Jack Cooley & Jerian Grant: Warren Wimmer/Icon SMI
BIG EAST RANK
TEAM OUTLOOK The more pressure on Notre Dame the better as far as coach Mike Brey is concerned. Winners of 49 games the last two seasons (27-9 in the Big East) with second- and third-place finishes in the conference, the Irish return nearly every significant contributor from the 2011-12 season. Don't be surprised if the Fighting Irish make a run for the Big East title.
BREAKING DOWN THE STARTING FIVE Notre Dame's two top big men, Jack Cooley and sixth-year senior Scott Martin, return. Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman brings more length and a mid-range jump shot. Cooley nearly tripled his playing time while averaging 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds to win the conference's Most Improved Player award. Martin's contributions are more subtle. He struggled through much of the first half of the season while adjusting to playing without frontcourt partner Tim Abromaitis, who went down with a torn ACL in late November. Martin went on to average a modest 9.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, but his leadership and defense helped spark a nine-game winning streak during Big East play.
Brey believes Notre Dame has never had a starting backcourt as athletically gifted as juniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. If Brey wants more size, he can shift the 6-foot-5 Pat Connaughton to the backcourt. He also has athleticism to add to the mix in 6-7 freshman Cameron Biedscheid, a point forward with penetration skills and the ability to score in bunches.
NEWCOMERS Sherman gives the Irish a frontcourt tag-team partner for Cooley. Freshman guard Cameron Biedscheid and freshman big man Zach Auguste are a couple of four-star prospects with the talent to play early on a veteran team.
FINAL ANALYSIS Most teams will have difficulty matching up against Notre Dame's size and depth in the frontcourt. With Atkins and Grant leading the charge, few will find relief against the backcourt either. Brey sees a great opportunity in 2012-13 and has plenty of options at his disposal to make a deep run into March.
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