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October 27, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame enters its second season in the Atlantic Coast Conference seeking a new identity.

The Fighting Irish stumbled to a 15-17 finish last season, its most losses in 14 seasons under coach Mike Brey. They finished 6-12 and tied for 11th in their inaugural season in the ACC, matching Notre Dame's worst finish in the Big East under Brey.

The Irish discovered that the formula that worked in the Big East didn't work well in the new league because the ACC has too many teams that play a similar offensive-minded style. The Irish also learned they can no longer afford to ignore defending some opposing players.

''You don't have as many non-shooters on teams as you did in the Big East,'' Brey said. ''The Big East had a lot of athletes that maybe weren't great basketball players.''

The Irish head into this season looking for answers on how to be successful in the ACC.

''Who are we going to be?'' Brey asked. ''How do we keep tweaking maybe how we play to have a consistent identity, that one we had in the Big East? I don't think I have all the information yet, but I've got some good starters.''

The Irish will be helped by the return of Jerian Grant, who was leading the team at 19 points a game when he was dismissed from school in late December for an undisclosed academic violation. The Irish missed him most in late-game situations, going 6-7 in games decided by five points or fewer.

''I feel like if I was out there definitely a lot of those close games could have gone a different way,'' Grant said.

The Irish also return swingman Pat Connaughton (13.8 points, 7.1 rebounds a game), guard Demetrius Jackson (6.0 ppg), who will take over point guard duties, and Steve Vasturia (5.0 ppg) and several others who got extensive playing time last season.

''I'm excited with the group that we have, because we have some pieces. I'm not sure how all these things fit together yet. But we've got a lot to work with,'' Brey said.

Things to know about the Irish:

EARLY SCHEDULE: The Irish face Massachusetts and Providence in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Nov. 22-23, host Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 3, host Florida State on Dec. 13 and play Purdue in Indianapolis in December, so should know early what kind of season it's going to be. ''This group could get some things under their belt that could really make them feel good about themselves and start to create a resume,'' Brey said.

HOME COURT: The Irish entered last season with a record of 117-9 at home over the previous seven seasons, a .929 winning percentage that was second only to Kansas (.960). Last season, Notre Dame was 13-6 at home, including losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State. ''You'd like to get back to holding serve here,'' Brey said.

ROAD TROUBLES: The Irish were 1-9 in road games last season, with the sole victory coming at Boston College. In the Big East, the Irish would play games at Madison Square Garden and other arenas where NBA teams play. ''It's hard to win on the road in this league, because you're on campus,'' Brey said.

ANOTHER DRAFT: Connaughton was picked in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Baltimore Orioles in June and is hoping to hear his name called against in the upcoming NBA draft.

JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT: The Irish have a history of players making big jumps in production during their junior seasons. Jack Cooley went from being a dependable reserve averaging 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds as a sophomore to an integral player averaging 12.5 points and 8.9 rebounds as a junior. Tim Abromaitis, Rob Kurz and Tyrone Nash made similar jumps. Brey is hoping forwards Zach Auguste (6.7 points, 4.3 rebounds) and Austin Burgett (3.0 points and 1.8 rebounds) can have similar breakthrough seasons.

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