GAME NOTES: The 21st-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish begin their much anticipated 2013-14 season on Friday evening, as they welcome the Miami-Ohio RedHawks to Purcell Pavilion to usher in the new campaign.
Mike Brey's Irish were one of three teams to leave the Big East this season for the new, top-heavy ACC. Notre Dame won 25 games in its swan song in the Big East and returns four starters from that group, which should provide a smooth transition into the new conference.
John Cooper's first season in Oxford was not a memorable one. The RedHawks finished just 9-22 last season, including a miserable 3-13 in Mid-American Conference play. The hope in year two of the Cooper regime is that a veteran- laden nucleus will help in several areas and push the program in the right direction in 2013-14.
This series is all tied up at 4-4 and dates back to 1909. The RedHawks have won four of the last five meetings, but lost the last one, a 70-69 setback in Oxford in 2001.
Miami-Ohio has four starters back in the fold, led by senior forward Will Felder (11.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and sophomore guard Reggie Johnson (8.4 ppg). Bill Edwards provided a spark off the bench last season with 9.2 ppg and he will most likely remain in a reserve role, while freshman Joshua Oswald is expected to see significant action right away. Michigan transfer Blake McLimans (6-10, 240) should help on the interior.
To vie for the conference crown right away in the ACC, the Irish will rely heavily on one of the nation's best backcourt tandems in Jerian Grant (13.3 ppg, 5.5 apg) and Eric Atkins (11.2 ppg, 5.5 apg). Both are adept at running the point, but have great shooting range as well. Junior swingman Pat Connaughton (8.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.1 apg) is a jack-of-all trades type that gives the team another option. Minutes will also need to be found for incoming freshman Demetrius Jackson (6-1, 195) as well. A McDonald's All-American, Jackson averaged 25.9 ppg as a high school senior and was the runner-up for Indiana's Mr. Basketball. The frontcourt needs help though, as Brey must find an adequate replacement for 6-9 forward Jack Cooley (13.1 ppg, 10.1 rpg). Likely candidates include 6-10 center Garrick Sherman (7.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg) in the middle and 6-10 forward Tom Knight (5.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg). Freshman forward V.J. Beachem (6-8, 190) could develop quickly as well.
The Irish have plenty of depth along the perimeter and behind the play of Atkins and Grant, should be a welcome addition to the ACC right away. Miami- Ohio may be improved over last year, but not so much so that it will win on the road at Notre Dame.