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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #4 West Virginia 83, #5 Notre Dame 71

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017

West Virginia relied on timely shooting and aggressive defense (per usual) to reach its second Sweet Sixteen in the last three years.

West Virginia is headed to San Jose next week. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. No one is immune to Press Virginia. Notre Dame entered Saturday with the best offensive turnover rate in the country, a testament to its stable of seasoned ball-handlers and deliberate approach. Faced with West Virginia’s relentless, bruising defensive pressure, though, the Irish struggled just as so many of the Mountaineers’ opponents have this season. Mike Brey’s veteran club suffered 10 turnovers in the first half alone, unable to find any offensive rhythm and surrendering easy baskets on the other end. West Virginia — which forces turnovers at a higher rate than any other team in college hoops — jumped out to a 10-0 lead to start the game and never really looked back.
  2. The Mountaineers’ offense was pretty great, too. Much of the conversation surrounding West Virginia focuses on its defense, and deservedly so. But if it was defense that gave the Mountaineers’ an initial edge on Saturday, it was the offense that ultimately carried them home. Bob Huggins’ group shot 50 percent from the field, including 8-of-14 from behind the arc and 21-of-26 at the free throw line. Especially great was West Virginia’s interior passing, which enabled Esa Ahmad (11 points), Elijah Macon (11 points), Daxter Miles (18 points), and others to routinely find easy looks at the rim. Oh, and the timely three-point shooting helped — especially from Jevon Carter (4-of-5 3FG), who drilled a clutch triple with 2:30 remaining that helped stick a fork in Notre Dame.
  3. Bonzie Colson was every bit as good as you’d expect. While Notre Dame lost, it wasn’t because Colson didn’t hold his own. The uniquely-built 6’5″ forward scored 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-5 shooting from long range along with eight rebounds. Despite picking up his fourth foul with about nine minutes left in the game, Colson remained effective on the offensive end, enabling the Irish to hang around despite facing a superior opponent. Silver lining for Notre Dame fans? The big man is only a junior, and should enter 2017-18 as a front-runner for ACC Player of the Year.

Player of the Game. Jevon Carter, West Virginia (24 points, 4-of5 3FG). For as outstanding as Colson was, Carter make the biggest difference in this game. The 6’2″ junior, known for his tenacious defense and quick hands (2.6. SPG), knocked down big shot after big shot on Saturday, including a long three-pointer from straight-on midway through the second half and that dagger triple with a few minutes remaining. He couldn’t have picked a better time to match his season-high point total.

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Notre Dame 60, #12 Princeton 58

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 16th, 2017

Notre Dame didn’t play its best game of the season in the NCAA Tournament opener Thursday, but the Irish were able to survive a second-half Princeton push to advance to the second round.

Bonzie Colson, V.J. Beachem, and the rest of the Irish were lucky to survive Thursday afternoon (Photo: ND Insider)

Key Takeaways

  1. Princeton couldn’t find the range from deep. The Tigers’ ineptitude from long range (they made just 8-of-31 three-point attempts) was the defining element of this game. Devin Cannady, who shot 42 percent from long range on the season, made just two of his 10 attempts today. The largest of those eight misses came with just three seconds to play and the Tigers down two; when Cannady’s potential game-winner caromed off the back rim, Princeton’s upset bid was effectively over, and in fitting fashion: on a three-point miss.
  2. Irish dominate the glass. Notre Dame and its undersized roster rarely found an ACC team it could dominate on the glass, but the Ivy League champs proved beatable on the backboards. Bonzie Colson‘s 12 boards paced the Irish, which finished with nine offensive rebounds and a +3 rebounding advantage. On a day when the shots were not falling, those second opportunities were extremely important.
  3. Bonzie keeps grinding. Notre Dame’s gritty leader submitted one more tough performance in a season full of them. Colson had 18 points, seven rebounds, and a pair of blocks — all of which led the Irish. He did leave some points on the board – Colson shot just 6-of-13 from the field and missed four of his 10 free throw attempts — but on a day where Irish three-point attempts (11) and makes (four) were well below their season averages, it was the resourcefulness of Colson that again carried the offense.

Star of the GameMatt Farrell, Notre Dame. The Irish point guard, like every other player in this game, was far from perfect; however, Farrell was a spark for much of the afternoon, finishing with 16 points, four assists, and a pair of steals. He made six of his nine field goal attempts (including three from long-range) and came up with a number of key hoops to maintain the Irish lead early in the second half. Colson was equally effective, but Farrell gets the nod as the most efficient player on this afternoon.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Notre Dame 77 #2 Florida State 73

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

Three Key Takeaways.

