Even though most Notre Dame fans are focused on the school’s football season that gets underway in a couple of months, the men’s basketball team is trying to make sure that they’re not forgotten as they look able to maintain their recent run of success. Doing that will require filling holes left by the departures of V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia.
The Irish Family Jewels
Yes, Notre Dame does have Bonzie Colson returning at forward after the senior produced at a level that garnered him a spot on the All-America third team. Colson’s consistent presence on the court was a key reason for the accolade, averaging a double-double last season for head coach Mike Brey.
Colson’s ankle injury in the ACC conference championship game turned out to be deadly for Notre Dame’s title hopes. The ensuing NCAA tournament saw them struggle to get past pesky Princeton before watching their season end against West Virginia.
The 6-5 Colson is the centerpiece for whatever success Brey and the team achieves. He’ll be joined by four other seniors on this year’s roster, with the key player of that remaining group being point guard Matt Farrell.
Taking giant leaps forward might be an apt description of Farrell’s 2016-17 season, since he evolved from an enigma into a leader over the course of the campaign. He led the team in assists with 196 and was also able to contribute on the scoring end, adding over 14 points per game to the Irish offense.
Players to Watch
Yet focusing on those two assets neglects the contributions that will be required of the remainder of the team. Unless circumstances change between now and November, that likely means that Rex Pflueger and sophomore Temple Gibbs will be two of those key players.
The 6-6 Pflueger gives Brey a gritty competitor who averaged over 21 minutes per game and gave the team a solid defender. That number is poised to go up, but that also has to correspond with more production on the scoresheet. Last year, Pflueger averaged just 4.7 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists.
Gibbs matched that scoring production last season and appears to understand the magnitude of his role for the 2017-18 season. During these July practices, he appears to be moving much more freely, the byproduct of what Gibbs said was his effort to rid himself of excess poundage.
Gibbs proceeded to both build up his strength and drop the estimated 15 pounds off his 6-3 frame. The hope is that Gibbs’ already-strong effort on defense will be supplemented by more offense to round out his overall game.
It may be asking a lot, but the contributions that 6-6 freshman swingman D.J. Harvey provides for Notre Dame could help the team immensely. A four-star recruit, Harvey will presumably spend most of his time in the front court and hopefully capitalize on his scoring potential.
Senior Martinas Geben gives the team a shot-blocking presence in the paint while also allowing Colson to catch a breather. The two players actually started together for most of last season until Brey found that Geben was more effective coming off the bench.
Fellow senior Austin Torres will be used in a reserve capacity at power forward. His production numbers won’t grab anyone’s attention, but Notre Dame needs him for short bursts of action that can include some crucial moments.
The Allure of Potential
Sophomore John Mooney could help Brey stretch the court, given the 6-9 Mooney’s skill at knocking down the three-pointer from the power forward slot. That didn’t occur much during his freshman season, with Mooney averaging less than four minutes per game. He can also give the team an aggressive presence in the paint if he starts living up to his potential.
Junior Elijah Burns really had no impact last season, averaging just four minutes per contest, and may once again be relegated to limited playing time if he isn’t able to progress.
Another freshman has actually been around for a year, having redshirted last season. Nikola Djogo will likely be used more for defensive purposes this coming season, with the hope that his offensive game begins to develop.
Senior Matt Gregory is a former walk-on who’s shown Brey enough that he was finally placed on scholarship. Expectations are modest at best in Gregory’s case, though the potential of forward Juwan Durham excites all Irish fans. The only problem with Durham is that he’s a redshirt after transferring from Connecticut.
The Early Outlook
Despite two key losses, Brey has shown a knack for getting the most out of his teams. It’s four months before the first tip-off, but right now, there’s no reason to think that Notre Dame is due for a downturn in their fortunes.