The Fighting Irish are one of a very small sample of teams to return all five starters from 2011-12's 22-12 squad and a third place finish in the Big East. After suffering what appeared to be a major blow to team talent when Tim Abromaitis went down with a season-ending knee injury, Notre Dame responded with significant talent and depth to rally to a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Hopes are high in South Bend with Jack Cooley, the league's Most Improved Player a year ago (12.5 points, 8.9 rebounds), along with one of the nation's best starting backcourts in Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, who combined for 24.5 points, 9.1 assists and 2.6 steals per game. Even adding to the depth and potential weak spot in the frontcourt, head coach Mike Brey has former Michigan Spartan 7-footer Garrick Sherman, coming off the bench in his first season with the team.
Cooley, the wide-bodied, husky power forward, averaged 15 points and 9.6 rebounds since gaining significant minutes as a starter. As the Big East lost plenty of frontcourt talent overall from top-to-bottom, Cooley has a legitimate shot at conference player of the year. And look for both Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins to take steps forwards, particularly with their outside shooting where both shot around 39 percent from the floor. If these three impact players continue to grow together, Notre Dame could very well win the regular-season crown in 2012-13.