolina. Ahead of Virginia, which has gone 15-2 and captured the regular-season conference championship each of the last two years. Even ahead of Duke, which lost two of three to Notre Dame last season yet still won the national championship.
“I would pick us No., 1 because I believe in my team,” Jackson told the Tribune before departing for Charlotte, N.C., and the ACC’s marathon version of basketball media day. “At the same time, we’ve got a long way to go to get better.”
At least one individual agrees with Jackson. Notre Dame received one first-place vote among the 89 media members polled.
Fellow Irish captain Zach Auguste, who also represented Notre Dame at ACC media day and was a second team all-league selection, didn’t expect to be moved one way or another when the preseason hype was handed out.
“I’m not too concerned with the preseason poll,” Auguste said. “It’s about going out and getting it done. I’m happy with what they give us and if they give us something low, then, oh, well, we’re going to go out there and prove them wrong again.
“We’re top four in the ACC. Definitely.”
Notre Dame was picked to finish seventh last season before going 14-4, finishing third and winning its first-ever conference tournament championship. In their first season in the league, the Irish were picked to finish fifth before staggering to a 6-12 showing and 13th place in the league.
Wednesday marked the third time in as many Operation Basketballs for Notre Dame that an Irish was tabbed a first team all-league preseason pick. Former guard Jerian Grant was a first team selection the previous two years.
Jackson was the league’s lone junior to make the five-man first team.
“That’s one of my goals, something I want to strive for,” Jackson said of being a first-team guy. “I know it’s going to be difficult, but I’m ready to work toward it.
“What’s a goal without it being a challenge?’”
As easy as the Irish made it seem last season in tying the school record (14) for conference victories, coach Mike Brey believes his team likely faces its toughest challenge during its three seasons in the league. For the first time since Notre Dame and Pittsburgh and Syracuse made the jump from the Big East three years ago, this may be the deepest, most talented version ever experienced in the ACC.
It’s basically become what everyone figured it would when conference realignment rocked college athletics — the Big East South in terms of depth and talent and no easy nights come conference play.
Brey believes three schools — Duke, North Carolina and Virginia — are a cut above the rest of the league at this point. Notre Dame, he said, is among seven others that carry legitimate NCAA tournament dreams. This is a year the league could go as many as 10 deep come tournament time, even though the league qualified only six teams for the tournament last March.
“How can we ride this unique momentum in this new league that we have more of a presence in now?” Brey wondered earlier this month. “It’s all going to be really hard. I really believe this year is the year the ACC sees the Big East depth that we left.”
While Brey proudly displayed his team’s tournament championship ring on his right ring finger during Operation Basketball, Auguste had no plans to accessorize with the ultimate souvenir from last season. The rings were handed out to Irish staff and players during a team dinner at a local steakhouse over Labor Day weekend. Auguste still cherishes memories of that special ring ceremony night, but also knew then and there it was time to turn the page.
“It’s in the past, man,” Auguste said. “I’ve got it saved in its box at my home (and) I’ll go look at it every now and then, but I don’t worry about that any more.
“I want to go and get another one.”
That chase hits another gear Friday with the first of two exhibition games. Notre Dame opens the regular season Nov. 13 at home against Saint Francis (Pa.).
• ACC MEN'S BASKETBALL PRESEASON POLL
First-place votes in parenthesis
1. North Carolina (60)
2. Virginia (18)
3. Duke (8)
4. Notre Dame (1)
5. Miami (Fla.)
6. Florida State (1)
8. North Carolina State
9. Syracuse (1)
11. Wake Forest
13. Georgia Tech
14. Virginia Tech
15. Boston College
• ALL-LEAGUE SELECTIONS
Marcus Paige, G, Sr., North Carolina
Malcolm Brogdon, G, Sr., Virginia
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, G, Soph., Florida State
Brandon Ingram, F, Fr., Duke
Demetrius Jackson, G, Jr., Notre Dame
Anthony Gill, F, Sr., Virginia
Grayson Allen, G, Soph., Duke
Zach Auguste, F, Sr., Notre Dame
Anthony Barber, G, Jr., North Carolina State
Brice Johnson, F, Sr., North Carolina
• Co-Players of the Year
Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
• Freshman of the year
Brandon Ingram, Duke