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 M5: 10.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 24th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse tipped off its season on Friday night with Orange Madness in the Carrier Dome. Jim Boeheim may be in the twilight of his great career, but the way his school renews the basketball year is not old-school at all. Much like Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness, the event attracts celebrities and is all about entertainment — making sure that players, fans and recruits enjoy the festivities. Sophomore forward Tyler Lydon is expected to have a breakout season for the Orange, but this week he experienced a different sort of breakout — a rash caused by poison oak which caused him to miss two days of practice.
  2. Unlike the light-hearted action at Syracuse, Duke‘s players really got after it during their 20-minute scrimmage that wrapped up Countdown to Craziness in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night. The intensity of the game was good from a competitive perspective, but it almost backfired when Grayson Allen awkwardly barreled into Amile Jefferson‘s legs while aggressively pursuing a loose ball. After an anxious minute on the floor, Jefferson got up and appeared to be sore but not injured. In other news from the practice, freshman Jayson Tatum showed why he is considered a top-5 NBA Draft pick by pouring in 18 points to lead all scorers.
  3. North Carolina got some bad news over the weekend when it announced that junior Theo Pinson will be out indefinitely with a fracture of the fifth metatarsal on his right foot. Pinson is expected to replace the departed Marcus Paige — who, ironically, also missed the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign with a foot injury — in the Tar Heels’ starting backcourt. Roy Williams has the luxury of good perimeter depth this season, although senior Nate Britt is the only other player with much experience. In the meantime, Britt should get the nod as Joel Berry’s starting running mate, but expect sophomore Kenny Williams and freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson to gain some extra early playing time as well. Pinson will probably not return until mid-January at the earliest, and sadly this continues his historical pattern of being prone to injury.
  4. After years of struggling to advance deeply in the NCAA Tournament, Mike Brey has now guided Notre Dame to the Elite Eight in each of the past two seasons. Two key players that played on both of those teams are now missing — point guard Demetrius Jackson and center Zach Auguste. As the Irish’s only viable post threat, Auguste may be the more difficult player to replace, and it seems that is what Brey had in mind when he started talking up seldom-used Martin Geben back in the spring. Under Brey, it’s not uncommon for big men to make a leap in productivity as upperclassmen, but we would be shocked if Geben approaches anything close to what Auguste posted during his last two years in South Bend.
  5. After having to play its home games in Greenville, South Carolina, last season, Clemson is looking forward to playing in a remodeled Littlejohn Coliseum this year. Everyone around the program seems very pleased with the new facility, but head coach Brad Brownell has the right perspective when he said, “The building doesn’t win you any games. A better office, nicer TVs and couches doesn’t win any games. Hopefully it brings guys together in an environment where they spend more time together and become closer and that bond wins games.” The other hope is that the updated facilities help the Tigers in recruiting – Brownell has proven he can compete with the big boys in the ACC when he has decent talent.
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Rushed Reactions: #6 Notre Dame 76, #14 Stephen F. Austin 75

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 20th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Rex Pflueger’s only basket of the game sent Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

  1. One Shining Moment. Welcome to the montage, Rex Pflueger. The California kid tipped in Zach Auguste‘s missed shot with one second remaining to send Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. It was a classic example of this tournament creating an iconic moment for a player not many people have heard of. It was Pflueger’s only two points of the game and his first made field goal since Notre Dame’s regular season finale against North Carolina State on March 5. For the time being, Pflueger saved Notre Dame’s season. We will see his one shining moment on video for years to come.
  2. Notre Dame won this game in the paint. The Fighting Irish scored 52 of their 76 points either in the paint or from the foul line as they took advantage of a substantial size edge. Auguste led the way, but the Notre Dame guards did a fantastic job getting into the paint and creating for both themselves and teammates. It is incredibly difficult to win games in this tournament when a team is passive offensively, and the Irish were the antithesis of passive this afternoon. Notre Dame was aggressive and efficient en route to shooting 56.9 percent from the floor for the game. A lot of that had to do with Auguste and his team’s dominance around the rim.
  3. What more can you say about Stephen F. Austin? The Lumberjacks put on quite a display this week in Brooklyn. On Friday night they took out a West Virginia team that many experts said could contend for a spot in the Final Four. They beat the Mountaineers at their own game and today they were one missed defensive rebound away from making the first Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history. Thomas Walkup is a special player who got better in each of his four years in Nacogdoches. He had 21 points today after scoring 33 two nights ago against West Virginia, performances that nearly carried his team to the second weekend. With the Lumberjacks losing Walkup, Demetrious Floyd, Clide Geffrard, Trey Pinkney and Jared Johnson to graduation, the focus now will turn to head coach Brad Underwood and whether or not he stays with the program. He will likely be mentioned as a candidate for the open Big 12 jobs at Oklahoma State and TCU. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 78, Notre Dame 47

