The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a Syracuse fan favorite, right? Well, at least when the Orange beat them they are.
Mike Brey and his pesky squad will be looking to have a better year this year, after their first season in the ACC didn't go quite according to plan, finishing with a losing record for the first time in 14 seasons with him as coach. However, Brey's teams have been notorious for having a couple of annoying players that make a series of annoying plays to take a big victory out of the grasps of defeat. This year will be no exception, with what I think could be the best duo in the conference on their side (I'll get more into this later, so I hope you keep reading to find out.)
You all know what to expect out of these guys, so my job is to inform you about how similarly different the Irish will be in 2014-15.
2013-14 Record: 15-17 (6-12)
Last Time We Saw Them: It was our first time meeting as ACC opponents, on a cold Monday night in February at the Carrier Dome. The Orange came out on top 61-55 behind the stellar shooting display of Trevor Cooney, who tied a school record with nine threes in the victory.
Season Summary: It was not pretty. Ranked 21st in the preseason AP poll, the Irish were set to have a solid year but after their first 12 games, it was not too hard to tell that things were falling apart.
They lost four of those games, only two of which were against ranked opponents, and in after that 12th game against Ohio State they received the worst news of their season. Their leading scorer up to that point, guard Jerian Grant (son of Harvey and brother of Jerami), was ruled academically ineligible and was forced to leave campus. However, they won their fist two games without him, including a victory over Duke in their first ever ACC game. From there it went downhill, as they lost 12 of their remaining 17 games and lost in the first round of the ACC tournament to Wake Forest.
Jerian Grant (19 PPG/6.2 APG/2.5 RPG): He's baaaaaack. Grant is now back at school and set to play his senior season with the Irish. This guy was on fire before his untimely departure from the team, scoring a team-high 19 points per game on 51.8 percent shooting and 40.8 percent from beyond the arc. On top of that, his 6.2 assists per outing led the team, while sporting a nifty 3.4 assist/turnover ratio. He is projected to be a first team All-Conference performer for the second straight season, so hopefully, for the sake of the Irish, he can remain on the court all season.
Pat Connaughton (13.8 PPG/7.1 RPG/3.0 APG): The second man of what I think will be the conference's best duo. Another very experienced senior and two sport athlete (channelling his inner Jeff Samardzija by playing a big name sport for the Irish along with baseball), Connaughton will be determined to right the wrongs of last year. He is a do-it-all kind of guy. Not including Grant, he was the team's second leading scorer, rebounder and steals guy, while turning the ball over just 1.1 times per game. He is a respectable shooter from both inside and outside of the arc, and will prove to be one of the team's best defensive players. Reuniting these two guys spells trouble for the rest of the country.
Personnel Changes: The return of Grant keeps the family lineage within the ACC for one more year, but the losses of Eric Atkins (1.9 PPG/4.9 APG/2.8 RPG) and Garrick Sherman (13.5 PPG/7.3 RPG) will prove to be huge. This hinders their depth in both the backcourt and front court. Sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson and junior forward Zach Auguste, who both played in 30 games last season, will see enhanced roles due to these departures, so their progression will prove to be key in the team's overall performance.
The Irish will feature four freshmen this year. Bonzie Colson, ranked the 28th best power forward in the nation according to ESPN, leads a weaker recruiting class that features no players inside the Worldwide Leader's top 100. Not quite sure how much of an impact this incoming class will have.
2014-15 Potential: They received votes in both of the preseason polls and were picked to finish seventh in the ACC, so the Irish find themselves in prime position to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid. Their top talent is very good, so depth will prove to be the biggest factor in this team's success. If things fall into place correctly, this team could have an outside shot of finishing in the top four of the conference.
Orange Matchup: If last year's matchup proved anything, the Orange need to get their outside game going, specifically with Cooney. The Irish allowed opponents to make over 38 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, good enough for 334th best in the nation. Expect the Orange to look for threes the whole game, whether it be in transition or the half court. It won't be a bad idea to attack the rim either, because the Irish blocked only 3.03 shots per game, the third lowest mark in the ACC.
The Orange should look to control the tempo, because this Irish's best defense will be their offense. If Grant and company start having success against the zone, giving them the ability to set up their defense, than the defensive struggles will become less evident and more difficult to take advantage of. Offense is their strongest aspect, so just taking advantage of their defensive woes won't completely put a well-coached and fairly talented team completely out of the game.
Expect a classic, good ol' Big East battle between these two squads, coming down to how well the Orange can make their shots and if the Irish have enough contribution outside of their stars to pose a challenge.