Maybe this headlines is a bit hyperbole, but I don’t think it is. Bonzie Colson’s NBA decision will shape the future of the Notre Dame basketball program for the next few years, not just for the 2017-2018 season.
First off, while it is widely assumed that Bonzie Colson will return to Notre Dame for his senior season, no announcement has been made and Colson’s performance in Notre Dame’s two NCAA tournament games saw his stock rise. ESPN’s Chad Ford, for instance, has Colson ranked as the #22 prospect in the draft in an ESPN Insider article. Ford makes the obvious observation that if Colson were four inches taller, he’d be a lottery selection.
If Bonzie Colson were four inches taller though, we might not even be having this discussion after the way Colson made the ACC his playground this winter. Even at 6’5″, Colson was the only player in one of the country’s toughest conferences to average a double-double on the season.
Odds are that at a minimum, Colson will make himself eligible for the Draft like VJ Beachem did a year ago before ultimately announcing his decision to return. The only potential problem there for Notre Dame fans is that all it takes is one team to fall in love with the game of the 6’5″ power forward with a wingspan of over 7’0″ in pre-draft workouts. People get caught up in Colson’s size in saying that the he should come back but teams drafting on the back end of the 1st round aren’t necessarily looking for starters these days. A team in the back end of the 1st round could easily look at Colson and see a hell of a bench player.
Even before Matt Ryan’s pending transfer was announced earlier this week, Notre Dame needed Bonzie Colson to return in 2017. Colson, fresh off being named a 3rd team All-American earlier this week, would likely start the year as a pre-season 1st team All-American and Notre Dame would start the season firmly in the Top 25. He will be the focal point of the Notre Dame offense next season without question.
We learned in yesterday’s column that it has been over 30 years since Notre Dame has been ranked in every week’s AP Top 25 poll. That could change next year if Colson is the centerpiece of the Notre Dame offense once again. Notre Dame should comfortably find itself in the pre-season top 25 and baring another mid-season funk like the one they went through in January, they could easily be ranked every week.
With Ryan’s transfer, Notre Dame will only have 10 scholarship players in the fall baring any graduate transfers. Should Colson shock Notre Dame fans and his head coach and decide to do more than test the draft waters, the Irish would be down to 9 scholarship players while needing to replace three starters. That lineup would not start the season in the pre-season top 25.
A Bonzie Colson – Matt Farrell led Notre Dame team in 2017 could make another run towards the ACC Title just as they did this year. They will need to replace Steve Vasturia and VJ Beachem without Matt Ryan but of those three players, none were exactly dominant players at any point this season.
Next season isn’t the only year that Colson’s return would impact the Notre Dame basketball program though. With low scholarship numbers for 2017-18 and just one incoming freshman – albeit a really good one in DJ Harvey – Notre Dame needs to crush this next recruiting class.
Mike Brey has already said that he’s seen benefits to Notre Dame’s recent on-court success on the recruiting trail. A pre-season top 25 ranking and a pre-season Wooden Award contender would only aid those efforts for the next year. A season without Colson next year however, could very well have the looks of a rebuilding effort for Mike Brey similar to what the 2013-14 season ended up looking like after the Irish lost Jerian Grant in December of that season to suspension.
Without Colson, Notre Dame’s lineup next fall might look something like this:
- C: Martin Geben
- PF: Austin Torres
- SF: Rex Plueger / DJ Harvey
- SG: TJ Gibbs
- PG: Matt Farrell
The bench would feature Elijah Burns, John Mooney, DJ Harvey, and Nikola Djogo. Those four players have a combined 9 points in the collegiate careers.
That’s not something most Notre Dame fans want to even consider at this point though. A Bonzie Colson led Irish squad would be a lot of fun to watch next year. That team would have a chance in every game it plays and the floor of expectations for that squad would be about what we saw this year out of the Irish. The ceiling for those expectations, however, would involve visions of another banner or two to hang in Purcell Pavilion.
That kind of team and run could help Brey and his staff land the kind of recruiting class they hauled in in 2013. On the heels of four straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, Brey inked the class that included Vasturia, Beachem, Demetrius, and Austin Torres. Jackson, Vasturia, and Bechem were all 4-star recruits who played large roles in Notre Dame’s latest string of NCAA Tournament bids.
Notre Dame will need to land that kind of class this year to keep its run of success in both the ACC and the NCAA Tournament alive. Bringing back a Player of the Year Candidate who will be in the discussion from the pre-season can only help in Notre Dame’s efforts do just that especially if the news of new basketball facilities comes to fruition in the near future. Consider what Brey has to sell with another great season in 2017. Another string of four straight NCAA Tournament bids, the potential for some brand new big and bad facilities, and a Wooden Award campaign for Colson.
A rebuilding year in 2017, however, will make that a bit of a harder sell for Brey and his staff.
As of now there has not been any sort of timetable discussed for when Colson will make any announcement regarding his future, but that decision looms large for both next season and beyond.