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Notre Dame Basketball: NC State Game Preview

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The Fighting Irish host the Wolfpack, and everything has changed...

NCAA Basketball: Crossroads Classic-Indiana at Notre Dame Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Just when we thought the roller coaster ride of Notre Dame Fighting Irish fandom was finally reaching the end of the track and we were free of the harness that kept us there for all the screams of joy and frustration, it climbed to one last hilltop and plummeted back down.

On Monday, the Irish football team capped off an ugly game against the LSU Tigers with one of the best catches I’ve ever seen from Miles Boykin. A Citrus Bowl title against an SEC team felt pretty satisfying in the end given the way the rest of the season went.

The very next day, news broke that the Irish basketball team was going to have to spend the next eight weeks without its star, Bonzie Colson. It came as a shock to all of us. The senior leader plays with such a rugged style that he seems indestructible at times, but somehow he fractured his foot during practice.

Even though the team lacks depth to begin with, the one player it could not afford to lose was Colson. His absence is going to drastically change the way Notre Dame plays. It was already looking like that third-place ACC finish the media predicted before the season could be a little too high, but now that seems totally out of reach. It doesn’t mean Notre Dame won’t still find a way to make it to the NCAA Tournament, fighting is in its name after all. But I can only imagine what Mike Brey is thinking right now with the full slate of ACC games ahead.

The Fighting Irish will have to recover quickly when they host the NC State Wolfpack on Wednesday night.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Facts:

  • #BreysChase: Mike Brey is ONE win away from becoming the all-time men’s basketball coaching wins leader at Notre Dame. He is tied with Digger Phelps at 393.
  • This is the 12th meeting between Notre Dame and NC State, with the Irish leading the all-time series 7-4.
  • Notre Dame will face NC State twice this season for the first time since joining the ACC.
  • With 22 points and 17 rebounds against Georgia Tech on Saturday, Bonzie Colson became the eighth player in Notre Dame history to reach 1,500 points and 800 rebounds for his career.
  • Notre dame has averaged 48.3 points per game in the second half during its current three-game winning streak.
  • The Irish lead the ACC in free throw percentage at 76.9, and they are shooting 85.9 percent from the line during the win streak.

When: Wednesday, January 3, 2018, 9:00 p.m. ET

Where: Purcell Pavilion, South Bend, IN

How to Watch: ACC Network with Tim Brando and Cory Alexander. Available locally on WMYS (over-the-air channel 69, AT&T U-verse channel 69, Xfinity/Comcast channel 15, Dish Network channel 69) and via the network affiliates. The game also will be streamed live at acc.com.

Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network with Jack Nolan and Zach Hillesland. Available locally on WSBT-AM960/FM 96.1, via network affiliates, at WatchND.tv and at Siriux/XM channel 81.

NC State Wolfpack (10-4, 0-1)

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

NC State opened its conference schedule on the road at Clemson and lost 78-62 after leading for the first 15 minutes of the game. The Wolfpack then surrendered a 13-2 run to the Tigers and never got closer than six points in the second half.

It was out of character for the usually tough defense of NC State. In eight of its 14 games, NC State has forced 16 or more turnovers. Four times, the Wolfpack has forced its opponents into 20 turnovers in a game. In the first four games of the season, NC State forced more turnovers than its opponents made.

The Wolfpack have been taking care of the ball on offense too. They are second-best in the ACC with a +55 turnover margin, a complete turnaround from last season’s -67 turnover margin.

NC State is also getting production from its bench which is averaging 25.4 points per game. This could very well be the difference against Notre Dame, especially without Colson. The Irish are averaging just 13.7 bench points per game.

NC State has outscored its opponent’s bench in 10 of 14 games. In their win against then-No. 2 Arizona, the Wolfpack outscored the Wildcats’ bench 39-6. Nine players on the roster average at least 17 minutes per game.

The leading scorer for the Wolfpack is graduate guard Allerik Freeman, who is averaging 15.4 per game while leading the team in minutes. Freeman and redshirt-junior guard Torin Dorn, who is second on the team with 13.5 points per game, are the only players who have started in every game for NC State. Redshirt-senior forward Lennard Freeman is averaging 12.1 points in the 13 games he’s played after an offseason leg surgery to address an injury that kept him sidelined all of last season.

Wolf to Watch:

Lennard Freeman, F, R-Senior

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Freeman has been getting it done with his efficiency level, making he most of his 20 minutes per game. The 6-foot-8, 265 pound Freeman is the heaviest body on the team, and his presence will be felt in the absence of Colson. Freeman is shooting a team-best 72.6 percent from the field, which would lead the ACC is he had taken enough field goals to qualify.

After that leg injury nagged him all of 2015-16 and then forced him to miss 2016-17, Freeman has redefined himself. In 103 career games before this season he had only scored in double figures six times. He has already done that in eight of 14 games this season. He has scored a total of 157 points this season, the most he has ever had in a single season. Freeman also shoots 72.4 percent from the free-throw line, when his career average used to be 47.9 percent.

Irish X-Factors:

T.J. Gibbs, G, Sophomore

Simply put, Gibbs has to score a lot more now with Colson gone. We’ve seen a few outbursts from Gibbs that have been promising but he needs to become more consistent very quickly for this team to have any hope. Gibbs is averaging 14.4 points per game, shooting 46.8 percent from three-point range and 47.6 percent from the field. The young sophomore was going to have to take the reigns next year anyways, so why not get started a little early?

Prediction:

NC State 72 - Notre Dame 66

I don’t want to be that guy to jump ship and abandon the rest of the crew so quickly, but this feels like a loss for the Irish. Maybe I’m just too down on the loss of Colson, but I’m guessing the team is too. It’s going to be hard for them to come out and play with the same energy knowing that their fearless leader can’t join them. I think NC State is too deep given the situation, and it’s too soon for the Irish to figure out a new, deeper rotation to make up for Colson’s scoring. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see D.J. Harvey, John Mooney, Nikola Djogo and Elijah Burns figure it out right away. And I think they will figure it out as they play a few more games. This one will probably be a little too much for them.