Opened the season as the starting lineup’s only question mark with four of 2011’s seven regulars returning…Quickly showed a penchant for the clutch shot, burying his first “dagger” of the season to put a close game vs. potential NCAA Tournament team Detroit on ice in November…Struggled mightily vs. the first top team he faced in Missouri, but since showed his top-notch athleticism (head coach Mike Brey offered Grant could be the fastest player in the Big East), while playing under control and serving as a second point guard in Notre Dame’s attack…Generally guards the team’s best opposing point guard, two-guard, or (perimeter) small forward…Played relatively well in non-conference defeats vs. Georgia (20 points), Gonzaga (16 points on nine shots), and Maryland (a team-high 20 points)…
Since the Streak/Of Late: Averaged 12 points and 5.3 assists while committing just over two turnovers per contest during the team’s nine-game winning streak and 1-2 finish thereafter; scoring in double figures in all 12 wins and failing to do so in both defeats. Grant was held below double digits in four Big East contests this season: Connecticut (South Bend), at Rutgers, at St. John’s, and at Georgetown – the Irish fell in each.
At his best: Grant often attacks the bucket with abandon, a key feature for an Irish offense that relies on penetration from its guards to free perimeter shooters. The redshirt-freshman is top-notch foul shooter (better than 83 percent) and is as adept at creating buckets for teammates in half-court sets as was his predecessor, 2011 league MVP Ben Hansbrough. Grant, like backcourt mate Eric Atkins, is fearless in late-game situations and is easily the top choice to take an open (deep) three or pair of free throws with the game on the line. Remembering the latter will be key over the next two-three weeks of basketball…
Can struggle when… He settles for long-range shots from the outset. Grant, at present, is a streak-shooter from long range, and when he’s off (2-8 vs. Connecticut in South Bend; 0-5 vs. St. John’s; 1-5 vs. Georgetown – all losses), so too is the Irish attack. The all-rookie team member can create vs. tough perimeter defenders, but he too often seeks the 22-footer when playing off the ball.
Sophomore Point Guard Eric Atkins
Earned co-captain designation midway through the season, the first such sophomore to be honored in program history…Finished second on the team in assists (4.1), third in scoring (12.4), first in steals (1.3), and first among qualifying three-point shooters at 36.9 percent…Has been on the bench for an aggregate nine minutes over Notre Dame’s last nine contests and played every minute of nine of the team’s 18 Big East games including a 50-minute performance in double overtime at Louisville and a 45-minute effort in overtime at Villanova – both Irish victories…Did not commit a turnover in three Big East contests and suffered three or fewer in 17 of 18 conference contests…Posted five or more assists in eight Big East games this season, his first as a starter.
Since the Streak/Of Late: Mired in a bit of a shooting slump, hitting just 9 of his last 27 shots from the field and 2 of his last 11 from beyond the arc…Dished out 43 assists during the team’s nine-game winning streak and helped the Irish rebound from consecutive defeats thereafter with 10 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds in a season-ending win over Providence…Averaged more than 13 points in the final eight games of the streak after being a surprising non-factor in 25 foul-plagued minutes during the upset of then #1 and 20-0 Syracuse to kick-off the winning run…
At his best: The Irish are 6-0 when Atkins hits at least five free throws, an indicator of both his aggressiveness and late-game importance when protecting a lead…Along with Grant, is one of two rotation players who excels in an open court, full-speed game, a trait the team must occasionally embrace to avoid the extended scoring droughts that have plagued each tournament defeat (Big East and otherwise) over the last six-plus seasons…Can get to the basket from the wing and baseline, especially when he occasionally begins an offensive set off the ball, allowing Grant or Scott Martin to handle “Burn” duties up top…A solid open shooter despite a hitch in his release and like Grant, has been blessed with the “clutch gene” early in his collegiate career.
Can struggle when… Appears overly cautious in road settings vs. aggressive one-on-one defenders that pressure him up top, often to the detriment of the offense…Vastly improved as a defender from his freshman season but multiple standout point guards likely await and his teammate Grant will still be forced to deal with the opponents’ quickest guard in a tournament setting…Like a young Chris Quinn before him, Atkins could stand to be more selfish in hunting his shot; protecting the ball is great, but occasionally turnovers are a necessary evil accompanying aggression, points, assists, and the ability to breakdown a defense.
Next in our Previews: Notre Dame’s frontcourt starters Jack Cooley and Scott Martin.