The 22nd-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish open up their 2012-13 season at home when they welcome the Evansville Purple Aces to the Joyce Center this afternoon.
Notre Dame is coming off a 22-12 season a year ago, marking the team's sixth straight 20-win campaign. In addition, the Irish found themselves in their third straight NCAA Tournament. With all five starters returning from that group, Mike Brey hopes the team can take the next step.
Marty Simmons' Purple Eagles had their ups and downs last season, finishing with an even 16-16 overall mark. The team was picked to finish fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference prior to the start of the season and finished a little better, going 9-9 in league play, good for third place. Evansville enters this season with a nice veteran core, as four of the team's projected five starters are seniors.
The Irish have dominated the competition at home of late, winning 35 of their last 36 games (.972) on their own floor. This is the 10th all-time meeting between these two teams. Notre Dame holds a narrow 5-4 series advantage and is a perfect 4-0 against Evansville at home.
The Purple Aces have found themselves in the postseason on a regular basis lately, but the team struggles to extend its season much beyond that. A deep run in the postseason is certainly possible, especially with the return of All-MVC First-Team honoree Colt Ryan. The 6-5 senior ranked 11th in the nation in scoring at 20.2 ppg a year ago and hopes to continue that in 2012-13. Finding help will be the key, but with 11 letterwinners back, that help may not be hard to find. Fellow seniors Troy Taylor (5.8 ppg), Lewis Jones (5.3 ppg) and Ned Cox (9.2 ppg) are nice complements to Ryan. Sophomore forward Ryan Sawvell (6.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg) rounds out the starting five.
The Irish are chock-full of experienced playmakers as well, returning over 88 percent of their scoring from a year ago. The backcourt has plenty of depth with juniors Eric Atkins (12.1 ppg, 4.1 apg) and Jerian Grant (12.3 ppg, 5.0 apg) both with the ability to score and distribute, while graduate student Scott Martin (9.5 ppg) provides more scoring along the perimeter. Up front the team will look to 6-9 senior Jack Cooley to provide the low post muscle. Cooley averaged a near double-double a year ago (12.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg). He was picked as a Big East Preseason First-Teamer, while Grant garnered honorable mention.