St. Francis (Pa.)-Notre Dame Preview
Coach Mike Brey wants the 6-foot-1 guard from nearby Mishawaka to be a playmaker, the top defender, hit clutch shots and fill the leadership void left by the graduations of Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant, who guided the Fighting Irish to one of the program's best seasons.
''No question, it's Demetrius Jackson's team,'' Brey said. ''It's his voice. He loves it. He welcomes it and I'm thrilled he's so confident in that position.''
Jackson is eager to accept the role, although he concedes he's still adjusting to the role as team leader.
''I feel like I'm still in that process. Guys are still getting more confident in me day by day,'' he said. ''I'm just trying to develop my leadership skills and get better.''
The 19th-ranked Irish finished 32-6 last season, beating Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back nights to win the ACC tournament in just their second season in the league. Notre Dame advanced to an NCAA Tournament regional final for the first time since 1979 and was a missed last-second shot by Grant against top-ranked Kentucky away from advancing to the Final Four for the second time in school history.
Jackson said the Irish believe they can build on that success.
''We know what it feels like, so now we just have to take it to the next level and learn from all the things we did last year,'' he said.
An offense that ranked second in the nation in shooting (50.9 percent) and 13th in scoring (78.0 ppg) last season will need some tinkering. The Irish have had a lot of success using a four-around-one system, with one big man in the post, and in 2014-15, the man in the middle was 6-10 forward Zach Auguste.
This season the Irish will have two inside players with 6-5 forward Bonzie Colson expected to start alongside Auguste. Brey said the Irish are still figuring out how that will work, but are likely to start with Colson playing outside the arc before getting into the post.
''We're trying to keep him out there so we have good initial spacing then maybe eventually he gets in there,'' Brey said.
Notre Dame has a history of players making big improvements between their sophomore and junior seasons. Jack Cooley went from averaging 3.7 points to 12.5 in 2011-12. Rob Kurz went from averaging 6.4 points to 12.6 in 2006-07. Brey is hoping swingman V.J. Beachem, who averaged 6.4 points last season, will have a similar improvement.
''I think he's the next guy to do that,'' Brey said.
The five starters are known. The question is who will contribute from the bench. Brey has praised forward Austin Burgett's leadership, said Martinas Geben is in better shape and guard Matt Farrell is improved. Freshmen Elijah Burns, Ryan Pfluegger and Matt Ryan also are expected to compete for playing time.
Austin Torres also is expected to contribute, but is out about a month with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee.
Saint Francis (16-16) returns three starters from a team that reached the semifinals of the Northeast Conference tournament and lost to Bowling Green in the first round of the CIT, but leading scorer and rebounder Earl Brown (15.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg) is not one of them.
The Red Flash will lean on guards Malik Harmon (9.7 ppg), Greg Brown (8.2) and Ben Millaud-Meunier (5.5), while 6-7 senior Ronnie Drinnon (8.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg) will anchor the frontcourt as coach Rob Kimmel works his seven-man freshman class into the rotation.
Rebounding may be a concern for Saint Francis, which was tied for the second-worst margin in the Northeast last season at minus-2.9 per game.
Notre Dame - which has won all 12 games between the schools - went 10-0 at home in nonconference play last season, averaging 87.4 points and shooting 56.5 percent.