How often against the beasts of the Big East have the Irish come up short on the front line?
Rarely do the Irish have the length or the depth around the rim to match teams like Syracuse, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Cincinnati, et al. That's not to say Notre Dame doesn't compete with and defeat those teams. But those accomplishments usually are achieved as underdogs with less size and bodies.
That shouldn't be the case in 2012-13 when the Irish will enter Big East play as one of the favorites to contend for the conference title.
Up front, the Irish will boast the Big East's most improved player, 6-foot-9, 248-pound Jack Cooley, 6-foot-10, 251-pound Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman, 6-foot-8, 222-pound sixth-year senior Scott Martin, 6-foot-9, 250-pound Tom Knight, and possibly 6-foot-8, 220-pound Eric Katenda, health permitting. Pat Connaughton, who contributed with rebounding, defense and some three-point shooting prowess as a freshman, may find himself playing more of a perimeter game.
Now along comes 6-foot-10, 220-pound Zach Auguste from New Hampton, N.H., and Austin Burgett, 6-foot-9, 220-pounder from Avon, Ind. (More on Burgett at a later date.)
In Auguste, the Irish truly have the kind of athlete that is so difficult for Notre Dame to find and sign. He is an athletic, agile, "bouncy" basketball player who runs the court like a much smaller player, but has the interior skills of an offensive finisher and a defensive intimidator.
Auguste, who can handle the basketball from baseline to baseline, understands his meal ticket is a direct path to the rim, and it's a route he frequently chooses. Anytime a teammate takes the ball to the hoop, Auguste is never far behind. He'll finish off a teammate's miss, or he'll trail the play and look for the dump off pass, which frequently concludes with a powerful one- or two-handed flush.
Auguste has an array of moves around the rim. He can score from either side of the basket off the dribble. He can take an opponent with a little baby hook. He'll use a head and shoulder fake to get the defender off the ground, and then make a move off his pivot foot.
Auguste has a solid understanding of how important it is to get the basketball to his shoulders and above. He plays the game above the rim with an array of graceful, gazelle-like moves. He is a light-on-his-feet power forward, which is a noteworthy combination. He can catch, turn and hit the jump from with a soft touch from 12-to-15 foot range, or he can pump fake and take a larger defender to the hoop with athleticism and a one-handed slam on the run.
On the defensive end, his length is a distraction for opposing offensive players. He has to make sure he defends in front of the rim and not underneath it, where goaltending is easily called. But he's usually proactive when it comes to his approach to altering a shot.
The area where Auguste needs the most work appears to be in his post defense where he has a tendency to rely on his length instead of moving his feet. Even the game's best shot blockers have to slide with the offensive player to be in position to alter/block a shot, and Auguste has a tendency at times to rely too much on his ability to swat the basketball.
The challenge for Mike Brey this winter will be finding the right mix up front. Sherman is the only true center in the group. Cooley, Knight, Martin, Katenda, Auguste, Burgett and Connaughton are forwards with the latter more in the swingman mold. At least two likely will be left out of the mix. The talent may pass Knight by, and there certainly are no guarantees with Katenda, who is trying to adapt to the game after permanently losing the sight in his left eye last summer when his optic nerve was severed by a stray elbow.
It is a rarity when the Irish land such a long, above-the-rim presence on both ends of the floor. In Auguste, Notre Dame has a skill set that none of the other Irish big men possess. This four-star talent should impact the Irish frontcourt from the moment he sets foot on the Purcell Pavilion hardwood.