If I was not a die hard Georgia Tech fan, I would be a Notre Dame fan.
Mike Brey is the most underrated and underappreciated coach in the country. His only competition is John Beilein for that honor. Since becoming the head coach in South Bend, Brey has won twenty games 13 times, been to the tournament 12 times, and only lost in the first round twice. He has had a losing record only once, the first year they were in the ACC, and that season he lost leading scorer Jerian Grant to an academic issue after 12 games. They were 8-4 when he was ruled ineligible and finished up 15-17. They won 32 games their second year in the ACC.
Now, looking at the roster this year, I obviously took coaching into account. This years team does not jump off the page at you outside of Colson and Farrell, but they have some serious talent. Brey is also fantastic at instilling the “next man up” mentality, and whoever needs to step up will almost certainly do so.
The Fighting Irish…
Senior leadership is something that every successful program needs in the ACC. UNC has showcased that for the last two seasons when they didn’t necessarily have great NBA talent as much as they had experience in the ACC battles. Notre Dame lost a pair of seniors last year that will be sorely missed.
- Steve Vasturia, the crafty vet, the young man with the old mans game. The guy was the Manu Ginobli of the ACC for the last two years. Never flashy, never fast, maybe a bit dirty to gain an advantage, but hey, he wasn’t out there tripping guys, am I right? The do-it-all guy out of New Jersey averaged 13.1 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting 91% from the line, and 36% from deep. He also threw in a steal per game for good measure. He will no doubt be the biggest loss from last years team.
- VJ Beachem was one of my favorite players in the country to watch shoot the ball the last couple years. My favorite players are 6’8-6’10 guys that play the wing. They are like unicorns covered in gold, but they are actually alive after the gold cures. Ok, that might be a bad analogy, we can’t be out here killing unicorns, someone would no doubt be offended. Anyways, Beachem was the epitome of streaky, he had 9 games where he hit at least 4 treys, and 12 games where he hit one or less, including a 1-9 performance against West Virginia in the tournament. When he was hot, he was scorching, when he was cold, he was the Night King from Game of Thrones. Still, he averaged 14.5 points and 4 rebounds a game while shooting 36% from deep and 84% from the line (though he only went there about twice a game). Also, for a player who didn’t really mix it up on the offensive end, he did get after it on the defensive side getting a steal and a block per game.
- Matt Ryan, a 6’8 forward who could shoot it a little bit also transferred out of the program and landed at Vanderbilt.. He saw his minutes per game be nearly cut in half last year from a productive freshman campaign
That is basically it for impact losses. Vasturia and Beachem are a couple of huge ones though, roughly 36% of last years scoring and 43% of Notre Dames made threes and Vasturia was also a big part of the Irish being second in the nation in assist to turnover ratio. But, I think they will be alright.
Let me tell you why…
Obviously, coaching is a huge factor in this prediction, and I hold Brey in very high regard, but now let’s talk about Rod Balanis. Coach Balanis has been with Mike Brey since he arrived in South Bend and is credited with having a major hand in the development of some of the more popular/successful Notre Dame players in the last 15 years. For example, Kyle McAlarney, Torii Jackson, Luke Harangody and Jack Cooley all flourished under the tutelage of Coach Balanis. He was also the point man in the recruitment of such players as Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. The key returnees are going to kick off with a couple guys who I expect to make huge strides in this years campaign.
- Temple Gibbs is my number one breakout candidate for the entire conference this year. The 6’3 combo guard only averaged 4.7 points as a freshman while shooting 32% from deep and 83% from the line. He also had an impressive 2 A/TO, which in the ACC is obviously very difficult. Gibbs, whose freshman campaign eerily resembles Matt Farrell’s sophomore season, could see a similar type progression during his second season. As we all know, the biggest jump typically happens between the freshman and sophomore seasons.
- Martin Geben returns for his senior year after a successful summer playing for the Lithuanian National Team at the Summer University Games in Taipei. Geben helped lead his team to the gold medal, defeating an American team that was made up of the Purdue basketball team, including Isaac Haas, Carson Edwards and Vince Edwards. Over the course of the tournament Geben averaged 10.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per contest.
- Obviously the biggest reason for optimism for Notre Dame this season is the return of Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell for their senior campaigns. Colson averaged a double double last season, putting up 17 and 10 with 1.5 blocks per game. Standing at only 6’5, Colson has a huge 7′ wing span that makes him a terror on the offensive glass, snagging almost 3 second chance opportunities per game. Farrell saw his production explode last year, his points per game average jumped by 11.5 points to 14.1 and his assist numbers more than tripled from 1.6 to 5.4. Of course, opportunity was a huge factor as his minutes per game jumped from 13 to 34, but Farrell really made the most of his it. He also became one of the deadliest shooters in the conference from deep, draining 42% on 193 attempts.
- Also returning is reserve guard Rex Pflueger, who averaged 21.5 mpg last year, and was responsible for less than 1 turnover per game, exactly what you want in a reserve guard. He can shoot it a little bit, (40% on 68 attempts from deep) and does a little bit of everything else, averaging 4.7 points, 2.7 rips and 1.5 assists and almost a steal per game.
- DJ Harvey is a 5 star wing player that can score from deep, from mid range and he really likes to get downhill and finish on the break where he can use either hand, and will finish through contact. He is one of the most under publicized five star kids in the entire country, but will no doubt make a name for himself early in the out of conference schedule.
- The Irish also welcome Nikola Djogo who pretty much fell into their lap as they were recruiting him originally to get in on Thon Maker. The 6’7 G/F played against some good competition in Canada (Josh Jackson) and may be a surprise player down the road. He is probably a bit of a project, but as previously mentioned, that shouldn’t be a problem for this staff. Word is that as soon as he learns to take better care of the ball he could break into the rotation.
- Brey also added a transfer that will redshirt this season in former 5 star big man Juwan Durham. Durham suffered a knee injury his senior year of high school before committing to UConn where he played sparingly last year (8.3 mpg) before hitting the free agent market this spring. A redshirt year may benefit him as he regains strength in his knee and returns to form as a top 30 player in the 2016 class.
So we have coaching, we have talent, experience and player development. Teams like UNC and Virginia Tech may look better on paper, but Notre Dame is nothing if not consistently disciplined and fundamentally sound. They are also well rounded with their roster situation. Gibbs will no doubt flourish with more minutes, his family has already produced two very good college players in older brothers Ashton (Pitt) and Sterling (Texas, SHU, UConn). Also of interest, in Ashton’s freshman year at Pitt, he averaged 4.3 ppg. In Sterlings freshman year at Texas, he averaged 2.6 ppg. They both averaged double digits in their sophomore campaigns.
Projected Starting 5: Matt Farrell, Temple Gibbs, DJ Harvey, Bonzie Colson, Martin Geben