ACC Weekend Review: 02.13.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 13th, 2017

Saturday was a day for home cooking in the ACC as all six road teams went down to defeat. In the only meeting between top-half teams, Notre Dame ended Florida State’s three-game winning streak. In other action, Louisville rallied late to beat Miami, Syracuse lost at Pittsburgh in a payback game, and Duke held off Clemson on the game’s final possession. The best game of the weekend came Sunday night as Virginia Tech rallied from 14-point halftime deficit to beat Virginia in a two-overtime thriller. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Mike Brey had a lot of positive things to discuss after Notre Dame’s impressive win over Florida State. (espn.com)

  • Best Win I: After Notre Dame’s 84-72 win over Florida State, Irish head coach Mike Brey noted: “That was probably the best we’ve played in league play on both ends of the floor.” Considering that the Seminoles had won their previous three games by an average margin of 33.0 PPG, it’s difficult to find fault with Brey’s statement. The Irish did a great job on the boards (+7) against the taller Seminoles and used superb foul shooting to maintain a comfortable margin throughout the game. Notre Dame converted 19 of its 21 attempts from the stripe while Florida State only made 7-of-22 (31.8%)

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.09.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 9th, 2017

After one of the craziest opening weekends in ACC history, things calmed down considerably in the second weekend of conference play. In fact, all seven ACC games were won by the favored squad, and only one of those contests was decided by fewer than 11 points. Even if the games weren’t all that scintillating this weekend, there were still a couple takeaways heading into this week. First, in an unanticipated surprise, the two remaining unbeaten schools in conference play are Florida State and Notre Dame — the Seminoles handled visiting Virginia Tech while the Irish rallied to defeat Clemson in South Bend. And then there’s the continued injury misfortunes for Duke — in the Blue Devils’ first game without head coach Mike Krzyzewski (back surgery), stalwart center Amile Jefferson suffered a first half foot injury and never returned. Early reports suggested that the team captain may miss substantial time, meaning even further interruption to a “dream season” that has been anything but smooth to this point. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

V.J. Beachem’s six three-pointers helped Notre Dame defeat Clemson and remain unbeaten in the ACC. (Photo: slapthesign.com)

  • Best Win I: Notre Dame trailed Clemson by seven points at halftime, but the Irish prevailed by five to move to 3-0 in league play. Senior forward V.J. Beachem led the way, making six threes en route to 22 points. Bonzie Colson pitched in with 13 points and 12 boards — his third straight double-double performance to open league action. Notre Dame now faces a very daunting part of its schedule — a stretch of five games in just 13 days, with the first three on the road — beginning with a trip to Miami (FL) this Thursday.

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Has Notre Dame’s Mike Brey Done It Again?

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 1st, 2016

We are now just a few weeks into the season and only two ACC teams remain undefeated. Virginia has been as good as expected, with the Cavaliers handling the unexpected loss of Austin Nichols by using a committee-like approach we laid out when the news broke. The other unbeaten team, Notre Dame, may surprise many who haven’t paid attention to teams outside the Top 25. The Irish have played seven games to this point, four against low-major competition (Bryant, Seattle, Loyola (MD) and Chicago State) — which they have won by an average of 33.5 points per game — and three against middling high-majors. There are a pair of neutral court victories over KenPom top 60 teams Colorado and Northwestern, and an ACC/Big Ten Challenge home win over Iowa. All three of those wins figure to be solid top 100 wins for head coach Mike Brey‘s team come Selection Sunday.

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey's system will prevail this season. (AP)

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey’s system will prevail this season. (AP)

Most pundits figured that, after an outstanding two-year run punctuated by back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, Notre Dame was due for a fall thanks to the losses of star guard Demetrius Jackson and dependable forward Zach Auguste. It’s no easy task to replace a tandem that produced nearly 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists per game, but it’s not like Brey’s teams haven’t done this before. Just last year, Notre Dame entered the season having lost stars Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. The lesson is to never underestimate Brey’s ability to develop the next man up, and it appears that many observers may have made that same mistake again this season. Junior Bonzie Colson has led the way for this year’s version, averaging 17.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. He has become Brey’s go-to offensive player, using nearly 27 percent of the team’s possessions as he has blossomed into a terrific scorer.
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ACC Burning Questions: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Matt Patton on November 7th, 2016

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

Burning Question: How far do the Irish slide? (a.k.a. How good are Bonzie Colson and TJ Gibbs?)

