FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame’s first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference ended in a way no Irish basketball season had in 15 years.
The Irish (15-17) finished below .500 and will not play in a postseason tournament since they went 14-16 in coach John MacLeod’s final season in 1998-99.
I said to (Notre Dame athletics director) Jack Swarbrick, it’s probably good we end this saga, coach Mike Brey told reporters after the Irish lost 81-69 to Wake Forest in the opening game of the ACC tournament Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C.
The Irish’s saga had numerous bad turns as they played in a new league for the first time since the 1995-96 season when they joined the Big East, which they left last summer.
Notre Dame opened the season ranked No. 21 but fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 after an 83-70 loss to Indiana State, and a 9-4 mark in nonconference play was made worse when the Irish lost leading scorer Jerian Grant to an academic issue for the rest of the season after blowing a late lead in a 64-61 loss to then-No. 3 Ohio State on Dec. 21.
The Irish also dealt with numerous injuries. Sophomore forward Austin Burgett was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat that kept him out of four games, senior forward Tom Knight missed five games with a sprained ankle and the flu and sophomore forward Eric Katenda played in only two games as a knee injury stopped him from ever getting going this season.
And to top off a difficult season, sophomore forward Cam Biedscheid, who had planned to sit out this season to preserve a year of eligibility, decided to transfer to Missouri after the fall semester.
I think at times it was a year of adjustment for us on a lot of fronts, some personnel losses and kind of new preparation, new scouting, new venues, all of those things, Brey told reporters. I would hope we’ll be better at it next year.
Notre Dame has a strong group returning even as it loses seniors Eric Atkins, who led the team in scoring (13.9 points per game) and assists (4.9); Garrick Sherman, who led the team in rebounds (7.3); and Knight.
Grant is scheduled to return for summer classes and will join the Irish on their tour of Italy in August, and Pat Connaughton, who averaged 13.8 points and is also a pitcher, is expected to return for his senior season. Notre Dame also brings back Burgett, Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson, Tom Vasturia and former New Haven standout V.J. Beachem.