Notre Dame is turning heads

Irish eyes are smiling, baby! The fans in South Bend have a lot to be happy about. Mike Brey's Notre Dame squad enters this weekend's game against Virginia with a 15-1 record.

What a difference a year makes. Last year, Notre Dame jumped out to an 8-3 start and was looking good, and then Jerrian Grant was declared ineligible. The Irish finished the season 15-17.

Matching last season's win total by early January is impressive. Grant's return to the lineup has been a factor. So has the experience that Brey puts on the court night in and night out. There is also veteran leadership and that makes a big difference.

There are two other major factors in breaking down Notre Dame's success. This Irish squad has great balance and fundamentals. Four players are averaging around 14 PPG or more, led by Grant at 17.3 PPG.

This club knows the importance of shot selection. They get good shot opportunities and take advantage, shooting almost 55 percent from the field, and over 40 percent on trifectas. Brey has used the same starting lineup for all 16 games and continuity is a plus. The fact that four of the five starters are shooting over 50 percent from the field is incredible.

Notre Dame has had a knack for winning close games. Victories over North Carolina and Michigan State were confidence builders. Beating Georgia Tech in double-overtime showed the heart and determination of the team.

The lone Irish loss this season came in a thriller against Providence, a one-point setback. If Notre Dame scored two more points in that contest, we would be talking about an undefeated team that was in the top five of the national rankings.

Zach Auguste has stepped up and been a positive force, averaging almost 15 PPG and 6 RPG. He averaged under 7 PPG last season. Demetrius Jackson has also been vital, having a bigger role due to the departure of Eric Atkins. At 14 PPG and shooting over 56 percent from the field, he has been a major contributor.

Notre Dame also has one of the top rebounding guards in America in Pat Connaughton. The Baltimore Orioles prospect is averaging over eight boards per contest.

The Irish is riding an 11-game win streak. That's pretty good for a team picked seventh in the preseason ACC poll.