As the Notre Dame football team heads into a bye week (thankfully) it gives us some time to turn our attention to the more successful team on campus; the basketball team. In this preview we’ll break down the projected starting five, the biggest games on the schedule and a prediction for the year.
The Irish are coming off their second straight Elite Eight appearance, and in doing so has raised the expectations in South Bend. Not only do Irish fans expect NCAA Tournament appearances, they now expect deep runs into March.
Now most are expecting a bit of drop off this season, which is fair considering the departures of Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. Mike Brey still has a strong veteran core in the form of Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem, and Bonzie Colson to go along with young talent in T.J. Gibbs, Matt Farrell, and Rex Pflueger.
Brey always gets the most out of his players, so while the Irish might not have the NBA prospects on this year’s roster they still have the ability to be a very dangerous team in the ACC.
Projected Started Five
No.5 Matt Farrell - PG
Farrell has big shoes to full as he is slated to take over point guard duties from Jackson. Farrell got his first opportunity to start last year, in the NCAA Tournament no less, and performed actually pretty well for a guy who had never started before. In his limited time he showed he can be a solid defender and also the ability to knock down shots.
In four NCAA Tournament games Farrell averaged 26 minutes, 6.5 points, 3.5 assists and shot 58% from the field. Those numbers should receive a boost this year as Jackson is gone and Farrell is now the guy. Don’t be fooled, Farrell is not going to be the same playmaker that Jackson was, but can he be the floor general Notre Dame needs? Absolutely.
No.32 Steve Vasturia - SG
We know the book on Vasturia by now. He’s not going to wow you with his athleticism, but he will make the right decisions and plays smart most of the time. Without Jackson and Auguste the Irish will need Vasturia to score the ball better this year. He also will need to knock down the three ball at a better rate. Two years ago Vasturia shot 41% from beyond the arc, but last year his percentage dropped drastically to only 34%.
As one of the unquestioned leaders of this team, the Irish will need Vasturia to produce more this year than he has been called to in previous seasons.
No.3 V.J. Beachem - SF
Beachem has the chance to be one of those players who rides a breakout performance in March into a really good senior season. In six postseason games (including the ACC Tournament) Beachem played some of his best basketball as he averaged 16.6 points, shot 62% from the floor, and 54% from beyond the arc.
In his press conference on Tuesday, Brey said they really haven’t figured out who their go-to guy would be yet this season, but Beachem is a pretty good bet. He’s a senior now and there is no Jackson, Jerian Grant or Pat Connaughton to share shots with anymore. To date we’ve really only seen the shooting aspect of Beachem’s game, but in the NCAA Tournament last year he flashed what he can do off the dribble with a monster slam against North Carolina.
If Notre Dame wants to have the same success they’ve enjoyed the past two seasons, Beachem will have to continue to step up his game. He showed us what he’s capable of last March.
No.35 Bonzie Colson - PF
Bonzie Colson is one of the smallest big men in the country. He’s only 6’5”, but he plays a big game. Colson is not afraid to throw down on block post amongst the bigs. He’s Notre Dame’s returning leading rebounder as he averaged 6.9 rebounds a game last season.
Like Vasturia, Colson will be called upon to be pick up some of the scoring that was left behind by Jackson and Auguste. At times last season Colson showed us his scoring ability with 31 and 24 point performances at Duke and against Indiana respectively.
No.23 Martinas Geben - C
The starting five spot is one of question going into the 2016-17 season. Geben has played sparingly over the last two seasons as the Irish had Auguste and Brey tends not to reach too deep into his bench.
He’s not the most athletic guy in the world, but he has one thing and that’s size. At 6’10’’ and 255 lbs., Geben looks like at the very least can be an effective rebounder and low post defender for the Irish. Any offense Geben does provide will be a bonus.
