By now you’ve heard the awful news. Bonz broke his foot in practice and is expected to miss eight weeks.
I lift my glass of Woodford, hoping for (most importantly) a full (and less importantly), a speedy recovery for one of my favorite Irish players of all time.
Let’s do the math. At the very earliest, we’re looking at Bonz being back for the home finale on February 28 against Pitt (that’s exactly 8 weeks from tomorrow). And because of the wording of the statement, that looks like it’s certainly possible.
Notice the phrase “expected to miss eight weeks of game action.” Even if I am dissecting that statement too much, the Irish have not done themselves any favors by starting out 11-3, with losses to Indiana and Ball State. At an absolute minimum, they are going to need to find themselves at 9-7 in the ACC heading into that Pitt game (especially since they close the regular season at Virginia).
So how do the Irish go 8-7 over the next 15 games to put themselves in the running for a NCAA Tournament bid? Let’s look at some options.
The Precedent – Burn Baby, Burn
Brey’s been in this position before, albeit for a much shorter period. During the 2009-10 season, Gody was injured in a Feb. 11 loss to Seton Hall. At the time, ND was 17-8, and 6-6 in the Big East.
They proceeded to lose two straight, before Brey brought out the burn. For those who have recently jumped on the bandwagon, Brey had the Irish milking the shot clock to the final seconds before asking Ben Hansbrough or Tory Jackson to drive it and either take it to the tin or kick it to Ty Nash for a bucket, or to Tim Abromaitis or Carleton Scott for triples. Brey knew that the Irish needed to limit the number of possessions and rely on their offensive efficiency and defense to carry the day.
And did it ever. The Irish ran off six straight wins, including two on the road and two in the Big East Tournament, before losing to #7 WVU in the semifinals. The final scores of these games?
58-50, 63-60 (OT), 50-45, 53-51…
That OT game…forced by one of the most memorable Irish triples.
The starting lineup: Abro, Scott, Hansbrough, Nash and Jackson. Not the biggest lineup, and the Irish predictably struggled on the glass. But look at the shot totals in some of these games. In the win over Pitt in the Big East Tournament, ND took 34 shots…THE ENTIRE GAME. I’d bet that there have been multiple games this season where the Irish have taken 34 shots in the first half.
They minimized the potential for getting killed on the glass, by limiting the amount of opportunities to get killed on the glass. That team had Jackson and Hansbrough, who were tenacious on defense. This year, Brey also has two solid defenders in Rex and Gibbs.
It certainly would not be shocking to see the return of the burn.
The Trend – Golden State Midwest
With Bonz out, the strength of this team is Farrell and Gibbs, hands down. Brey showed, before the injury, that he is going to ride with Rex no matter what. Geben is going to play his 20-25 minutes…I don’t see that changing.
That leaves 50-60 total minutes for Mooney, Harvey and Djogo (maybe Burns gets a few tossed his way too). What do Mooney, Harvey and Djogo have in common? They like to shoot it.
Could Mooney, Harvey and Djogo just split those minutes in addition to the minimal time they have been getting? Or do one of the small guys separate from the pack and get the majority of the minutes? Mooney is the obvious choice to get more playing time because he fits Bonz’s position – a stretch-4, with size.
But maybe Brey says “the hell with it…we’re going to get killed on the boards anyway…let’s play small and try to outscore people.” That’s certainly the trend in college hoops (see Oklahoma).
Tomorrow night, watch who is more aggressive on the boards. I’m assuming Rex will be. Can he embrace the Connaughton role? If so, that would allow ND to play four smalls around one big (Geben/Mooney/Burns…even Torres) the majority of the time.
Maybe we see a D.J. Harvey that we have seen in small bursts…the aggressive, confident kid who started the season making us giddy with his pull-up jumper. Sure, Harvey is in a slump, but maybe the opportunity for more available minutes gets him going. #UnleashDJHarvey
THE SEASON IS NOT OVER
Yeah, losing an All-American sucks. But it’s happened before.
Trust that Harvey or Djogo will emerge.
Trust that Gibbs will take it upon himself to become a leader.
Trust that Rex’s offense will be serviceable more often than not.
Trust that Farrell will refuse to let this team lose.
Trust that Brey will get the best out of these guys and find unorthodox ways to win enough games to get them in a position to make a run if/when Bonz returns.