After the struggles of the inaugural ACC season, you can't blame the Notre Dame Basketball staff for wanting to feast on some traditional November cupcakes, and on Friday night's menu were the Binghamton Bearcats. Tony Kornheiser's favorite school was out of the game pretty quickly as the Irish turned in a performance highlighted by ruthlessly efficient offense and much improved defense. This was a case where the 82-39 score gives a pretty clear indicator of just what kind of game it was.
You're not going to learn a lot by watching a game where Notre Dame played Ken Pomeroy's 303rd rated team and his projection model predicted with 94% certainty an easy Irish victory. The Bearcats are an incredibly young team, and it showed. If you're willing to set aside the quality of opponent, however, you can find hints of positive change in this performance.
As a junior big-man, Zach Auguste has a lot to prove this season, and Brey wants to see him embrace the designation as a "Main Guy." Friday's performance did a good job establishing the belief. Auguste went 7-11 (64%) from the floor and 5-7 (71%) from the line to score 19 points to lead all scorers. That's the obvious stuff. There were less obvious, yet still very encouraging signs from Auguste in this performance. He played, by far, the most minutes he's seen in an Irish uniform, and didn't pick up his 3rd foul until 3 minutes into the 2nd half. Despite having to guard some very perimeter-oriented bigs from Binghamton, Auguste didn't foul out of the game and played hard. He finished well at the rim and rotated well on the defensive end to create an early season highlight reel:
Early on, Auguste had trouble getting to perimeter shooters, and his man scored 7 of BU's first 11, but he quickly found his way and moved his feet very well all night. It will be interesting to track Auguste's rebounding numbers as time wears on. He had 7 on the evening, split between 3 offensive (mostly his own misses) and only 4 on the defensive end. Zach will need to pick up those numbers as the competition stiffens.
The other player Brey has singled out at every opportunity as a new "Main Guy" is sophomore Demetrius Jackson. DJ certainly answered the bell Friday night. After missing the layup on his initial drive, my first reaction was to flashback to last year's struggles at the rim. However, Jackson quickly put those fears to rest with a spectacular evening. Offensively, he was very much in control of this game and flashed the quickness that makes him such a special player. DJ finished the night 4-9 (44%) from the floor, but that included 4 misses from deep, so he finished each of his other 5 attempts at the rim, and knocked down both his FT attempts. More importantly, he took great care of the ball, putting up a 6:1 assist/turnover ratio. Defensively, he pushed the Bear offense back to the center stripe several times and was very good pressuring the ball while only picking up 2 fouls. Most importantly, he just looked way more comfortable with his role and place in the system. He demonstrated that comfort with the ball in the 2nd half...
Yes, it is hard to measure yourself against a very young team that Ken Pomeroy projected to have the 302nd rated offense in the land. However, when you have that kind of opportunity, you need to exert your will on your opponent, and Notre Dame did. DJ pressured the ball wonderfully and Notre Dame shut down the passing lanes consistently. Notre Dame turned over Binghamton 19 times on the night and were credited with 14 steals.
Brey had them in a man to man to start the night. As usual, the Irish were quick to switch any perimeter screen and would occasionally jump ball handlers in that situation. As the stats show, they were incredibly effective in shutting down the Bearcats, giving up only 30% eFG shooting and a decent 27% FTA/FGA percentage. Rebounding continues to be something to watch for, with BU achieving a 28% OREB percentage. A few of those came when the Irish briefly went in to a 2-3 look before halftime. Already up nearly 17, it looked like Brey wanted to get a little 2-3 work in for his starters, but it also looked like he soon regretted it. Sitting back in the 2-3 lulled the Irish to sleep, and you could see the head coach noticeably try to put a jolt in to his team before halftime. I'm sure there was a spectacular huddle full of coach-speak about strong teams finishing halves, but in this case, it looked a bit contrived and came out as hectic more than anything. Thankfully, the Irish opened the 2nd half hot and quickly put to rest any worries in this contest.