It’s Brey Day in Brooklyn (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame was the harder playing, smarter, better team. The Irish were the beneficiaries of its characteristically hot shooting from beyond the arc (13 made threes), but they also impressively took the fight to the bigger, stronger and more athletic Seminoles. Led by fearless floor leader Matt Farrell, Notre Dame was the aggressor in racing out to a 16-point halftime lead, leaving Florida State struggling to match the intensity of the Irish. A flurry of hot shooting from little-utilized Braian Angola-Rodas (17 points, 4-of-7 from three) was all that kept the game moderately competitive, but Florida State never applied any legitimate pressure to Notre Dame.
  2. This is why it’s impossible to trust Florida State. Just 24 hours ago, I sat in the same seat convinced that this version of the Seminoles was somehow different and perhaps worthy of discussion as a potential Final Four participant. Now I’m not so sure… or maybe I’ve just flat out changed my mind. It was not so much the loss but rather the uninspired, listless nature of the Florida State performance that makes trusting it so disconcerting. An illustration of the Seminoles’ substandard effort came early in the second half. After watching Notre Dame drill eight, mostly uncontested triples in the first 20 minutes, there is very little doubt that Leonard Hamilton addressed this point in the locker room. Just 1:15 after the half, though, Farrell found himself with a wide-open look from the corner as a lazy, last-second closeout effort by Dwayne Bacon once again proved late and futile.
  3. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Farrell and Bonzie Colson look like a pair of guys likely to be picked last in some of the more competitive pickup games in Brooklyn. But tonight, in a circumstance that becoming far from unusual, they were the two best players on the floor. The senior point guard (15 points, six assists) controlled the game from the tip, employing his grit and intellect that sometimes tends to unfairly overshadow his ability. The behemoth front line size of Florida State was somehow no match for the undersized Colson (18 points, six rebounds), who at 6’5” continues to amaze with his nose for the ball and penchant for scoring over taller opponents.

Star of the Game: Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame.  While the aforementioned dominated the tilt, Vasturia matched Colson’s 18 points in hitting some big shots to stem the tide and grabbed g a critical offensive rebound in the final minute.

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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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This Weekend in the ACC: February 11

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 11th, 2017

Here are a few things to keep your eye on around the ACC this weekend (all times Eastern).

Saturday, 1:00 PM: Clemson (13-10, 3-8 ACC) at Duke (19-5, 7-4 ACC) Someone call Kenny Loggins, because the Tigers have officially entered the Danger Zone. After losing at the buzzer to Syracuse to suffer yet another heart-breaking defeat at home, Clemson’s NCAA Tournament hopes are in big, big trouble. Sometimes you can pinpoint a specific reason why a team is struggling, but sometimes losing a handful of close games is nothing more than just bad luck. In Clemson’s six ACC games that have fallen within a five-point window, the Tigers are just 1-5. It’s difficult to imagine that anything less than a 5-2 finish will be good enough for Clemson to make a realistic run at the NCAA Tournament, and the immediate road ahead is filled with difficulty. Including today’s trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium, three of the Tigers next four games are on the road against NCAA Tournament-quality teams.

Can Quentin Snider’s return to the Louisville lineup lead them to an ACC Championship? (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Saturday, 2:00 PM: Miami (16-7, 6-5) at Louisville (19-5, 7-4) This is an important game for both Louisville and Miami, but for very different reasons. The Hurricanes have won four of their last five contests and appear to be trending on the right side of the bubble — a road win over Louisville would do wonders for their Tournament resume. As for the Cardinals, point guard Quentin Snider is expected back in the lineup after missing six games with a hip injury. The junior was averaging 14.8 points and 5.3 assists per game over the last four games prior to his injury, so for a team with limited offensive capabilities, getting a healthy Snider back is incredibly important for the prospects of a championship season for Rick Pitino.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 31

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 31st, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

Georgia Tech. Now THAT is how you get the attention of the NCAA Tournament selection committee! The Yellow Jackets blasted Florida State at home last week before winning on Saturday on the rare but delightful “fast break lay-up buzzer beater” against Notre Dame. Georgia Tech is now 4-2 in its last six games and has absolutely moved into the discussion for an NCAA Tournament bid. The key has been the Yellow Jackets’ improved defense, as head coach Josh Pastner is employing a tricky zone that has forced opponents into a slew of bad shots, particularly from three-point range. Georgia Tech held the Seminoles to their lowest Offensive Rating (75.7) of the season and the Irish to their second-lowest (92.3).These big wins at home are no doubt important, but Pastner also needs to show that his team can win on the road. The Jackets will get the chance this week with trips to Clemson and Wake Forest.

Is freshman Ty Jerome the secret weapon for Tony Bennett to get Virginia deep into the tournament? (AP)

Virginia. The Cavaliers were *this* close to putting together one of the most impressive weeks of the entire college basketball season. Already carrying a dominant road victory over Notre Dame into Sunday’s match-up with top-ranked Villanova, the Cavaliers led for most of the way before a buzzer-beating tip-in gave them the loss. Perhaps even more surprising than Virginia’s success last week was the play of freshman Ty Jerome. Normally relegated to just a few minutes per game in giving senior point guard London Perrantes a breather, head coach Tony Bennett gave him a huge opportunity to deliver. Not only did he score a career-best 15 points in 24 minutes against the Wildcats, but he ran the offense well enough to allow Perrantes to play off the ball. Furthermore, he was not afraid to take the big shots, hitting several including a game-tying runner in the lane. Was this a temporary mirage, or is Jerome now a key cog to a Virginia team that appears to be putting it all together as we approach the home stretch?

