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November 8, 2013

Getting better on the boards

In five of Notre Dame's last six basketball seasons, the Irish have been blessed with a tenacious, relentless rebounder.

From the 2007-08 season through the 2009-10 campaign, Luke Harangody was a tireless, almost maniacal presence on the backboards for the Irish, snagging 1,222 rebounds in his career, which ranks second in the history of the program.

After a rebounding-by-committee season in 2010-11 which, incidentally, led to a 27-7 record - the best mark in the Mike Brey era - it was back to the one dominant figure up front in Jack Cooley, who averaged 10.2 rebounds per game as a junior and 10.1 as a senior.

Now Cooley is gone, and although this year's Irish squad boasts four players among the top 10 who are 6-foot-9 or taller, Brey is concerned about having a consistent go-to guy on the backboards.

"It will be something that we keep coming back to over and over again," said Brey, who has been talking about his concern with Notre Dame's rebounding since Cooley's collegiate career came to a close.

Notre Dame will try to re-create the scenario that unfolded in 2010-11 when Carleton Scott (7.4 rpg.), Tim Abromaitis (6.1), Tyrone Nash (5.9), Scott Martin (4.8), high-scoring guard Ben Hansbrough (3.9), and a young and developing Cooley (3.1) collectively took care of business on the backboards.

Top candidates this year include Garrick Sherman, Zach Auguste, Tom Knight, Austin Burgett and undersized-but-tenacious four-/three-man Pat Connaughton, as well as 6-foot-5 guard Jerian Grant.

"Connaughton and Sherman have rebounded the best for us," Brey said. "They are our two best defensive rebounders. We're going to need more help. Tom's got to be better at it. Austin has got to be better on the defensive board, and then our perimeters guys have to help us rebound.

"It's something we've got to keep coming back to. If we can get a guy like Zach Auguste that makes himself that guy, it's going to be hard to take him out of the game."

Brey admits it became easy to take guys like Harangody and Cooley for granted, and then move on to attending to other details.

"You do fall into a bit of a comfort zone with a guy getting 11 all the time and getting all the tough ones," Brey said.

But there are solutions for the Irish, just as there were three seasons ago.

"Pat has gotten the most of the tough ones, at key times, in game situations in practice," Brey said. "Sherm has been steady and by far, he has almost doubled the rebounding of the other bigs in like 20 practices."

Although Brey loves what he's seen from his young perimeter players, combined with veterans Eric Atkins and Grant, the Irish may have to lean on bigger lineups at times in order to control the rebounding department.

"Do we have to play bigger sometimes?" Brey said. "It's a Catch 22. If you're really efficient offensively, sometimes being plus-seven on the backboard is not that big of a deal if you can be really good and efficient."

Brey is holding out hope that Auguste - the 6-foot-10, 242-pound sophomore -- can turn his favorable attributes into the next great rebounder for the Irish.

"One thing about having him back is he's an energy guy," said Brey of Auguste, who is ready for Friday's opener against Miami (Ohio) after missing a few weeks with a broken left hand.

"What I love about him and what I'm still coming to grips with is he's going to make some mistakes, but he makes stuff happen. He runs and tips stuff in, and then he may throw one away. I've got to remember that he's an energy guy, and if we can limit mistakes, it's really key. It's good having him back because he's different than our other big guys."

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