Center Jack CooleyOn a tear during the team's 6-2 streak, connecting on 40 of his last 71 field goal attempts (56.3 percent) while grabbing 97 rebounds in that span (12.1 per game)…On pace for first-team All-Big East honors after garnering second team recognition last season…Has also knocked down 31 of 42 free throws during the Irish recovery from a 3-3 start, second-best on the squad in that span…Was outplayed by Providence big man Kadeem Betts last Saturday in the team's 17-point loss, one of the few outings this season in which Cooley didn't answer the challenge from a league peer.
Said Brey this week of his glass cleaner: "He does not accept block-outs. You tell your big guys, 'Don't accept the block-out.' A lot of guys accept block-outs; most guys accept block-outs. Jack Cooley truly does not accept the block-out. And he's relentless."
Power Forward Tom KnightFared well on the team's two-game road trip, hitting 8 of 12 shots after previously missing on 21 of his last 27 (an issue for a spot-up mid-range shooter). Knight though connected on 15 of his first 19 since making his first start eight games ago, a span in which the Irish have won six and lost just twice…Ranks seventh in the conference with 1.4 blocks per game in league play and has collected either 7 or 8 rebounds in four of the last eight contests…Has blocked at least one shot in each of his eight starts, recording multiple swats on four occasions, including a career-best three vs. Providence…Weakside presence and length has aided the Irish defense, both near the rim and on ball screens vs. big men at the key.
Swingman Pat ConnaughtonHas connected on just 5 of his last 29 three-point field goal attempts, but two of the quintet were prominent -- and back-to-back -- in the team's comeback from a 19-3 deficit to win going away at Pittsburgh…Connaughton has ripped down 27 rebounds in his last four games since failing to collect a carom in a sleepy loss at Syracuse two weeks ago.
Said Brey of Connaughton's renewed focus on the glass, both as a rebounder and help defender: "He adds to our toughness. He's that third guy on the front line with whatever two big guys that are pounding the backboard. He helps us play bigger when he's rebounding like that.
"When he was in that lull, I said to him one day, 'You're kind of playing pretty lately. When you stick your nose in there for us and rebound and fly around, it gives us all kinds of confidence. I think it helps him make shots and gets him more involved in the game when the juices are flowing."
The true sophomore is easily the squad's second-best traffic rebounder behind Cooley, and prior to his recent struggles, the best or second best open shooter on the roster as well.
Combo Guard Jerian GrantThe team's most talented, maddening, streaky player, Grant has taken over late in two of the team's last three wins, (the Louisville tour de force and Monday at Pittsburgh) but is also guilty of forcing the issue too often, especially in the first half of games vs. solid defensive teams…Has hit just 23 of his last 65 field goal attempts over the last six, though he's drained16 of his last 41 three-pointers over the team's 6-2 run in its last eight…
The team's chief playmaker in the half-court offense, Grant has dealt 52 assists in the last eight games and ranks fourth in the Big East in assists during conference games (5.9)…Has attempted at least 10 free throws in three of the last six games, hitting 22 of 28 after a recent slump…19 turnovers in his last five games are largely the result of an increase in point guard duties and forays to the rim, something the Irish will likely have to live with to loosen opposing defenses.
Said Grant of the team's comeback effort Monday night in the Steel City: "We have a mature team. We moved on from the Providence game. In the Big East, once you take a loss, you have to bounce back."
Point Guard Eric AtkinsJunior captain could likely use and extra three to five minutes on the bench per contest but that's not an option on a team without a backup guard…Struggled offensively vs. Villanova, Syracuse, Louisville, and especially Providence, but was instrumental in the team's comeback win at Pittsburgh, recording six assists, two free throws, and a three-point shot -- 21 of 23 total points scored to help erase the Panthers' 16-point advantage late in the first half…
Has missed 13 of his last 26 from the charity stripe, an issue for a point guard leading a team that is likely to play close contests from now through the end of its season…Just 30 of his last 72 from the field but a respectable 13 of 32 from long range in that same span (8 games) while dishing out 29 assists vs. 18 turnovers in a whopping 333 minutes (more than 41 per game due to seven overtimes).
Swingman Cam BiedscheidCurrently cast in the role of streak shooter as he learns the college game, the preternaturally talented scorer shot a combined 9 of 30 vs. DePaul (first meeting), Syracuse, Providence, and PIttsburgh, but ripped the nets for 11 of 21 including 7 of 11 from downtown against Villanova and Louisville, and DePaul (second meeting)…A common theme in the poor outings vs. sharp-shooting efforts: the errant nights were away from home, the three on target all in South Bend…
Biedschied's overall game improves with outside accuracy as well: he hit a combined 10 of 11 free throws in the trio of home games mentioned and did not attempt a free throw in any of the four poorer efforts…Has just eight boards in his last 173 game minutes, an 8-game stretch.
Said Brey of his freshman's recent struggles but bright future: "He just needs time to grow up and get in that weight room again for another off-season. He wants to be a player. I've been so impressed with how he's given himself to us. 'What do I need to do?' He's taken coaching very well.
"The older guys know we're going to need him. He can get rolling at any time and he's going to get a big crack at it on Sunday."
Brey added that in physical battles such as Monday's win at Pittsburgh, its hard to play the 6'7" 185-pounder. "There are certain nights Cam struggles physically. If its a night that's tough for him, then it's hard to get Pat (Connaughton) a break."
Power Forward Zach Auguste6'10" athlete has yet to reap consistent dividends on the defensive glass but Auguste's weak side shot-blocking prowess has added a long-missing element to the team defense…Has made a positive impact off the bench in five of the last six excepting the loss at Syracuse…Bonus to date is the true freshman has proved to be a reliable free throw shooter, hitting a pair vs. Louisville in overtime and 10 of his last 12 overall (yet to miss in Big East play)…Better on the offensive boards, where a whopping half of his 18 have been following missed shots by his teammates.
Has made a few glaring freshman mistakes in transition, but also runs the floor as well as any Irish big man in the Brey era.
Center/Power Forward Garrick ShermanMinutes have dwindled since Sherman saved his squad with a standout overtime performance against Louisville, but the senior transfer still serves in a first-half platoon off the bench, generally entering with fellow big backup Zach Auguste, and of late, with Biedscheid as well. Sherman played just six minutes vs. Pittsburgh Monday, adding a rebound and two missed shots, but he previously scored 11 in 12 minutes at Providence, and six with four boards in 14 minutes vs. DePaul…
All future playing time will be predicated on improved defensive presence at the rim and his work on the boards -- its accepted that Sherman is a skilled, two-handed post player that can help offensively, but with four big men, second half minutes will be earned.