Notre Dame probably won’t be as good as it was last year and the Irish definitely won’t be as good as they were two years ago. So where does that leave us? Mike Brey lost his two best players — Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste — and both are going to be nearly impossible to replace, especially defensively. The two most important returnees to watch are junior Bonzie Colson and freshman TJ Gibbs. Colson is an incredibly efficient offensive player already accustomed to high usage (albeit on limited minutes), which makes him a surefire success in many ways. The challenge for Brey will be finding a way for Colson’s increased minutes to not kill the Irish on the glass. Auguste was one of the best defensive rebounders in the country, whereas Colson is merely a good rebounder. Despite Auguste’s proficiency, Notre Dame was still an atrocious defensive rebounding team, so his loss doesn’t help a middling defense unless Colson improves or John Mooney turns out to be ACC-ready faster than expected.

VJ Beachem has the spotlight now, but Bonzie Colson has bigger shoes to fill. (Photo Credit: Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

VJ Beachem has the spotlight now, but Bonzie Colson has bigger shoes to fill. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Gibbs is less known. He’s a consensus top-100, four-star recruit, but he’ll be called upon to replace a former McDonald’s All-American. Point guards tend to translate quickly to the college game, but Gibbs may be a season away from the helm. He’ll likely start the season spelling junior Matt Farrell. Farrell has always proven to be a competent college player, but he is probably best suited for an important supporting role. He could make a quantum leap this season, but neither the eye test nor his statistics point in that direction. Colson and Farrell are joined by seniors VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia. Beachem is most likely the best pure shooter in the ACC. He’s got fringe NBA talent but will need to show he is capable of handling a larger share of the offense this year.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2016

Saturday was a day for upsets in the ACC as four underdogs were victorious. Notre Dame won a shootout over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium in the marquee matchup of the weekend; the Clemson Tigers continued their amazing run with a home rally over Miami; Virginia Tech overcame a large late deficit to beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta; and Syracuse got its second ACC win by blasting Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The other two games on the day ended as expected – Pittsburgh handled Boston College at home and North Carolina, the ACC’s only undefeated team in conference play, overcame a slow start to finish off North Carolina State in Chapel Hill. In the only ACC action on Sunday, Virginia‘s road woes continued in a loss to Florida State in Tallahassee. Here are some of the other highlights from the weekend in the ACC.

Brad Brownell and Jaron Blossomgame have had plenty to celebrate during Clemson's five straight ACC upset wins. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Brad Brownell and Jaron Blossomgame have had plenty to celebrate during Clemson’s five straight ACC upset wins. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

