With all five starters from last year’s 22-12 team returning, Notre Dame is a prime candidate to challenge for the Big East crown. Of course, knowing what the starting lineup is going to look like is far from the same thing as knowing how those players are going to perform in 2012-13.
One of the most intriguing uncertainties surrounds veteran Scott Martin, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Can Martin, a liability as a scorer throughout his college career, step up as a point producer in his final season in South Bend?
Read on for more on Martin and the rest of the question marks surrounding the likely Notre Dame starting five for next season.
After sitting out as a freshman, Jerian Grant exploded onto the Big East scene last season with 12.3 points and five assists a night. To take the next step in growing his game, though, he’ll need to start taking better advantage of his size.
At 6’5”, 195 lbs, Grant has a serious length advantage over most college point guards, but he didn’t take his defenders inside nearly often enough last year.
If Grant starts driving to the basket more regularly, his dismal .380 field goal percentage is going to get a lot more respectable in short order.
Mike Brey’s offense is at its best with a go-to scoring option lurking on the perimeter, ready to punish defenses that collapse into the paint. With Tim Abromaitis gone, Eric Atkins is the best prospect on the roster to grow into that role.
In his first season as a starter, Atkins scored a solid 12.1 points per game while draining 37.5 percent of his three-point tries. If he makes another big jump on offense next season, Atkins could take this talented roster to the next level in 2012-13.
Notre Dame returns all five of last year’s starters, but none is in a shakier position than Pat Connaughton. The rising sophomore averaged a paltry seven points a game last season, with his biggest contribution coming on the glass (4.4 boards a night).
Connaughton will be seriously pushed by Mike Brey’s top recruit, four-star SF Cameron Biedscheid.
Biedscheid’s scoring punch should put him well ahead of Connaughton’s 2011-12 offensive pace, so unless the incumbent swingman steps up, he could find himself coming off the bench by the start of Big East play.
At least the Irish managed to bat .500 on their extra-year-of-eligibility petitions. Tim Abromaitis won’t be back in South Bend, but Scott Martin gets one last shot to bolster the rebounding in a frontcourt with talent but little depth.
For all Martin’s toughness on the glass (5.7 rebounds a night, second only to Jack Cooley last season), though, he’s never been much of a scorer—he just missed a career high with a mere 9.5 points per game last year.
In his final season of college ball, the best thing Martin can do for this team is to provide more of a threat on offense and join the double-digit scorers in the Irish backcourt.
Jack Cooley has already earned a spot on the short list of the Big East’s best post players—witness his dominant performance in ND’s upset of Syracuse last year.
After his breakout showing in 2011-12, though, Cooley can shoot for an even loftier goal as a senior.
With his combination of skill and size (6’9”, 248 lbs), Cooley could become the single most dangerous big man in the conference, a title that currently belongs to Louisville shot-blocking ace Gorgui Dieng.
Cooley (who already averaged 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds a night last year) has the potential to take over games the way Kevin Jones did at West Virginia a season ago, and if he follows through, Cooley could capture the Big East Player of the Year award that eluded Jones.