Here. We. Go. Hoops season is upon us, and while Brey’s Irish will certainly be overshadowed by what’s happening on the gridiron, November is a big month for a team that should contend for an ACC crown.
The Irish should be damn good. Notice that I keep saying “should” (see below). Ranked 14 in both preseason polls (which may be a little low), expectations are understandably high. And they might be higher here than anywhere else.
You know that Bonz is an All-American, and that Matt Farrell is still underrated. I’m not going to explain how Marty Geben and Lithuania whooped up on Purdue in the World University Games. You’ll hear that 20 times over the next five months.
Instead, I’m going a little bit off the grid for some unique perspective on what we can expect this year from the Irish.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
There are certain players that are so good that it makes you somewhat sad that their time is almost up. Just recently, I went through this with Marian Hossa.
If you have visited this site before, you know how I feel about the player that Bonz is. As an undersized big guy who used to try to hold down the fort at the Rock and Rolfs during pick-up games, I have a soft spot for guys like Gody and Bonz. Guys that were overlooked in recruiting and developed into superstars, doing it their own way.
Bonz is just an absolute joy to watch. His unique skill, coupled with his passion, has made watching his development so fun. I’m glad this prediction from the season preview a couple years back looks like it has legs:
Whether this team returns to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament wholly depends, in my opinion, on the play of Bonzie Colson (who will only be referred to in this blog from now on as “the Bonz”) and V.J. Beachem. The Bonz plays below the rim at 6’5, seems to always be around the ball, and once he grabs it has a variety of ways to score (certainly some unorthodox ways). His freshman year reminded me of Luke Harangody’s: it took a while to get in the rotation, but then became a major factor by the end of the year. I truly think the Bonz can have a comparable career as the Gody, though maybe not as dominant, because he won’t need to be.
Enjoy the ride, everyone. This is a special talent that isn’t guaranteed to come around again (though I’ll take Brey’s track record of finding these gems).
Let’s Avoid a Repeat of 2008-2009
I hate doing it, but I have to bring up 2008-2009 because of the obvious similarities. That team: 1) was ranked in the Top 15 (9th to be exact) to start the year; 2) had an undersized power forward (Gody) that was an All-American and the conference Preseason POY; 3) had a stud guard from the NY/NJ area (Kyle McAlarney) that was tough as nails; and 4) played in the Maui Invitational.
They finished 21-15.
Gody filled the stat sheet, averaging 23 and 12 a game. A ridiculous Big East schedule and seven straight losses did them in. Seriously, look at this gauntlet.
The 2017-18 Irish are better equipped to handle the expectations, as the majority of the roster has been a part of an ACC Championship game and a deep NCAA Tournament run. Obviously, I don’t expect a season similar to 2008-09, but just wanted to throw this out there to show that anything is possible.
Prove It Early
For once, the Irish don’t begin the season with the likes of Multi-Directional [Insert State] State. In fact, the non-conference schedule is as strong as it has been in a decade.
Sure, DePaul stinks, but it is unlike Brey to agree to open the season on road against a team opening a new stadium. Check the Twitter feed for some pictures and in-game “hard-hitting” analysis from Wintrust Arena.
The trip to Maui over Thanksgiving begins with a gift from the scheduling committee to start the tournament with Chaminade. We’ll probably get Notre Dame/Michigan in the Semis, and if the Irish take care of business, a date with Wichita State could await. The Shockers are deep and athletic, but I think the Irish would have the advantage with arguably the two best players on the court. Landry Shamet sure can play though…
After a week in Maui, the Irish are rewarded with a trip to East Lansing in the ACC/Big 14 Challenge. Sparty is a legitimate Top 5 team, and that Miles Bridges guy is pretty good. However, we all know that the time to beat Izzo typically is in November/December.
After a couple home games, Brey takes the Irish on the road again to…Delaware? Remember, Brey coached the Blue Hens prior to coming to South Bend, and former Irish point guard/assistant coach Martin Inglesby is in his second year at the helm. Nice gesture by Brey.
The following weekend, ND travels to Indianapolis to play Archie Miller (sorry Mike) and the Hoosiers. The Irish will be favored in this one, but having been to the Crossroads Classic a few times, the stadium will be 80% IU and about 2% ND. This one scares me…big time.
Is 12-1 too much to ask before ACC play begins in late December? Regardless, the Irish will be battle-tested, which should only help them during the ACC slate.
The Spark Plug
First, it’s good to see that the Zac Efron comparisons are catching on.
If you look for the definition of “breakout season,” Farrell’s 2016-17 season fits it. The question becomes whether or not he has another level. Did anyone other than Farrell, his family, and maybe the coaching staff believe he would be ranked in the Top 50 players in the country before his senior season?
