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Preseason Top 25 + 1 Countdown

CBSSports.com College Basketball Staff
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 (CBSSports.com Original)  
 

By Jeff Goodman | College Basketball Insider

Coach: Mike Brey

Years at school: 12 (259-130 all-time)

Best NCAA Tournament finish: Sweet 16 (2003)

Last season's record: 22-12 (lost to Xavier in Round of 64)

Notable returnees from last season: Jack Cooley, Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins, Scott Martin, Pat Connaughton, Joey Brooks, Tom Knight, Mike Broghamme

Vital Info: No. 26 Notre Dame
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Notable losses from last season: Tim Abromaitis, Alex Dragicevich

Notable newcomers: Garrick Sherman (Michigan State), Zach Auguste, Cameron Biedscheid, Austin Burgett

Projected starters: G: Eric Atkins G: Jerian Grant F: G: Pat Connaughton F Scott Martin C: Jack Cooley

Why this team will be good: The Irish finished with 22 victories last season and didn't lose anyone of note except for Tim Abromaitis, who only played two games before a season-ending injury. Brey brings back all five starters and four of them are upperclassmen. Experience is usually a recipe for success in South Bend. Senior Jack Cooley (12.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg) has become one of the best big men in the Big East. Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant are a terrific backcourt duo and Scott Martin is a senior who may not be the player people envisioned coming out of high school, but he's a solid piece and knows how to play. Add Pat Connaughton, a two-sport star (a baseball pitcher who throws 90-plus mph) who had a solid freshman campaign; Garrick Sherman, a Michigan State transfer who gives the Irish a competent front-line reserve; and Zach Auguste -- an extremely talented and skilled freshman -- and you've got a club capable of doing serious damage. These guys have players at every position -- and quality depth coming off the bench. Brey may never lead the Irish to a Final Four, but Notre Dame has become a virtual lock lately to go dancing come March.

Why this team might disappoint: This team has plenty of quality players, but does Brey have a legitimate star -- someone who can carry the team? Cooley is a power big man down low who can score in the paint and also dominate on the glass, but he gets much of his production from power and intensity. Can someone like Grant turn into a bona fide first-first team All-Big East player? He averaged 11.6 points as a sophomore and can score in a variety of ways. Martin is a solid starter and Atkins is a quality floor leader, but not necessarily an elite guy at his position. I'd be shocked if the Irish don't get into the NCAA tournament again (Brey has led the program to five appearances in the past six seasons), but the question becomes how far they can advance. The Irish finished with 27 wins two seasons ago, were second in the Big East before losing to Florida State in the second round of the NCAA tourney. This team may have more overall talent, but that group had Big East player of the year Ben Hansbrough. Brey also will have to find a way to score more. Last season, a nearly identical group slowed down the pace and averaged only 63.4 points while allowing an impressive 59.2 points. These guys are capable of more on the offensive end, especially with a veteran group.

Bottom line: It's tough to discount Brey and the Irish based on past performance. Notre Dame won't be in the Big East much longer as the Irish are headed to the ACC in everything except for football, but this year's edition certainly boasts the talent, balance and depth to finish in the top three in the league for the third consecutive season. Notre Dame has been regarded as a smart team over the years, but now Brey has upgraded the talent. There's no glaring weakness -- and it'll be interesting to see whether Auguste can come along quickly, because he's got a chance to be a star in South Bend. I'm not sure these guys are on par with Louisville, but they also may not be all that far back. A veteran, talented and athletic backcourt, a productive big man and a few different options at the wing spots. Sure sounds like a legit Top 25 (and one) club.

Quote from an opposing coach in the league: "Brey does one of the most underrated jobs on an annual basis. He has the perfect demeanor for Notre Dame, the perfect style of play for the players and he has incredible representation of the tradition. He has my utmost respect."

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