Others to Watch
No.2 T.J. Gibbs - PG
A four-star recruit by most recruiting sites, Gibbs is Notre Dame’s highest rated recruit since Demetrius Jackson. At 6’3” Gibbs is a bigger point guard, which is a trend we’re starting to see in today’s game. He has a nice shot and a great ability to finish around the rim. Gibbs is going to be a really good player for the Irish.
0 Rex Pflueger - SG
On Tuesday Brey said that he sees Pflueger as Notre Dame’s “sixth starter.” Last season Pflueger was used as the energy guy off Notre Dame’s bench and we should see him in a similar role this year. He’s a plus defender off the bench and this season he should see his offensive role expanded a little bit.
No.4 Matt Ryan - SF
Ryan is currently sidelined with a foot injury, but it shouldn’t keep the sophomore out that long. Brey said they expect him back in early November. Last season Ryan showed he can provide a spark off the bench with his three-point shot. He should be a dangerous weapon off Notre Dame’s bench this season.
Biggest Games of the Year
Villanova (Never Forget Classic @ Prudential Center) - December 10th, 2016
In the inaugural Never Forget Classic the Irish take on old Big East rival and defending National Champion, Villanova. The Wildcats do lose Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, but they still return some of their big guns from last year’s team in Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson. This game could be a huge resume builder for the Irish if they can come away with a victory.
Purdue (Crossroads Classic @ Bankers Life Fieldhouse) - December 17th, 2016
A week after playing the defending National Champs, the Irish turn around and play in-state rival Purdue in the annual Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis. Purdue does lose All-Big Ten player in A.J. Hammons, but they do return forwards Caleb Swanigan and Vince Edwards. Purdue should be one of the better teams in the Big Ten this season, so again this is one of the more important non-conference games for the Irish.
Louisville - January 4th and March 4th, 2017
Louisville would have been a tournament team last season if not for self-imposed sanctions due to a sex scandal. Rick Pitino is bringing back another talented group of players led by Jaylen Johnson and Quentin Snider. Freshman, V.J. King, is a player who should make an impact for the Cardinals this season. King was a five-star recruit and also a McDonald’s All-American. The Irish and Cardinals always seems to play some great games, so be sure to circle this one on your calendar.
@Virginia - January 24th, 2017
Over the last two seasons the Irish have been able to take down some of the titans of the ACC in Duke and North Carolina on a pretty regular basis. There is one team they haven’t gotten over the hump against and that is Virginia. Since joining the ACC the Irish have yet to beat the Cavaliers. Head Coach Tony Bennett brings back another solid squad led by point guard London Perrantes.
Duke - January 30th, 2017
The top 25 does not get released until tomorrow, but most are expecting the Blue Devils to be ranked No.1. Coach K brings back veterans Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson, but he also has one of the best freshmen classes in the nation with forward Harry Giles, small forward Jayson Tatum, and center Marques Bolden. Duke has one of the most dangerous teams in the country this season and will challenge for a national championship, but that hasn’t stopped the Irish from beating them before.
@North Carolina - February 4th, 2017
Just five days after playing Duke, the Irish have to travel to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels. Roy Williams does lose some key cogs from last year’s National Runner-Up team, but like any other blue blood program the Tar Heels reloaded. The Tar Heels bring in freshmen Tony Bradley and Seventh Woods and also bring back back veterans Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry III, and Justin Jackson. UNC will still be one of the best teams in the country.
Many are expecting a drop off from the Irish this year, but it seems like when people start to sleep on the Irish thats when they end up having a pretty darn good team. No, they don’t have the NBA talent that they’ve had in previous seasons, but they bring back a veteran core, some promising youngsters, oh and one of the best coaches in the country in Mike Brey.
Brey always seems to get the most of his players, which is one the major reasons I think the Irish will finish in the top half of the ACC and earn an NCAA Tournament bid. I’m not going to go as far and say they’ll make a third straight trip to the Elite Eight, but they are definitely capable of ruining some brackets in March.
Don’t let football season depress you Irish fans, basketball season is under a month away. The Irish open up the 2016-17 season on November 12th against Bryant at Purcell Pavilion.