For a reason unknown to rational people everywhere, Notre Dame approved my request to cover various men’s basketball home games for One Foot Down while sitting among respectable, professional, big-J Journalists. (editors note: this was a smart move by the university)
So, here’s my firsthand breakdown of ND’s second and final exhibition game before the actual season starts, as the Fighting Irish hosted and defeated Catholic University this evening 103-48.
Your Notre Dame starters:
C Martinas Geben
G Matt Farrell
F Bonzie Colson
F VJ Beachem
G Steve Vasturia
Starting coach: Mike Brey LOL
No real surprises here, as these were the five I was expecting to begin the game. Beachem, Vasturia, and Colson are no-brainers, and we all know Brey is going to stick with the upperclassman point guard he trusts (Farrell) as he slowly brings freshman TJ Gibbs along while preparing him for ACC play.
Geben is the only one who may or may not end up playing starter’s minutes later this season, as in his first two years of play he’s shown size and effort but has lacked a grasp of, or adaptation to, the speed of the game at this level and everything that entails.
Against Catholic, he definitely looked better than I’ve ever seen him, displaying pretty good mobility and hitting the boards hard. But, since it was against Catholic, that’s all gotta be taken with a grain of salt, considering their tallest player is 6’8” and many times Geben was blowing by guys even shorter than that.
The Game - 1st Half
Overall, the game went exactly as you’d expect. The Irish dominated end-to-end, starting with Steve Vasturia’s three-point play almost immediately following the tip-off. Notre Dame proceeded to jump out to a huge lead on the backs of Bonzie Colson and Vasturia, who each dropped in 14 points in the first half.
Geben collected 4 rebounds and 4 blocks in just 8 minutes of 1st-half play, and VJ Beachem added 11 points as ND wrapped up the half leading 61-21 and with 11 players having seen time, including a small duration that featured an all-freshmen-and-sophomores lineup with Rex Pflueger, Matt Ryan, Elijah Burns, TJ Gibbs, and John Mooney on the floor.
That group was intriguing to watch considering all the young and unproven pieces. Pflueger showed the same defensive effort and athleticism as last season, and although his shot still looked a bit awkward at times, he managed to shoot 2-4 from 3-point range and 3-6 from the field. Ryan looked good in his first game of the season, not showing signs of the stress reaction in his foot as he knocked down a couple three pointers and logged 14 minutes on the court.
Burns was fun to watch in the 11 minutes he played, mixing it up on the boards, diving for loose balls, and looking like a great injection of energy off the bench. Gibbs was completely as advertised - he’s tall, long, and absolutely tenacious on both ends of the floor, hounding his man on defense and doing a great job of penetrating into the lane and making great passes to teammates, finishing with 6 assists. He will prove critical to the team’s success down the road and will be a solid backup to Matt Farrell early in the season. Mooney looked a little rough shooting three pointers, but overall looked good down low, getting a couple buckets and pulling in 6 rebounds by the end of the game.
As some of you probably know, I’m a big fan of halftime shows. Specifically, I’m a fan of the greatest halftime act of all time, Red Panda. So, for every game I attend, I will absolutely be rating the halftime show on a scale of 1 to Red Panda.
Today’s halftime show: 6.
The event was a sort of dizzy bat basketball relay, where two teams of three students each had to dribble to mid-court, execute multiple dizzy bat spins, and then dribble to both baskets and make layups.
Overall, this event was moderately entertaining. Heading into it, I’d probably give it a 4 based on creativity and potential entertainment value. But this particular group of students included various guys who already had no real basketball or even athletic skills to begin with, and thus once they were extremely dizzy from spinning around a bunch, more than one of them fell over in dramatic fashion as they tried to dribble the ball to the hoop (and upon arriving, many of them also struggled to make layups, which was fun to see).
I’m sure I’d struggle at this activity as well due to the dizziness, but since I was safely watching from my seat, I feel confident in saying that it was a lot of fun to observe those nerds spin around and fall over and lose their glasses and miss layups while trying to win that relay race.
It was no Red Panda, but it made me chuckle during the break, and that was much appreciated.
The Game - 2nd Half
The second half looked like the first, as Beachem (20 points, 6 rebounds), Colson (17 points, 13 rebounds), and Vasturia (14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) led the way to an uneventful blowout. Matt Farrell played a polished, steady game at the point, finishing with 8 points, 8 assists, and just 1 turnover.
Geben’s 11-point, 7-rebound, 5-block performance showed he could dominate smaller opponents, and overall 14 players saw time, with redshirt candidate Nikola Djogo and walk-on Patrick Mazza getting in for the last 4 minutes and 2 minutes, respectively.
For Catholic, Jay Howard led the way with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and 10 players scored at least one basket.
Random, Insightful (or not) Observations
- Austin Torres left in the first half due to some shortness of breath, but Coach Brey was told his heart beat was back to resting rate and that he would be okay
- Steve Vasturia had a breakaway in the first half and the entire bench audibly groaned in disappointment as he laid it in instead of dunking it
- Vasturia’s jump shot was streaky and flat at times last season, but against Catholic it looked smooth and feathery as he went 3-4 from long range - I like what I’m seeing
- Bonzie Colson looks SVELTE and his jumper looks beautiful
- With 15 minutes and 35 seconds to go, Purcell Pavilion played “Tipsy” by J-Kwon over the loudspeakers. That was fantastic
- Had a couple Austin Burgett sightings, which was great, obviously
- My fellow Cathedral High School alum Matt Gregory put in a solid 2 trillion this evening, so hats off to him
- The ND Leprechaun was singing random songs to opposing players as they shot free throws in the mostly empty and very quiet 2nd half, and his rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly was hauntingly beautiful as the Catholic shooter missed both free throws
Overall, the Irish looked fantastic (as they should against Catholic, a Division III school), racking up 28 assists on 39 field goals and cruising to a 55-point win. This will certainly be a different team than Irish fans have seen the past couple years, but despite the lack of top-level, NBA talent that Grant, Connaughton, and Jackson brought to the table, this group has a lot of quality depth, shooting, and interesting skills that Brey could hone into a really dangerous team once it’s time for ACC play to begin.
Here are some highlights if you want to see the best moments from the victory:
It should be fun to see the team grow and execute against bigger and better competition (plus, compared to this football season, anything will seem fun, right?). They look very capable of surprising folks come time for conference play and beyond.