ACC Burning Questions: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 8th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Notre Dame always has a returning player make a big leap in production — who will it be this year?

In this one-and-done era of college basketball, Notre Dame has flourished by following Mike Brey’s general plan to “get old and stay old.” To win that way at the highest level requires strong player development within the program — something at which Brey and his staff have certainly excelled over the years. Usually Notre Dame’s players make steady progress over the course of their careers — much like with senior All-America candidate Bonzie Colson — but often that development results in a breakout season for a player who has only made moderate contributions up to that point (see: Matt Ferrell last season). Who are the prime candidates for a breakout season for this year’s Irish?

Rex Pflueger could be poised for a breakout year in his junior season at Notre Dame.
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Notre Dame must replace a pair of multi-year starters on the wing in V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, so there are considerable minutes available at those positions — as a result, expect junior Rex Pflueger and sophomore T.J. Gibbs to become newly important pieces of Brey’s revamped lineup. Each player averaged 4.7 PPG off the bench last year and should be ready to handle the heavy minutes that Brey likes to give to his key guys. Pflueger has shown a good stroke from deep — 39.7 percent on threes last season — in addition to being a good defender. Gibbs proved a capable ball-handler (2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio) as a freshman last season, so pairing him with Farrell in the backcourt should keep the Irish among the national leaders in ball security (Notre Dame’s 14.0 percent turnover rate ranked second in the country last season). Another possible jump in production could come from senior center Martinas Geben — Brey likes the dirty work that the Lithuanian provides but wants him to be more confident and assertive with his offensive game.

There are no confidence issues with Colson and Ferrell, a pair of seniors who might just be the best such duo on any team in college basketball this season. Colson, who scored 17.8 PPG a year ago and landed a spot on the 2016-17 All-ACC First Team, can no longer sneak up on anyone. A tireless and relentless worker on the glass, he became the first player under 6’7″ to lead the ACC in rebounding (10.1 RPG) in the last 59 years. Colson is showing up on many preseason All-America lists and was recently named as the preseason ACC Player of the Year. Point guard play was an area of concern for the Irish heading into last season, but Ferrell’s surprising rise as a junior turned it into a position of strength. Not only is he one of the league’s top playmakers — his 5.4 assists per game ranked third in the ACC last year — but he can score (14.1 PPG) as well. Having a second distributor on the floor in Gibbs should also allow Ferrell to show off more of his deep shooting prowess this season — he connected on a robust 42 percent of his threes in 2016-17.

Brey doesn’t usually play his bench very much, but he does have some good reserve options available this season. Expect four-star freshman D.J. Harvey to see plenty of action on the perimeter, and he can count on veteran Austin Torres to defend and rebound in the post. This looks like another typical Notre Dame squad, with a solid core of veteran stars supported by developing role players. After underrating the Irish in recent years, the media at ACC Operation Basketball finally gave Brey’s team some respect in picking it to finish third in the preseason conference rankings behind only Duke and North Carolina. Respect, indeed.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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