SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame is going to have a hard time topping its recent run in the NCAA Tournament, especially if Demetrius Jackson enters the NBA draft.
Jackson has helped lead Notre Dame to back-to-back NCAA Tournament regional finals for the first time since the Fighting Irish advanced to their only Final Four in 1978 under coach Digger Phelps, losing to Duke in the semifinals, and then falling to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the regional final in 1979.
Coach Mike Brey said Monday as the team returned to South Bend that he planned to sit down with Jackson in the next week to discuss whether the guard should at least declare for the NBA draft and take part in the combine before deciding whether to come back for his senior season.
“It’s something he really has to explore,” Brey said. “There’s plenty of time with the new rule to explore and get all the information the right way.”
The 6-foot-1 point guard from Mishawaka led the Irish in scoring at 15.8 points a game and averaged 4.7 assists. Jackson didn’t speak to the media on Monday but said following the 88-74 loss to North Carolina in the East Regional final Sunday night that he would talk about his decision later.
The Irish (24-12) know they are losing 6-foot-10, 245-pound forward Zach Auguste, who had 22 double doubles this season, averaging 14 points and 10.7 rebounds a game. Auguste may be tougher to replace than Jackson because the Irish have sophomore point guard Matt Farrell, who started the four NCAA Tournament games and averaged 6.5 points, 3.5 points and 27 minutes a game. They also add incoming freshman point guard T.J. Gibbs.
Competing to replace Auguste will be 6-foot-5 Bonzie Colson, who started 24 games and averaged 11.1 points and 6.7 rebounds; 6-foot-9 Elijah Burns, who redshirted as a freshman this season; a pair of little-used players, 6-foot-10 Martinas Geben and 6-foot-7 Austin Torres; and incoming 6-foot-9 forward John Mooney.
The Irish also return starters Steve Vasturia, who averaged 11.4 points, and V.J. Beachem, who averaged 12 points, along with reserves Rex Pflueger and Matt Ryan.
If the Irish lose both Auguste and Jackson, it will be tough to overcome. But they managed to bounce back last season after losing Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, who are both playing in the NBA.
The Irish were picked to finish fourth in the ACC this season and opened the season ranked No. 19. But early losses to Monmouth and Alabama had many wondering how good this Irish team was.
They returned to the rankings after beating Duke, dropped out again following a 15-point loss to Syracuse, returned after wins over North Carolina, Clemson and Louisville and dropped out again following losses at Florida State and an 18-point loss at home to Miami.
But after being beaten by North Carolina by 31 in the ACC Tournament, the worst loss in 16 years under Brey, the Irish made a run in the NCAA tournament. Brey said the runs in the tournament the past two seasons have raised expectations.
“The bar is really high in that locker room, which is great. There’s nothing I need to say or do. They will be very hard on themselves to try to get back into this same territory again,” he said. “You have a bunch of guys who have played deep in this tournament. It’s great for our program.”