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Notre Dame Basketball: Pittsburgh Panthers Preview

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Notre Dame basketball has senior night against Pitt, meaning a should-win game, honoring the seniors, and THE RETURN OF BONZIE. LET’S DO THIS.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Well everyone, here we are.

It’s time for the final home game of the regular season. It’s time for Senior Night. It’s time for BONZIE COLSON’s return to the court.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team will host the Pittsburgh Panthers this evening at 7 PM ET, and Irish fans will honor and bid adieu to COLSON, Matt Farrell, Martinas “The Bird Whisperer” Geben, Austin Torres, and Matt Gregory.

This is an absolute must-win for ND if they want to have any chance of making a run to the NCAA Tournament, or if they just don’t want to suffer the embarrassment of being the one ACC win that Pitt managed to obtain this season.

Either way, it should be an emotional, fun night at Purcell, and the Irish SHOULD come away with a victory. Let’s dive into why I think that, as well as what to know and watch for in this one.

Quick Facts:

  • This will be the 63rd meeting (dating back to 1928) between the Fighting Irish and the Panthers, with Notre Dame leading the series 32-30
  • Pittsburgh is 3-1 against Notre Dame since the two teams joined the ACC, winning the first three meetings since the two teams changed conferences. All four of those games were decided by a combined 13 points, with Pitt winning the first three by 4 points each, and Notre Dame emerging victorious in last year’s game, a 78-77 overtime win on New Year’s Eve
  • Pittsburgh enters the game as one of the worst Power 5 teams in recent memory. The Panthers’ national ranks include 348th in scoring offense, 180th in scoring defense, 333rd in shooting percentage, 204th in field goal percentage defense, 272nd in three-point shooting, 340th in turnover margin, 334th in rebounding margin, and 300th in assist-to-turnover ratio
  • Pittsburgh is ranked 237th overall on KenPom.com (287th on offense, 173rd on defense). Meanwhile, the Irish are ranked 29th overall (19th on offense, 67th on defense)
  • Mike Brey is one victory away from reaching 400 wins at Notre Dame. Already the all-time wins leader in men’s basketball at Notre Dame, Brey looks to become the 11th active Division 1 coach to win 400 games at his current school - and fourth active coach in the ACC to claim 400 wins at their current school (Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams)
NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
  • The 2017-18 senior class of Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, Martinas Geben, Matt Gregory and graduate student Austin Torres has set the mark as the all-time winningest senior class at Notre Dame, winning 99 games and surpassing the 2016-2017 and 2012-2013 senior classes, who both won 97 games
  • Martinas Geben has scored in double figures in six consecutive games. In that stretch, he’s scored 16.2 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game while shooting 66% from the field
  • Matt Farrell hit the game-winning three-point shot at Wake Forest with just 5.8 seconds left. Farrell’s grandfather, Robert (Notre Dame class of 1958), was watching and able to see his grandson make that game-winning shot. This was a pretty special moment.
  • T.J. Gibbs has scored in double figures in 17 consecutive games dating back Dec. 21, 2017. He’s averaging 17.3 points per game during that stretch
  • Those three guys (Geben, Farrell, and Gibbs) are all ranked in the top 15 in the ACC in KenPom.com’s offensive ratings. Geben is 6th (120.6), Gibbs is 10th (119.3), and Farrell is 13th (117.0). Duke is the only other ACC team to have three players in the top 15
  • Matt Farrell surpassed the 1,000-point career milestone against Wake Forest on Saturday. He’s the 62nd player in school history (and 23rd in the Mike Brey era) to reach that milestone

WHEN: Wednesday, February 28, 2018, 7:00 p.m. ET

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center

HOW TO WATCH: ESPNU national broadcast with Jason Benetti (play-by-play) and LaPhonso Ellis (analyst). Also available anywhere the WatchESPN app is accessible.

Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network with Jack Nolan (play-by-play) and Zach Hillesland (analyst) with Bob Henning (engineer). Available locally on WSBT AM 960/FM 96.1, worldwide on WatchND.tv and via any network affiliate

Pittsburgh Panthers (8-22, 0-17 ACC)

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

To put it simply, the Pittsburgh Panthers’ season has been a disaster. I outlined in the quick facts above how bad the Panthers have been this season statistically, but if you look at their schedule and results, it only gets worse.

The season began for Pitt on November 10th, when the Panthers lost to Navy in their season opener. They proceeded to then lose in overtime to Montana. MONTANA!

Pitt then turned that terrible start around ever so slightly, winning 8 of their next 11. However, the Panthers lost their three games against Power 5 opponents in that stretch by a combined deficit of 46 points. Also during that stretch, senior forward Ryan Luther (12.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg) suffered a stress reaction in his right foot that eventually ruled him out for the rest of the season.

The final game in that stretch was a 4-point win over Towson on December 22nd. Since then, Pittsburgh has lost 17 straight games, all in ACC play. Only 3 of those losses were by single digits.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Now, entering this game at Notre Dame, Pittsburgh is coming off of a 66-37 loss to Virginia in which they trailed 33-7 at halftime and made just one field goal in the first half. Anyone wondering why Cameron Johnson chose to graduate transfer to North Carolina instead of play his final season with Pittsburgh?

With all that said, the players to watch for on Pittsburgh include junior guard Jared Wilson-Frame (12.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and the freshman guard trio of Marcus Carr (9.9 ppg, 4.1 apg), Parker Stewart (9.0 ppg), and Shamiel Stevenson (8.7 ppg). If there’s anything for Pittsburgh fans to hang their hats on, it’s the youth of this team and the valuable experience these young players like Carr, Stewart, and Stevenson are getting. That could pay off down the road in their careers.

Panther to Watch:

Jared Wilson-Frame, G, Junior

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With all the negative events of this season for Pittsburgh, it’s hard to find too much to be positive about. But in a season where just about everything has gone wrong, 6’5” guard Jared Wilson-Frame has at least been able to serve as a veteran leader for a young team, leading the team in scoring (excluding Luther, who hasn’t played since the McNeese game) at 12.6 points per game while also grabbing 3.4 rebounds per game.

He’s put forth some valiant efforts in Pitt’s 17-game losing streak, including 17-plus point performances against Virginia Tech, Duke, NC State, Syracuse, Miami, and Florida State. The Panthers’ closest game in the 17-game losing streak, a 4-point loss to NC State, featured a 22-point performance by Wilson-Frame.

Irish X-Factor:

BONZIE COLSON, F, Senior

NCAA Basketball: Mount St. Mary's at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, did you really think I would pick anyone else?

Look, considering it’s his first game back and features extremely limited minutes from COLSON, obviously he won’t be the most important player on the floor in terms of production for the Irish. Farrell and Geben and Gibbs will all be the guys to actually score the points to win this one.

ND is going to win this game — I have no reservations about that, BONZIE or not. But what BONZIE COLSON’s return to the floor can do for this team in terms of confidence and energy and momentum and belief going forward? Well, I think it’s the biggest X-factor left in this season for the Fighting Irish.

So, even if he only plays a minute, BONZIE COLSON’s return, considering the 4-year career he’s had, will be absolutely HUGE for this team. I’m so ready for it.

Prediction:

Notre Dame 78 - Pittsburgh 62

Matt Farrell and TJ Gibbs will get their three pointers. Martinas “The Bird Whisperer” Geben is going to get his thunder-dunks. Austin Torres will get some much-appreciated drawn charges, and Matt Gregory/Liam Nelligan will get a bucket in garbage time that is met with earsplitting applause by the student section.

Oh, and BONZIE will probably bring tears to everyone’s eyes as he’s honored and returns to the court at the end of his final season in South Bend.

Pitt will not win this game, and I’m probably being generous with my score prediction.

Go Irish, and welcome back BONZIE M.F. COLSON.