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. If North Carolina plays defense like it did tonight, the Tar Heels will win the national championship. Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country and they couldn’t buy a good look for 10 solid minutes. Roy Williams’ team was incredibly aggressive, especially on the perimeter, never allowing Notre Dame’s guards to any space to operate. They only gave up 22 points (a season low for both teams) on 34 possessions, good for a first half defensive efficiency of 0.65 points per possession. After the run ended five minutes into the first half, it was far too late for Notre Dame to catch up. The Irish ended up scoring only 47 points in the game, its lowest total since a loss to Syracuse in 2013.

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  2. Repeat after me: North Carolina is really deep. The Heels got 20 points off the bench and they actually played better when Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks both picked up their second fouls with 6:30 to play in the first half. Very few teams in the country would have been able to bounce back so quickly. Isaiah Hicks has played really well over the last couple of games (he finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds), and this was his best game since he scored 21 points at Syracuse.
  3. Notre Dame is a streaky team. It was blown out three other times this season (at Syracuse; at Florida State; vs. Miami), and every once in a while you will see a team get too far into its own head and become woefully overmatched. This was one of those times. The Tar Heels defense totally took Notre Dame out of its offense, as the Irish went from a team that excels on ball movement to one trying to isolate against a much taller front line. Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson were held a combined 1-of-16 from the field, an unbelievably disappointing performance.

Star of the Game. Tonight Marcus Paige looked every bit the first team all-ACC player everyone expected. He played great defense, hit some soul-crushing threes, and finished with seven assists and no turnovers. When he’s locked in, guarding the Tar Heels is borderline impossible. The last few years the question was always: “Can North Carolina shoot well enough to win?” This tournament has been evidence that both Joel Berry and Paige are more than capable. (Author’s note: It’s worth noting that Berry finished the game with four assists and no turnovers.)

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Notre Dame Upends Duke; Tobacco Road Rematch Denied

Posted by Matt Patton on March 10th, 2016

Midway through the second half of Thursday afternoon’s second ACC quarterfinal, a Duke-UNC rematch looked like destiny. Duke led Notre Dame by 16 with 11 minutes to play. To that point, the game had strongly resembled North Carolina’s earlier win over Pittsburgh: Notre Dame and Duke were matched in strengths (offense); Duke struggled out of the gate but Grayson Allen kept the game close; and a second half Fighting Irish drought looked fatal. And then the Blue Devils ran out of gas.

Zach Auguste got the better of his matchup with Marshall Plumlee in Notre Dame's win over Duke. (photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

Zach Auguste got the better of his matchup with Marshall Plumlee in Notre Dame’s win over Duke. (photo: Alex Brandon, AP)

The Notre Dame comeback began in earnest with just under eight minutes left when Notre Dame grabbed three straight offensive boards before scoring. Soon after VJ Beachem rediscovered his shooting stroke, while Zach Auguste continued his relentless assault of the backboards. Auguste would finished with 22 rebounds on an afternoon when he was easily the best player on the floor.

Make no mistake about it: The story here is Notre Dame, not Duke. The Blue Devils are very much who we thought they were — a flawed but extremely capable offensive team who will have a chance to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. But on the other side, this game was a reminder that Notre Dame is still built around the foundation of last year’s ACC title squad that almost knocked off Kentucky in the Elite Eight. It’s a team with veterans like Auguste, Demetrius Jackson (who struggled en route to a 13 point, four assist afternoon) and Steve Vasturia (12 points, six assists) who are ready for another shot at an ACC title. Despite wins over North Carolina, Duke (now twice), and Louisville, the Fighting Irish are still looking for national respect. The guy at the helm certainly has a good deal of that, as Mike Brey is now 5-1 in his last six games against Duke and his mentor, Mike Krzyzewski.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.08.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 8th, 2016

