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June 25, 2009When Kyle McAlarney started rolling from three-point range, there wasn't much opponents could do about stopping the Irish backcourt. McAlarney would heat up, which would then open up driving lanes for Tory Jackson.
But Big East teams began overplaying McAlarney, making it difficult for the 6-foot-0 guard to launch his shot at various points throughout the 2008-09 season. Coupled with Jackson's 5-foot-11 size, opponents sometimes exploited Notre Dame's lack of stature in the backcourt.
McAlarney is gone and Jackson returns, joined by 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior Jonathan Peoples, 6-foot-3, 210-pound Ben Hansbrough, the transfer from Mississippi State, and 6-foot-8 Purdue transfer Scott Martin, who fills the role provided by graduated swingman Ryan Ayers.
"I've said to our staff that I think you'll see a lineup with Jackson, Peoples and Hansbrough in it on the perimeter," said Irish head coach Mike Brey. "Peoples and Hansbrough are not little. They're pretty good strength guys and they really know how to play."
Jackson will never be confused with McAlarney in terms of shooting ability/range. That's not his game. What Jackson does is control the tempo and provide the leadership that is lost with the graduation of McAlarney and Zach Hillesland.
"He'll be the voice, and he'll be the voice more consistently than (Luke) Harangody because that's what he does from that spot," said Brey of Jackson. "I'm excited about him having the total platform. He shared it with the seniors. It's his to do and he's very confident to do it. He knows our system and he knows how to handle it.
"I think it will help him that it's his stage to lead from and he won't have to worry about stepping on anybody's toes. That will make him better."
Jackson's three-point shooting percentage improved from 27.4 percent through his first two seasons to a respectable 35.8 percent (29-of-81) last season. Jackson scored at a 10.6 clip while providing solid help on the backboards with 4.4 rebounds per game. His assist-to-turnover margin of 177-to-84 helped the Irish lead the nation in that category.
Still, Brey believes Jackson has a lot to prove.
"He didn't have the year he wanted last year," Brey said. "But he's pretty darn consistent for us. He's one of those guys that when you go into buildings on the road in the Big East, you know he's going to be fighting every night. You can rely on that. He shows up ready to go."
Although there may be times when Jackson, Peoples and Hansbrough are on the floor together, it will be the latter two often fighting for playing time against one another. Peoples saw his role expand in 2008-09, often playing meaningful minutes in the backcourt when Notre Dame's lack of size at the guard positions was a detriment.
Peoples tossed in 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting in a one-sided victory over Providence. He provided instant offense in a loss to St. John's when he scored seven points in 14 minutes. He gave the Irish a boost in the first-round of the NIT by scoring eight points in 15 minutes against UAB.
Brey would like to see Peoples' impact expand beyond his physical contributions.
"Peoples is Peoples," Brey said. "He is that utility guard. He's not going to change drastically. He's probably going to have even more opportunities, and he should because he's been rock solid for us. I think you've got to let him compete for a starting position and see what happens.
"I just want him to be a little more vocal now as a senior. He really has a great basketball IQ. He's a little quiet sometimes. As a senior, I hope he steps it up a little more and joins Jackson and Harangody as the voice."
Hansbrough averaged 10.5 points per game as a sophomore at Mississippi State. He won't be bashful when it comes to filling in the gap left by the loss of McAlarney's outside game. Hansbrough launched 173 three-pointers (making 62 for a 35.8 percentage) during his second year in college.
Martin averaged 8.5 points per game as a freshman at Purdue. The left-handed shooting Martin attempted 83 three-pointers (making 26 for 31.3 percent) and won't be afraid to pop out and hit the long-range jump shot. Another outside threat will be 6-foot-8 Tim Abromaitis.
Brey is looking forward to maximizing the advantages that a bigger backcourt can provide.
"We haven't had that," said Brey of the size in the backcourt, which also could be supplemented by 6-foot-5 freshman Joey Brooks. "Martin can play like Rob Kurz did as the second big guy and step out.
"So we're a little bit different back there. I think we'll be able to match up better at times than we have in the past."