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Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell Leading Irish to Top of ACC

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 21st, 2017

The play itself, spectacular as it was unique, took guts, guile and extraordinary self-belief, and represents a characteristic of every overachiever. With his team clinging to a three-point lead with 46 seconds remaining last weekend in Blacksburg, Matt Farrell looked to put the finishing touches on Notre Dame’s fifth consecutive victory to start ACC play. In an effort to preserve a few precious seconds, the Hokies rolled the ball up the court. Making himself inconspicuous, Farrell created the illusion that he was not paying attention. Then, in the blink of an eye, the subterfuge ceased, as Farrell dived headlong to smother the ball, pop up, and drop a dime to T.J. Gibbs. Gibbs extended the lead to five with an easy layup, effectively putting an exclamation mark on yet another impressive ACC victory for the Irish.

At 16-3 and tied for first in the league standings with North Carolina and Florida State, Notre Dame is without question one of this year’s pleasant surprises. The presumed strength of the league notwithstanding, the primary reason for hesitation regarding this year’s version of Mike Brey’s squad centered around the transition of point guard duties from three-year standout Demetrius Jackson to the little-known junior from Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. Farrell entered the season with a mere 86 career points in 43 career games, and as a sophomore, he posted the team’s poorest player efficiency rating. And those notes, among others, is why Brey is one of the most under-appreciated developers of talent in college basketball. His teams change somewhat based on the available personnel, but they are always well-versed on the game’s fundamentals and know how to find open shots. Perhaps no player in the head coach’s 17 seasons at Notre Dame puts a stamp of approval on his process quite like Farrell.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 17

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 17th, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

  • Notre Dame. As expertly diagrammed by our Brad Jenkins last week, winning on the road in the ACC is quite the chore. So when a team can win a pair of games over likely NCAA Tournament teams away from home in the same week — as Notre Dame did with victories over Miami and Virginia Tech — it will result in a “Stock Up” spot on our list for the second consecutive week. Irish point guard Matt Farrell has made so many big plays down the stretch for his team that, according to David Peel, head coach Mike Brey referred to Farrell as “his Aaron Rodgers.” Now that’s some high praise, indeed.

Donovan Mitchell is becoming the leader of a very talented Louisville team. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • Donovan Mitchell, Louisville. When you think about the great Rick Pitino teams, you think about terrific guards — players like Peyton Siva and Russ Smith from Louisville’s 2013 National Championship team or Tony Delk and Wayne Turner from Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship squad. Pitino’s best teams have always had outstanding athletes in the backcourt leading the way. Sophomore Donovan Mitchell is the next name on that list. In the Cardinals’ last five games, Mitchell is averaging 19.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game. His ascension to stardom will become even more important in the short term as news broke last night that starting point guard Quentin Snider will miss 2-3 weeks with a hip injury. If Mitchell can continue to play at a very high level, Pitino could be headed back to another Final Four.
  • North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ home win over Florida State on Saturday was an important step for Roy Williams’ team if it wants to win the ACC this season. After also beating Syracuse during Big Monday last night, North Carolina has now won five straight games after an ACC-opening hiccup at Georgia Tech. The key to the streak has been Williams’ offense, as the Tar Heels, riding stellar three-point shooting to the tune of 40.5 percent, have scored at least 85 points in each of those five games. When they miss, extra opportunities abound, with North Carolina also averaging nearly 17 offensive rebounds per game during the stretch. A combination of an offense that is clicking, domination of the offensive glass and a favorable schedule over the next few weeks could give the Tar Heels an early advantage in the ACC title race.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 10

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 10th, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

Syracuse. Has Jim Boeheim righted the ship in upstate New York? After an incredibly disappointing 8-6 start to the season, the Orange notched consecutive easy wins over Miami and Pittsburgh at the Carrier Dome last week. In both victories, Boeheim used the same five players — John Gillon, Andrew White, Tyus Battle, Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon — for all but 17 minutes of game action, and White and Battle in particular played all 80 minutes. It appears that Boeheim’s shortened rotation has been effective, especially on the defensive end. In two losses to St. John’s and Boston College, the Orange allowed 93 and 96 points, respectively; last week they held Miami to 55 and a high-scoring Pittsburgh squad to just 66 points.

Has Jim Boeheim found the answer to what was ailing the Orange? (Nick Lisi/AP)

Joel Berry II, North Carolina. The North Carolina point guard was in our Stock Down section last week after he struggled in the Tar Heels’ surprising loss to Georgia Tech. He earned his way on to the Stock Up list this week after a tremendous performance in a win at Clemson. After shooting a miserable 3-of-13 in Atlanta, Berry responded with an impressive 12-of-19 performance at Clemson, including seven three-pointers and great leadership down the stretch. He followed that up with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists in Sunday’s blowout win over NC State. If North Carolina expects to get back to the National Championship game, it will need Berry to play like he did this week to get there.

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