After Friday afternoon’s bombshell announcement that Louisville was self-imposing a postseason ban, the attention returned to the play on the floor for fourteen ACC schools this weekend. In a rarity, five league road teams were favored in the seven matchups, but only three managed to extract victories. In the marquee contest, Notre Dame continued its recent run of superiority over the ACC’s two most storied programs, as the Irish rallied for a big upset win in South Bend over North Carolina in ESPN’s prime time game on Saturday night. Earlier in the day, Virginia Tech also pulled off a mild surprise as the Hokies edged Clemson in Blacksburg, significantly damaging the Tigers’ postseason hopes in the process. In other action, the ACC’s two leading scorers dueled in Durham, with Grayson Allen and Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber putting on a show as Duke defeated N.C. State for the second time this year. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the ACC.

Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste celebrate Notre Dame's upset win over North Carolina. (Getty Images)

Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste celebrate Notre Dame’s upset win over North Carolina. (Getty Images)

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 1st, 2016

It was not a weekend of tight games in the ACC, with all but one of the seven contests featuring a final margin in double figures. Saturday’s heavyweight matchup between Virginia and Louisville turned out to be completely one-sided, as the visiting Cavaliers dominated from the outset in the nationally-televised game. N.C. State pulled off the biggest upset of the weekend by taking out Miami behind a remarkable performance from its star point guard. North Carolina easily dispatched Boston College, as expected; Florida State avenged an earlier loss by beating Clemson in Tallahassee; and Syracuse edged Georgia Tech in the only close contest on Saturday. Sunday featured two home wins for teams that remain a part of the crowded upper half of the ACC standings – Notre Dame easily handled Wake Forest, and Pittsburgh took care of Virginia Tech. Here are some of the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Malcolm Brogdon led the way in Virginia's domination over Louisville. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Malcolm Brogdon led the way in Virginia’s domination over Louisville.
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • Best Win: Just a short week ago, we still weren’t sure what to make of Tony Bennett’s team. They were clearly in a rut, having lost all three league road games, and they were facing a week with two more away games. For 39 minutes in Winston-Salem on Tuesday it appeared as if those woes away from home would continue. But a miracle comeback gave Virginia its first ACC road win and appears to have sparked something more. The Cavaliers manhandled the ACC’s second place team, 63-47, in a masterful defensive performance that held Louisville’s two leading scorers (Damion Lee and Trey Lewis) without a point in the first half (the pair finished with 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting). The Cardinals never challenged, allowing Virginia to cruise to its most impressive ACC performance of the year. Seniors Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill led the charge with 13 points each. If this weekend’s performance is any indication, it may be a bit premature to count out the Cavaliers with respect to a third consecutive ACC regular season title.

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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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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 12.19.15 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 19th, 2015

After a quiet week for the league, this weekend storms in with some great games. The centerpiece of the next two days will be the Crossroads Classic, an event that takes the four most prestigious programs from the country’s most basketball-rich state and pairs them together in Indianapolis. It’s turned into one of the premier events before conference plays begins. Here is your weekend preview:

The Crossroads Classic

The Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis is upon us once again this Saturday.

  • Northwestern at Depaul (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, FS1). People may not have noticed, but Northwestern is 9-1 with its sole loss against North Carolina–a game which was at least competitive in the first half. Not many have jumped on the Wildcats’ bandwagon because their schedule as of today has been laughable. Only two of their wins have come from teams ranked higher than #175 on KenPom and both those wins came in overtime. A win at DePaul (5-5) wouldn’t convert many to be believers, but it would represent Northwestern’s best win of the season (given their light schedule thus far).
  • Notre Dame vs Indiana (Saturday, 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2). This is the opener to the Crossroads Classic and Mike Brey decided to turn up the heat to it when he said yesterday that Notre Dame was the most consistent program in the state, “and it isn’t close”. It’s not certain whether his statement was a direct shot at their upcoming opponents, the only blueblood program in the state, or it was just innocuous praise for himself and assistant coaches. Either way, it should be a highly entertaining and frenetic game as both these teams have Top 5 offenses paired with pedestrian defenses. The game might come down to whoever makes the most threes or who has the most transition points. Grab the popcorn before you watch this one.

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