Monaco: ND needs more than just Grant
Mike Monaco | Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Jerian Grant is back, but that doesn’t mean Notre Dame is.
The preseason All-ACC guard can step right back onto the hardwood at Purcell Pavilion and pour in 30 points or dish out nine assists in exhibition play and look just like the same playmaker who left campus in December. But it’s not that simple for Notre Dame to regain the same status it had before Grant missed the second semester due to an “academic matter [he] did not handle properly.”
The Irish spiraled into ACC oblivion, only once winning back-to-back conference games and suffering their first losing season since 1998-99. Sure, Grant’s presence is worth a few wins off the bat, as it probably would have been in league play last season. Still, there’s much work to be done and major strides to be made.
No one’s strides will lead to more overall improvement for the team than those of 6’10” junior big-man Zach Auguste and sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson. Grant and senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton will assuredly be the reliable veterans who power the squad, but Auguste and Jackson will be the key cogs in determining if Notre Dame can bounce back after last year’s mess.
Auguste is the bigger wildcard here, and not just literally. His combination of size and athleticism is fairly unique in South Bend, and it’s easy to see why many around the program tout his impressive upside. Auguste makes plays above the rim and spews an on-court fire more often than even-keeled veterans like Grant and Connaughton.
Irish coach Mike Brey has discussed the need for Auguste to slow things down to pick up his production. There have certainly been flashes of that in the preseason. Auguste chipped in 12 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes Friday against Lewis and went for 19 points and eight boards in just 21 minutes two weekends ago against Minnesota Duluth.
Consistency, though, will be essential for Auguste, especially as the competition stiffens and the games actually count. Growth and steadiness at the free-throw stripe will go a long way for the primary-post presence, too. After burying a mere 48.3 percent of his free throws last season, Auguste has hit nine of his 19 attempts in two exhibitions, and Lewis, in particular, attempted to tie up Auguste on the low block and send him to the line.
The path is a tad clearer for Jackson, the Mishawaka, Indiana, native and former McDonald’s All-American. Brey has said arguably the best thing that’s happened to Jackson since the end of last season is the graduation of former starting point guard Eric Atkins.
As a freshman, Jackson did make 15 starts and averaged more than 22 minutes per game, but the uber-athletic guard only notched 6.0 points and 1.8 assists per contest while slowed beside — or even behind — Atkins.
Now, the ball and the team belong to Jackson. He’s looked in command through two nights, netting 20 and 19 points, respectively, in the preseason tune-ups. Brey continues to rave about Jackson’s defensive ability and willingness to guard the length of the court for much of the game. That, in addition to Jackson’s enticing offensive skill set, could spur Notre Dame back toward ACC relevancy.
The Irish ranked 204th (of 351 teams) in the country last season in defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com. Defensive development is necessary for a team that lost seven games by five points or fewer and whose 12 conference defeats were by an average of 7.9 points per game.
Grant will certainly help tighten those gaps. But he won’t bring Notre Dame back to respectability on his own.