  • Best Win: In one of the most improbable occurrences in college basketball this year, Clemson has overcome one of the ACC’s toughest early league schedules by winning five straight games as an underdog. The latest victim was Miami by a score of 76-65 on Saturday afternoon in Greenville. With seven minutes to go and Miami holding a six point lead, it looked like the Tigers’ streak was near its end. But Clemson closed out the game with a 25-8 run and has now won five straight ACC games for the first time since Rick Barnes was coaching the Tigers in 1997. Jaron Blossomgame led the way with 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting. During the Brad Brownell era, the Tigers have always played good defense, but the difference this year is the Tigers’ offense. After finishing among the bottom three in ACC offensive efficiency the last three years (and never above 1.00 points per possession), Clemson is currently sixth in the league at a much improved 1.12 points per possession. A huge part of that success is the Tigers’ ability to punish teams from the foul line – they rank second in the ACC in free throw rate (45.1%) and first in accuracy (79.6%).
  • Worst Loss: Even though Wake Forest’s dismal effort in a home blowout to Syracuse technically may be the worst performance, we instead will go with the squad that suffered the most heartbreaking defeat, mainly because of what it may mean for that team’s confidence going forward. The team in question is Georgia Tech, who suffered a total meltdown at home against Virginia Tech. In our last weekend recap, we lauded Brian Gregory’s team for finally getting over the hump in winning a close league game. Well, the praise may have been a bit premature. The end of Saturday’s game in Atlanta played out exactly like many of the Yellow Jackets’ league games did a year ago, as the Jackets blew a 10-point lead over the last 4:14 of the game. In its final 12 possessions, Georgia Tech had more turnovers (4) than points (3). It certainly didn’t help that Adam Smith, the Jackets’ main outside threat, only made one three-pointer in seven tries from deep.
Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson punished Duke with 31 points in the Irish's big road win. (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson punished Duke with 31 points in the Irish’s big road win.
(Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Notre Dame’s Mike Brey has many weapons at his disposal, and that includes sophomore Bonzie Colson, who apparently loves to play against Duke. Colson helped the Irish defeat the Blue Devils in last season’s ACC Tournament semifinals with a then career-best 17 points. He nearly doubled that output on Saturday afternoon, finishing with 31 points and 11 rebounds (eight offensive) to lead the Irish to their fourth win over Duke in five meetings as ACC members. Colson scored in a variety of ways: post moves, putbacks, free throws (5-5) and even from deep (2-3 on threes). Afterwards, Brey commented on his play, “He gets pretty fired up when he does play them. Bonzie’s a big game guy. He loves a big game, and I thought he helped his teammates get confident.” Colson did not start the contest but logged 33 minutes as Brey recognized early on that the burly forward was a huge matchup problem for the Blue Devils’ thin frontcourt.
  • Unsung Heroes: With North Carolina’s top three scorers struggling against NC State, Roy Williams needed someone else to step up. That someone turned out to be Kennedy Meeks, who scored 25 points, grabbed six boards and blocked three shots to help the Tar Heels pull away from their rival. In only his second game back from a knee injury, Meeks had his highest point total since he tallied 25 in the season opener. Syracuse has not been a balanced team this year, having been carried by its backcourt to this point. But in Saturday’s rout of Wake Forest, junior forward Tyler Roberson delivered a dose of frontcourt production with 16 points and 13 rebounds. That makes four consecutive double figure scoring games for Roberson, who also helped the Orange’s defense Saturday with three steals. Pittsburgh’s Cameron Johnson only played 15 minutes in the Panthers’ win over Boston College, but he maximized that time with 20 points on an efficient seven of ten shooting performance. The redshirt freshman wing flashed a nice touch from deep, making four of his seven long-range attempts. He is now shooting 42.4 percent for the season from three-point range.
  • Most Efficient Offense/Least Efficient Defense: With Notre Dame visiting Duke in a game featuring two of the top four offenses in the country, we expected a shootout. Boy did we ever get one. Rare are games in which both teams score at a rate higher than 1.30 points per possession, but that’s what happened in Cameron Indoor on Saturday. The Irish prevailed with an offense that posted 1.36 points per possession in the exciting 95-91 win. That’s the most points per possession allowed by Duke to an ACC foe at home in the 15-year KenPom era. As one might expect in a performance that efficient, Notre Dame was outstanding in multiple offensive areas. They made 51.8 percent of their two-point attempts; hit 43.8 percent from three-point range; converted 80 percent from the foul line; grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, and only gave the ball away six times. It took every bit of that efficiency to hold off a Duke team that made half of their 24 three-point attempts.
  • Most Efficient Defense/Least Efficient Offense: In the weekend’s most lopsided game, Wake Forest managed only 0.77 points per possession in its 83-55 home loss to Syracuse. The Deacons had a tough time figuring out how to attack the Orange’s 2-3 zone from the outset and finished with 18 turnovers. When the Demon Deacons did get shot opportunities, they failed miserably, making just two of 20 from deep and missing 17 of 42 free throw attempts. Coming into the game, Wake figured to take advantage of Syracuse’s normally weak defensive rebounding, but things played out differently, as the Deacons only grabbed 25 percent of their misses. That percentage is well below Wake’s season average (35.1%) and that of Syracuse’s opponents (also 35.1%). Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim said, “This was the best defensive game we’ve had all year. We just were tremendously active. We had been doing a good job at the three-point line, but not so much inside. We were much better inside tonight.”

 

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Notre Dame’s Explosive Offense Makes Them A Dangerous Team

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2016

Last season, Notre Dame had the most successful run of Mike Brey‘s tenure in South Bend. The Irish finished third in the ACC with a 14-4 record, and then won the ACC Tournament in Greensboro by knocking off league stalwarts Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back nights. Then came an excellent NCAA Tournament run where they fell to an unbeaten Kentucky squad on the game’s final possession in a Regional final. That Irish team featured the second ranked offense in the country according to KenPom’s efficiency ratings, trailing only Wisconsin’s historically best offense. After losing its top two players from last year’s group, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton (both NBA draft picks), Brey’s current team may not be as strong overall due to a significant drop off defensively. But Notre Dame’s offense has remained elite (currently #1 in Kenpom) and that makes them a threat to win any time they take the floor.

Demetrius Jackson leads Notre Dame's outstanding offense and is among the nation's best point guards. (Ben McKeown/AP Photo)

Demetrius Jackson leads Notre Dame’s outstanding offense and is among the nation’s best point guards. (Ben McKeown/AP Photo)

As if to prove this point, on Saturday afternoon Notre Dame outscored Duke 95-91 by posting an outstanding 1.36 points per possession. We looked over the 15 years of KenPom historical data, and couldn’t find a better offensive performance for a visiting ACC team in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Granted, this is not a vintage Duke squad, with youth and a lack of depth being the main problems. But yesterday, the Blue Devils played hard and well most of the game (51.8 FG%, 50.0 3FG%), and the Cameron crowd was at its best, making it a difficult environment for the visitors. Still, Notre Dame maintained its poise and offensive efficiency down the stretch to come out on top in this shootout.