The numbers will show a very effective night on the defensive end, but there are some things to watch. Binghamton can't put a big, aggressive, athletic rebounder in the game. It will be interesting to see if Auguste and the rest of the front line rotation can keep a more relentless rebounder consistently off the glass. Auguste was also stretched in this game, and while he started slow, he improved as he went. My biggest concern was over-switching. Brey has always switched everything without much regard for man-to-man assignments. When you're playing aggressively, this can work well, but there were a number of times in the evening where Binghamton immediately sent DJ or Steve Vasturia down to the block to defend when they picked up a big on the perimeter switch. Brey left a lot of tape out there for opponents to consider.
Congratulations to Notre Dame's senior captain, Pat Connaughton, on reaching the 1,000 career point milestone in the first half of this game. After starting the night with a bit of the South Bend chill in his stroke, Connaughton came on strong to hit 4-5 from deep and put up 17 points on 89% eFG shooting from the floor. The captain also led his team with 10 rebounds, 9 of them on the defensive end. If you're watching for the difference in this year's team, look at a guy like Connaughton's commitment to do the things necessary to win ball games. He defends well and takes pride in his craft. He knows this team is going to need him to rebound consistently when they get stops. Connaughton was the rock on a night that saw him achieve a well-deserved milestone.
Welcome Back Jerian Grant
While Connaughton's milestone probably deserves top billing, it is impossible to ignore how important Jerian Grant is to Notre Dame Basketball. Watching the game, you got the distinct impression that Grant was simply picking and choosing his moments. When it suited him or his team needed it, he would pull up for a pure jumper, or dig back for one of his 5 steals to ignite a break. He was happy to facilitate, picking up 5 assists (against only 1 turnover) or finish strong at the rim himself.
Grant is the engine that will make this team go. Despite a chilly 1-7 performance from behind the arc, Grant made all but one of his 2pt attempts and finished with 14 points and 6 crucial defensive boards. As you watched him, he gave the impression he had more in the tank. It was an effortless performance from the senior; full of promise for the season ahead.
We move to 1-0 on the season after an 82-39 season-opening win that saw all 13 student-athletes see the floor. pic.twitter.com/PyDg8rkR60
— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) November 15, 2014
- All 13 players got in the game, and 9 found their way on to the score sheet. The starting lineup was as expected with Jackson, Grant, Steve Vasturia, Connaughton and Auguste. The first subs got up at the 14:00 mark of the first half and were V.J. Beachem for Vasturia and Martinas Geben for Auguste. Austin Burgett was 3rd off the bench, and Bonzie Colson made his debut shortly before halftime. Austin Torres, Matt Farrell, and Eric Katenda didn't check in until the game was well in hand. If you're looking for indicators of how the rotation will work this year, there were a lot of clues. I think Geben is a lock for a lot of minutes in rotation with Auguste, and Beachem will play a very important role flexing between the 2-4 spots. Burgett didn't get a ton of patience from Brey and will have to defend really well if he wants to be out there.
- Bonzie Colson, however, is my guy to watch after this game. The freshman brought a ton of energy to the floor and looked like a puppy just eager to get out there and get involved. He was jumping passing lanes, getting after loose balls, and generally creating havoc on both ends. He was 3-3 from the floor and was credited with 3 steals on the night. He's the energy and effort ND fans love to love. His steal and finish after the 8:00 media timeout in the 2nd half was a thing of beauty.
- If you're looking for a ghost of last season, the 10-18 (56%) performance from the free throw line is a bit worrisome and something to keep an eye on.
- From a 4 factors POV, this one was a runaway for ND, just like the scoreboard. eFG's were 62/30, turnovers were 7/19, OREB percentages were 31/28, and FTA/FGA percentages were 31/27 - all in favor of the Irish.
No one is handing out trophies or NCAA bids for blowing out an inferior opponent in November, but you have to start somewhere. The Irish started by very efficiently dispatching the visitors from New York. While it doesn't provide a proof point on defensive improvement, it certainly looked better. This is a very good start by Brey's squad on a night that saw both him and his captain achieve career milestones.
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