Notre Dame Basketball: Ranking the Irish's Most Indispensable Players

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystFebruary 15, 2013

Notre Dame Basketball: Ranking the Irish's Most Indispensable Players

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    The Fighting Irish are entrenched as a formidable member of the Big East's upper-echelon. Notre Dame (20-5, 8-4 Big East) has reeled off five wins in its last six games to surge toward the top of regular season standings. 

    A blend of veteran savvy and untapped youth fill the Fighting Irish roster, which creates an assortment of options for head coach Mike Brey. Notre Dame can lean on catalyst Jack Cooley, a Big East Player of the Year candidate, but also has the ability to dig deep in its rotation.

    Each player contributes to the program in a unique way. So let's dissect Notre Dame's roster and determine eight players that Brey's bunch can't afford to lose with postseason tournaments rapidly approaching on the horizon.

8. Tom Knight

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    The 6'10" senior is strong around the rim and his presence allows Brey to sit Cooley for occasional breathers. Knight is a capable left-handed scorer when working near the net. 

    Knight averages about 15 minutes per contest. The former Maine Mr. Basketball has blocked a shot in each of his last six appearances.

7. Garrick Sherman

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    Sherman transferred from Michigan state following the 2010-11 season. He has bolstered Notre Dame's frontcourt since returning from a one-year, transfer-induced hiatus.

    The 6'10" center is solid on both ends of the court and currently carries a 59 percent shooting percentage.

    Sherman proved his value off the bench late in a five-overtime thriller versus Louisville, pouring in 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting to help propel the Fighting Irish in a pivotal Big East showdown.

6. Cameron Biedscheid

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    The freshman forward has plenty of upside, which is apparent despite his limited minutes.

    Biedscheid was the 2012 Gatorade Player of the Year in Missouri and he arrived on campus surrounded by substantial expectations.

    The 6'7" youngster has struggled from the floor (41 percent) for much of his freshman campaign, but the maturation process continues.

    Biedscheid is averaging 13 points on 11-of-19 shooting during Notre Dame's last three home games (all victories).

5. Pat Connaughton

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    The sophomore swingman received extended minutes as a freshman. That experience has helped him advance his game in 2013. 

    Connaughton's numbers are up across the board, including points (nine per game) and rebounds (4.7).

    Perhaps more impressive is his evolution as a decision maker. He ranks third on the team in assists and rarely wastes touches.

4. Scott Martin

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    Martin is the team elder statesman. The 24-year-old senior started his career at Purdue in 2007 but now finds himself among the most important pieces of this Fighting Irish squad.

    Though he is taking fewer shots than last season (attempts per game have decreased from 9.1 to 6.2) his efficiency can't be overlooked. Martin is sinking 46 percent of his three-point attempts and can be counted on for approximately six rebounds each contest.

    Most importantly, Martin is a cerebral veteran that players can turn to in times of crisis.

3. Jerian Grant

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    The 6'5" guard started 33 games last season, so we expected him to be a fixture once again for Notre Dame.

    Grant grew as a player during the offseason and has displayed a vastly improved mid-range game. 

    His shooting percentage has improved from 38 percent in 2012 to 44 percent today. Grant is also good for about six assists per game, a sign of steadily evolving court vision at the college level.

    He's heating up at the right time, with 55 total points in Notre Dame's last three games.

2. Eric Atkins

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    The 6'2" point guard is currently third in the Big East in assists per game (6.1).

    He's a calculative court general and patient shooter—the result of an elevated hesitancy to hoist up ill-advised shots has helped his field goal percentage to balloon seven points from last year to 46 percent. 

    In Wednesday's overtime win against DePaul, Atkins directed traffic with nine assists and buried three baskets from beyond the three-point arc.

    His most underrated asset is an ability to get under the skin of whichever man he is defending. Atkins is the kind of selfless backcourt player every title contender needs.

1. Jack Cooley

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    Jack Cooley is the most complete post player in the country's best conference. The 6'9" senior has tallied 17 double-doubles in 25 games this season, which ranks him second nationally in that category.

    Cooley is a smooth operator on the offensive end, particularly when Notre Dame feeds him the ball along the blocks. He prolongs Fighting Irish possessions by providing second-chance opportunities inside.

    Cooley is the Big East's top rebounder (11.3 per game) and is among the nation's best at cleaning the glass. Throw in his 1.5 blocks per outing and it's clear to see how instrumental Cooley is to Notre Dame's conference title hopes.