ESPN Events: Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s Jackson making strides

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
Notre Dame’s sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson has made roadkill out of opposing guards trying to run their offense through him.

With uncanny anticipation skills and some of the fastest hands in the ACC, Jackson, a 6-1, 198-pound sophomore, leads the Fighting Irish in steals and is tied for the ACC lead and is fourth in the conference in steals per game. He’s a leading candidate to steal the show in Sunday's game at No. 15 North Carolina.

Point guards can thank Jackson’s older brother for their headaches and shrinking assist-to-turnover ratios.

“When I was younger, my older brother would make me only play defense in the driveway. No offense; it was all defense,” said Jackson, who sports a team-best 4.2 assists-to-turnover ratio in ACC play. “Coach [Mike Brey] motivated me to be a better defender, and me wanting to set the tempo and set the tone for our team defensively at the top of the key, just the will to want to do those things, definitely helped me out.”

Brey also motivated Jackson academically, when last season he took Jackson off the court until he improved his grades, a strategy the coach employed with center Zach Auguste this season and Jerian Grant last year.

Since his reinstatement two games later, Jackson has motivated himself on and off the court. This year, offensively, he’s upped his game; more than doubling last year’s 6.0 ppg, and increasing his shooting by almost seven points and three-point shooting by almost five points, while shooting over 75 percent from the foul line in better than 10 minutes a game more than last season.

“I learned so much last year,” Jackson said. “Decision-making as a guard, just how to take care of the ball. In our program we really value taking care of the ball. I learned a lot from [last season’s starting point guard and co-captain] Eric Atkins, from Jerian Grant, and from coaches, too.”

This season, Jackson has become one of the team’s leaders.

“He’s really matured for us, no question about it. He gives us great ball pressure. He’s also become a real good decision-maker with the ball. He’s become a better guard,” Brey said. “He’s leading, too! He talks in our huddles as much as Grant and [senior forward Pat] Connaughton. He’s got to be a candidate for most improved player in the league.”

Notre Dame is a candidate for the most improved team in the league. Heading into Sunday’s showdown with the Tar Heels, they’re 17-2, ranked eighth according to AP, ninth by USA Today/Coaches, and, at 5-1, are tied for second in the ACC. That’s up from last season, N.D.’s first in the ACC, when it finished 6-12 in the conference (tied for 11th) and 15-17 overall. It was Brey’s only losing season at South Bend (he’s in his 15th year) and the program’s first sub-.500 season since 1998-99.

Jackson is proud of how the team responded to the setback.

“I feel like last year really motivated us to work harder and push ourselves extra hard in the off-season,” he said. “We just realized how athletic the teams were, how well the teams would compete. We realized what’s going to work, what’s not going to work. We went in and made the adjustments.”

Those adjustments have put the Fighting Irish in a good position to return to the NCAA Tournament, something they missed last year for only the second time in eight years.

They also will participate in the Orlando Classic, an early season Thanksgiving Weekend tournament that will also include the likes of Alabama, Dayton, Iowa, Southern California, Wichita State and Xavier.

“I’m really excited to be able to go out and play against some great teams,” Jackson said of the trip to Disney World. “It’s an opportunity to go out and be in a great place with my teammates and really have the opportunity to get better.”

We’re enjoying the show.

Numerical nuggets from the ACC (part II)

October, 15, 2013
Getting hungry for college basketball season? We’ve got some tasty morsels to whet your appetite. As ESPN Events continues to take a look at the different conferences, we’ve put together part two of our peek at the 15-team gauntlet that is the new ACC. With at least one team ranking in the AP’s final Top 10 in each of the past 53 years—last year they had two, No. 5 Duke and No. 10 Miami—the conference added No. 3 Syracuse this year and will add last year’s national champion Louisville next season. Following are some key numbers to consider for eight of the ACC schools. Think of it as an appetizer to what is sure to be a hearty, filling season. Bon appétit! "

North Carolina (25-11, 12-6, 3rd)
Last season’s team-high rebounding (ninth in the ACC) and second-place scoring averages of James Michael McAdoo. The 6-9, 230-pound junior forward, who led the team in scoring and rebounding in nine games, also led the team in steals (1.5 per game, fourth in the ACC and the best amongst returning players). He’s keeping alive a family tradition of excellence, as his second cousin, Naismith Hall of Famer Bob McAdoo, led the team in scoring and rebounding his lone season in Chapel Hill (1972). Led by McAdoo, the Tar Heels will look to continue a trend of 25-win seasons, having done it seven times in the last nine years under Roy Williams. McAdoo and company will be on ESPN as part of the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament (Nov. 15 and 17) and will be primetime on Dec. 4 when they travel to East Lansing to play Michigan State as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

NC State (24-11, 11-7, T4th)
The number of returning starters for the Wolfpack. That’s not only saying goodbye to four starters but to 68.2 percent of the scoring and 69.5 percent of the rebounding (including the ACC’s leading rebounder Richard Howell). Fortunately, that one returning starter is 6-8 sophomore forward T.J. Warren. The ACC All-Freshman Teamer scored 12.1 points, second among ACC freshmen, and shot a conference-leading .622, including a team-high .519 from three. Warren, who scored 15 points on a team-best seven field goals in the Pack’s 76-56 loss to Oklahoma State in the final of last year’s Old Spice Classic, became only the fifth freshman ever to lead the ACC in field goal percentage.

