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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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 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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