Jackson Savior of Irish Season

When Kyle McAlarney had to leave the Fighting Irish basketball team in late December, Mike Brey had to hand the point guard duties to freshman Tory Jackson. Jackson had been used in spot duty throughout the non-conference season. Suddenly he had one tune-up game to get ready for thirty-five or more minutes of duty in every Big East game for the rest of the season.

Jackson was obviously talented, but he didn't look close to ready for the assignment. His outside shooting and free throw shooting were poor for a Big East guard, and his judgment was questionable at times.

I figured that Jackson would improve as he gained experience throughout the season, but he has exceeded expectations. A few stats:

• Jackson's free throw percentage in non-conference games - 51.1%. Free throw shooting in conference games - 68.2% and climbing.
• Jackson was averaging 5.67 assists per game going into today's game, second in the Big East. USF freshman Chris Howard is leading at 6.18. The next best freshman if Villanova's Scottie Reynolds, seventh in the conference at 4.25 assists per game right behind Dominic James who is averaging 4.77 per game.
• Tied for second in the conference in steals, 2.08 per game. The next best freshman, Villanova's Reggie Redding, is seventh.
• Today's six assists and five turnovers may stop his ascent, but Jackson has been climbing the Big East rankings in assists to turnovers ratio. He entered today's game fourth at 2.13. Only one other freshman, South Florida's Chris Howard at #8, is in the top fifteen.
• Jackson's scoring average in the first eight conference games - 6.6. Jackson's scoring average in the last five conference games - 11.4.

Other than the steals statistic, stats don't tell the story of Jackson's defense. He shows his speed and determination by getting through screens; harassing shooters; and doubling post players, often stripping the ball for a steal or merely knocking it out of bounds to stop a scoring opportunity.

Scottie Reynolds will probably be named Big East Freshman of the Year. He's an outstanding young player who is tied for seventh in scoring at 15.3 points per game, is seventh in assists, and is tied with our own Colin Falls for 13th in steals at 1.5 per game. He's shooting 42% from three point range, and he has made 84.5% of his free throws.

Jackson should make the all-freshman team with no questions asked. I also believe that, while he will not unseat Reynolds for the FOY award, his name ought to be in the conversation. More importantly, he has adapted to the league beautifully. Notre Dame's season would have been in big trouble without him.


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