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Men’s Basketball: Filling the gaps

Andrew Gastelum | Monday, October 31, 2011

The age of Hansbrough is over, as Irish fans everywhere get their first look at head coach Mike Brey’s newest project in Notre Dame’s exhibition against St. Xavier tonight at the Purcell Pavilion.

Following the departure of do-it-all guard Ben Hansbrough and experienced forwards Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott, who all now play professionally in Europe, the Irish will patiently approach replacing three of their top five scorers, Brey said.

“Patience is the key word for me,” Brey said at Notre Dame’s media day. “Last year’s product was a finished product on the first day of practice. They wanted to play right away and they were ready.

“This group is going to have to scratch and claw for us to be able to do this. Our non-league schedule is very demanding. We have a lot of new faces that we are going to be figuring out. We are going to have to be patient and work through it.”

Brey said he expects sophomore guards Jerian Grant and Alex Dragicevich to rise to the occasion and fill in behind the fifth-year leadership and experience of forwards Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin.

Abromaitis, who will be unavailable for the first four regular season games due to an NCAA violation, and Martin are the team’s leading returning scorers from last season after averaging 15.4 and 9.7 points, per game, respectively. Brey attributes the rapid growth of the young players to the experience provided by both Abromitis and Martin.

“I felt better than I thought I would about how we would move as a unit,” he said. “On the offensive end, given how many new guys we are working in, it made me feel good to see that they were watching and learning.

“[I’m] very impressed with where Jerian and Alex are in understanding how to play within our system. I think playing against and watching those veteran guys last year has really helped them. Those guys are going to be key, certainly.”

Yet the defensive side of the ball concerns Brey, as the Irish lost two of their top three rebounders, as well as their top shot blockers, in Nash and Scott.

“I am still trying to figure out who we are going to be defensively and how we can play defensively with some of these new guys,” Brey said. “Can we extend a little bit more when Atkins and Grant are on the court because that is some speed that we really haven’t had [before]? Do we need to play more zone to keep Martin and Abromaitis on the floor for a very long time and make sure they don’t get into foul trouble? That is probably how I am going to evaluate us this first week more than anything.”

Meanwhile St. Xavier — a school of just under 3,000 undergraduate students in Chicago — returns all five of their starters from last season and is currently ranked No. 24 in the latest National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division I poll after last year’s 19-13 finish.

Sophomore guard Brad Karp leads the Cougars, who lost to perennial NAIA power Robert Morris in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) semifinals last March. Karp recorded 27 points and 12 rebounds in the loss and was named the 2010-2011 CCAC Rookie of the Year.

Notre Dame and St. Xavier will kick off the basketball season Tuesday in an exhibition at 7:30 p.m. in the Purcell Pavilion.

 

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agestel1@nd.edu