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ACC Preview: Notre Dame’s Burning Question

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 9th, 2015

Is the entrenched culture under Mike Brey enough to overcome the loss of two of the most decorated players in program history?

When Jerian’s Grant last second prayer went unanswered in Notre Dame’s valiant attempt to upset Kentucky in the Midwest regional final, it put an end not only to a remarkable late season run by the Fighting Irish but to two careers that won’t soon be forgotten. With the graduations of Grant and fellow classmate Pat Connaughton, Brey bid farewell to a combined 3,204 points, 1,166 rebounds, 947 assists, 268 steals and 8,821 minutes. What’s more telling than the staggering loss of that numerical production is that the club, given its setup of the roster, has a better chance to seamlessly replace those gaudy statistics than the exceptional intangibles provided by the departed captains.

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey's system will prevail this season. (AP)

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey’s system will prevail this season. (AP)

For Brey’s sake, he must trust that the sum of his ingrained system is greater than the individual parts. Coming off a 32-win season, an ACC Tournament title highlighted by a meticulous dismantling of eventual national champion Duke, and a deeper March run than any team in school history since 1979, Brey should feel more confident than ever that he has laid the groundwork in place to eventually return the school to its second Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »

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Freeze Frame: Neutralizing Kentucky’s Big Men

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 2nd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Thirty-eight teams have taken their best shots at Kentucky this season but none have come away with a victory. Last Saturday night, Notre Dame became “another test” for coach John Calipari’s team en route to its fourth Final Four in the last five years. Much has been made over nothing regarding Calipari’s postgame comments following the 68-66 win (the guy just moved to 38-0 on his way to another Final Four; what do you expect him to say when asked questions about the Irish?), but while the Cats have had a few games that were as closely contested, none were more meaningful.

The most efficient offenses this season against Kentucky.

The most efficient offenses this season against Kentucky.

Notre Dame’s defense last Saturday night was nothing particularly special. The Irish played with great toughness on that end of the floor, but so did every SEC team the Wildcats faced during the regular season. Notre Dame’s offense, however, was a completely different story. The Wildcats’ defense had only allowed five teams to score above a point per possession against it all season long, and Mike Brey’s team moved directly to the top of the list with its 1.16 PPP performance. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we analyze the three ways in which the Irish were able to neutralize Kentucky’s big men and do something that few other teams have been able to consistently do: score.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16” team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 74, Duke 64

Posted by Matt Patton on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Advanced to Its First ACC Championship Game (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame absolutely dominated the first half. The Irish hit some unbelievably tough shots and made Jahlil Okafor try to beat them on his own. As a result, Duke’s other players went 4-of-16 from the field and committed seven turnovers. Notre Dame may be the only team in the country with five guys who can consistently hit shots (although Duke has some lineups that also fit that description). The Irish smothered Duke by forcing the guards to play deeper than usual and fronting Okafor. They also hit shots, lots of them. Mike Brey’s team had a total of five and-ones in the first half alone. Five. When Duke went to its zone, Bonzie Colson just crushed the Blue Devils from the high post. When they went back to man, Demetrius Jackson got to the rim with incredible ease. Even in the second half when Duke started making its eventual run, Notre Dame’s ability to get to the rim (and the free throw line) felt like the reason Duke never got it back to a single-possession game.
  2. Demetrius Jackson is destined for great things. This may be an obvious statement (Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American, after all), but Jackson is a fantastic young player. He brings an athletic dimension to Mike Brey’s team that has been somewhat missing over the years. Jackson frequently broke Duke’s three-quarter court pressure like no one was there with his quick bursts of speed and playground dribbling moves in traffic. He also got to the rim with ease, finishing the evening with five assists and only one turnover in 39 minutes of action. If there’s a reason to still be bullish on the Irish next season without Jerian Grant, it’s because the sophomore Jackson is ready to take over the team.
  3. Mike Krzyzewski was remarkably calm. Coach K has a reputation of being curt and snippy in his pressers after Duke losses, but other than a defensive response to a question about last year’s team not meeting expectations, he was remarkably measured. I have a few theories on this attitude. The most likely idea is that he felt like Duke would have won the game if Quinn Cook hadn’t been gassed (Krzyzewski said on Thursday that Cook had been fighting off an illness). Cook went 1-of-10 from three on mostly good looks (0-of-8 in the second half) and he did a good job defending Jerian Grant, but it just looked like he wasn’t playing at 100 percent. The other theory is that Krzyzewski really liked the way Justise Winslow and Okafor fought back after horrible first halves.

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