The insertion of T.J. Gibbs into the starting lineup should only help Farrell, as T.J. will likely share ball-handling responsibilities to allow ND’s best 3-point shooter to get some time off the ball. As good and as important as Bonz is, Farrell may even be more important. The Irish go as Farrell goes, and at the end of last season, he may have been a little worn down.
|First 26 Games||14.2||5.6||43.9||2.62|
|Last 10 Games||13.8||5.1||37.7||2.22|
Still pretty darn good. Expect more of the same.
Next Men Up
Vasturia and Beachem and their 27.6 points per game are gone, and in their place are two guards that were asked to be defensive stalwarts off the bench last year. Now, Gibbs and Rex Pflueger are also going to be asked to put the ball in the bucket.
Let’s start with Rex. I ran comparisons with both Pat Connaughton and Steve Vasturia, because Rex seems to be a hybrid of the two. Like Connaughton, Rex is super-athletic and a willing rebounder. Like Stove, Rex is a reliable defender, but a questionable 3-point shooter (though he did hit 39.7% last season).
Both Connaughton and Vasturia received more action in their first two years than Rex, but let’s take a look at their junior seasons:
The one stat that I can accurately predict is that Rex will play at least 30 minutes per game. He’s too valuable on the defensive end. I’d take 10-12 points, 5 rebounds and somewhere close to the 39.7% from deep that he shot last season.
I’m incredibly excited about T.J. Gibbs. Get ready to hear all about him losing 20 pounds in the offseason (and he did look quicker in the preseason because of it). Rob Dauster of NBC Sports named Gibbs as one of his breakout stars, and I couldn’t agree more. Here’s what he said…
Players develop in the Notre Dame system more than just about any other college program in the country. Gibbs played limited minutes as a freshman, as Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem dominated those perimeter roles, but with Notre Dame needing bodies, the younger brother of a pair of former Big East stars – Ashton and Sterling Gibbs – don’t be surprised to see T.J. grow into a major role for what should be a really good Notre Dame team.
There’s precedent with the Gibbs brothers that would be foolish to ignore. Take a look at the freshman seasons for Ashton, Sterling and T.J.
Now, here’s what Ashton and Sterling did in Year 2.
Seems like there is a pretty big jump coming…
The New Guy
I knew there was a reason that I sat through the replays of the Irish preseason games…to fall in love with D.J. Harvey’s 15-foot pull up jumper. Not only does he have the stones to take that shot, but it’s also incredibly smooth. And that first step…pretty quick.
There are probably 20-25 minutes for the taking as the fourth guard. While Nikola Djogo could get some minutes here and there, these minutes are earmarked for Harvey.
Additionally, Harvey is not a small dude. He’s at least 6’6 and is nowhere near as thin as Beach, meaning that we absolutely could see a lot of Harvey at the 4, with Bonz at the 5 as the season progresses. In fact, that lineup could be incredibly lethal.
Harvey’s going to be good, folks. It’s just a matter of how soon.
It Only Takes One…
The Irish have three bigs other than Bonz who, in my opinion, are going to be competing for playing time. This doesn’t include Torres, who is who he is. There will be 1-2 games where Torres will be inserted for a 5-6 minutes stretch when the Irish come out of the gate flat. That’s his role. Marty Geben, Elijah Burns and John Mooney all are going to have an opportunity to earn major minutes.
Marty will get the first chance to start as the “incumbent.” If you’re looking for some positive spin on his experience with Lithuania, look somewhere else. I hope that the switch went on this summer. But, he has to prove that he can play meaningful minutes against quality competition, or one of the young guys behind him are going to send him to the bench. Time to step it up, Marty.
Burns is the wild card. Brey surprised nearly everyone at an October presser by declaring the redshirt sophomore his sixth man. His offensive game may take some time, but I love how fluid Burns looks on defense. In a first half stretch against Bethel, he had two steals and a block in a span of four possessions. Offensively, Burns looked a bit awkward around the rim, but showed that he has an outside jumper. He’s going to get a chance for 10-15 minutes a game from the outset, and possibly more as the season progresses.
Questions about John Mooney dominated Tom Noie’s weekly chats last year, as fans wanted to see more of the versatile forward. Just from watching the preseason games, Burns is ahead of him. Mooney is going to have to earn his minutes with toughness on the glass and getting some jumpers to fall.
The title and the September 13 prediction at the start of the article says it all…
San Antonio or bust.
If you want to chat Irish (or Flyer) hoops, check us out on Twitter @headvgut. We have a blast, bet beers, make fun of Joe Lunardi, marvel at the genius of Bill Walton, and just enjoy everything that college basketball has to offer.