^Notre Dame (25-10, 11-7, 6th)
The assist-to-turnover ratio for Notre Dame’s three-guard starting combo of seniors Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. The trio was a big reason Notre Dame led the Big East and finished second in the nation with a 1.49-to-1 assists-to-turnover ratio. Grant is the team’s leading returning scorer (13.3 ppg last season) and is tied in assists (5.5) with Atkins, tops amongst returning players. Connaughton is the squad’s leading rebounder (4.7 rpg). The Irish look to make it five straight NCAA Tournament appearances and seven in eight years, and hope to continue the streak of having played in the postseason in each of coach Mike Brey’s 14 years at the helm. The trio, which combined for 49 points and 15 assists in the 104-101, five-overtime thriller against Louisville last year, can be seen on ESPN in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 3, when they battle Iowa.

^Pittsburgh (24-9, 12-6, 4th)
The number of consecutive 20-win seasons for the Panthers, who boast a .769 winning percentage in that span (319-96) and are one of seven schools to make it to the NCAA Tournament in 11 of 12 years. The last 10 of those dozen seasons have come under the guidance of coach Jamie Dixon. Last year’s was one of the most dramatic, as they dropped three of their first four conference games, yet still finished 12-6. Ironman Lamar Patterson was a big reason why, and he’ll be big this season. Having made 66 consecutive starts, the 6-5 senior forward is the team’s leading returning scorer (10.0 ppg) and is second in rebounding (4.3 rpg). He showed his stuff in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off, averaging a team-high 15 points and pulling down 7.5 rebounds. He’s as unselfish as they come, handing out 2.8 assists, and is as secure with the ball, sporting a career 1.81:1 assists-to-turnover ratio. The Panthers will show their stuff in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Dec. 3, hosting Penn State, and will participate in the Jimmy V Classic at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Dec. 17, taking on Cincinnati.

^Syracuse (30-10, 11-7, 5th)
The career point total for Syracuse 6-8 senior forward C.J. Fair. A Second-Team All-Big East selection last season, Fair is one of only three ACC players to start the season with at least 1,000 career points. He was the leading scorer for last season’s Big East Tournament runner-up and Final Four entrant, and his 14.5 ppg last season more than triples the output of the next leading returnee, 6-9 junior center/forward Rakeem Christmas (4.5). His 7.0 rpg also are a team high amongst returnees. The seemingly indestructible Fair played in all 40 games last season and put in 34.8 minutes per game. He and Christmas (1.8 blocks per game) will lead three returning starters and six of Syracuse’s top nine scorers in adding on to the D-I-record 43 consecutive winning seasons. The Orange will be fun to watch and can be seen in this year’s EA Sports Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27) on ESPN, opening with Minnesota (5:30 p.m. on ESPN2), then, a week later hosting Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on ESPN.

Virginia (23-12, 11-7, T4th)
The points allowed by Virginia’s smothering defense last season. That led the ACC and ranked fifth in the nation. The Cavaliers held opponents under 60 points 26 times in 35 games in recording back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since 1992 and ’93. The Wahoos also return 87.8 percent of their scoring and 86.1 percent of their rebounding, as well as key senior leaders 6-6 guard Joe Harris and 6-8 forward Akil Mitchell. Harris was First-Team All-ACC last year; the only returnee among them, he’s the second-leading active scorer (1,255 points) and was fourth in the conference in both scoring (16.3 ppg) and three-point shooting (.468). Mitchell poured in 13.1 ppg, grabbed 8.9 rpg, and had 12 double-doubles. So, yes, Virginia, ACC title contention is possible. You can check out the Cavs on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 when they host VCU as part of ESPN’s 24-Hour Hoops Marathon.

Virginia Tech (13-19, 4-14, 12th)
The free-throw percentage of 6-7 senior forward Jarell Eddie. While the team shot a little over 70 percent for the season, Eddie was the second-most reliable shooter from the charity stripe in the ACC—only Wake Forest’s C.J. Harris (.847) was better. The Hokies had two of the four top foul shooters in the conference, as Erick Green connected at 81.6 percent. Eddie is the leading returning scorer at 12.6 ppg, about half of what Green scored last season in leading the nation in scoring. The Hokies are a host school in the 2013 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on ESPN, taking on USC Upstate at noon on Nov. 9, and Western Carolina at 7:00 p.m. on Nov. 15. They’ll also take on Michigan State at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., at 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 22.

Wake Forest (13-18, 6-12, 10th)
33 percent:
The percentage of Wake Forest’s losses last year by six or fewer points. That includes one-point losses to Georgia Tech and at Virginia Tech. The Demon Deacons, who also knocked off then-No. 2 Miami, and No. 18 NC State, return four starters, who comprise 70 percent of last year’s offense and 88 percent of its rebounding, the most in the conference. Leading the way is 6-7 senior forward Travis McKie, a two-time Honorable Mention All-ACC performer, and the conference’s active leader in points (1,344), points per game (14.2), rebounds (680), starts (94) and double-doubles (16).

^ 2012-13 record in the Big East