Player Preview: Tory Jackson

The play of senior point guard Tory Jackson will determine if the Irish are to return to relevance or remain in basketball purgatory (commonly referred to as the NIT) at season's end.

"My job is just to make sure all these guys get in some kind of rhythm. And on the defensive end, stay in position and be aggressive just like we are on the offensive end." – Irish senior point guard Tory Jackson

Jackson's view of his responsibilities for 2010 is, and has been accurate since he took over the starting point guard role midway through his freshman season. But his head coach, 10-year program leader Mike Brey, recently mentioned there's an added necessity to Jackson's game for 2010, one that I believe must remain consistent over an 18-game Big East schedule if the Irish are to earn an NCAA Tournament bid:

"Tory's gotta be a double-figure guy for us. And I think he will be."

As a frosh thrown into the fray due to Kyle McAlarney's suspension in 2007 and through his sophomore year of '08, Jackson established himself as the team's heartbeat and point of energy. A sub par game from the floor leader did not bode well for the surprisingly successful Irish who compiled a 25-9 conference record in that span.

Entering last season, Jackson was integral player No. 1A for nationally ranked Irish. In my opinion, his regression, especially over the team's disastrous first half of the conference season, was the unforeseen development that doomed Notre Dame as its promising season that began in the spotlight and national Top 10 spiraled into NIT irrelevance by March.

I had felt his career arc would place him among the elite point guards in the conference by season's end. He never reached that rarified air and Notre Dame plummeted to an 8-10 finish.

With 18-plus career games remaining in the conference spotlight, Jackson has a chance to help lead ND back to the only tournament that matters. As a leader, defender, undersized rebounder, willing driver, and clutch shooter, Jackson's play, perhaps more so than any other member of the squad, will determine the team's fate at season's end.

The Bottom Line – Numbers

Jackson's impact on a game goes beyond statistics, but the senior will likely need to rank among the Big East's assist leaders and top rebounding guards for the Irish to challenge the league's best this season.

  • Points: 8.3
  • Rebounds: 3.2
  • Assists: 5.25 (63)
  • Turnovers: 17
  • Assist-to-Turnover Ratio: 3.7 to 1
  • Steals: 15
  • Blocks: 3
  • FG/FT/3-Point Percentages: 37.8/35.1/57.5

(The above indicate Jackson's averages through the matchup with UCLA on Saturday. Notre Dame has one non-conference game remaining).

A Closer Look

Jackson's field goal and free throw percentages, while currently unacceptable, are on par with his career non-conference efforts. Expect both to rise, especially his free throw accuracy which has hovered around 70 percent in two of his three Big East campaigns. Jackson's an improved shooter from beyond the arc, but he's unlikely to top his current 35 percent clip in league play.

Jackson was a combined 6-18 from the field (4-9 from 3-point range) in the team's two losses to Northwestern and Loyola Marymount earlier this season while boasting a 9-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the two games. But the scrappy guard collected just three combined rebounds in the two games. More is expected, and this season, necessary, from a player that once secured 14 boards vs. Pittsburgh and its front line of DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, and Gilbert Brown in a 12-point Irish win.

How Does Jackson Improve?

While Jackson should be lauded for improved outside shooting over the course of his career, he's anything but a spot-up shooter, and with senior guard Ben Hansbrough's penetration and ability to find open shooters on the wings, Jackson would do well to employ the occasional shot-fake followed by deeper penetration or a pull-up shot from 15-feet over the course of the season.

His outside shot is simply too flat to touch the nets at a consistent clip from beyond the arc and a three-or-four attempt effort from long range would serve the offense best on a nightly basis. (He is, however, a better shooter off the dribble in shot-clock situations.)

Jackson's been sub par from the free throw line this season, but as stated above, I expect his percentage (and concentration level) to improve as the Irish enter league play. A consistently clutch late-game free throw shooter, Jackson is a solid fourth option for the Irish near the end of close contests (Tim Abromaitis is automatic, while Ben Hansbrough and Luke Harangody are solid from the charity stripe).

Greatest Strengths

Jackson represents the team's pulse, constantly pushing the group and cajoling the less experienced players to focus on the finer points, especially defensively. He'll be called upon to challenge each team's top scoring guard on the perimeter throughout the season (though Hansbrough is a willing defender as well) and is the team's X-factor on the offensive glass…a player that can extend possessions and fire up the sometimes sleepy home crowd with his determination (and athleticism) when the half-court offense bogs down.

Though I don't believe Jackson should be the team's "final play" ball handler and first option in close games this season (he was in the last second loss to Loyola Marymount), he nonetheless should continue to penetrate and attack the lane throughout the course of the contest. Jackson's ability to hit the tough shot in close late in his freshman and sophomore seasons was the key development in Notre Dame's successful run through the conference.

Final Thoughts

When Jackson appeared to suffer a serious ankle injury in early December, the promise of a bounce back season by the Irish was all but lost (his ankle is fine though he wasn't full strength in the upset home loss to Loyola Marymount six days later). His continued health and 35 on-court minutes per night is necessary. Aside from the obvious top dog and conference's best player Luke Harangody, Jackson remains the key player for the 2010 Irish: ND simply will not beat a Big East team if Jackson has a poor game this season.

His leadership, physical and mental toughness, on-the-ball defense, offensive rebounding ability, will-to-win, and competitiveness aren't in question. But Coach Brey should stress to Jackson that his controlled penetration and aggressiveness remain the key components to the team's offensive attack. He can't settle for the shakiest weapon in his offensive arsenal – the spot-up shot from beyond the arc.

The senior from Saginaw was at his best as an aggressive, powerful sophomore that willed the team through its toughest moments. If he regains that consistent form over the next three months, the 2010 Irish will be dancing in March.

As Jackson goes, so go the Irish.


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