ACC media day this week means one thing for me: hope is reborn. Notre Dame football has been like a car crash I can’t take my eyes off of, and finally, I can shift my focus to basketball. After two consecutive Elite Eight appearances, the Irish are primed to make another run at the ACC title and advance deep into March. Head coach Mike Brey has done wonders to turn Notre Dame into a serious threat in the conference, and he’s sent three players to the NBA in the last year.
Two years ago, a team predicted to finish in maybe the top five of the ACC defied the odds and won the conference tournament. The 2014-2015 Irish didn’t stop there. As a No. 3 seed, the Irish knocked off Northeastern, Butler, and Wichita State on their way to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1979. That team, led by standout guard Jerian Grant, was one shot away from upsetting Kentucky and making the Final Four.
The next year, everyone expected a slight dip in performance, considering Grant and Pat Connaughton had left for the NBA. However, Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste stepped up and filled their shoes. Jackson provided the guard play that many feared would be lost with Grant’s departure, and Bonzie Colson stepped up to dominate the paint. The Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive year, eventually falling short to North Carolina, 88-74. Jackson and Auguste will not be back this year for the Irish.
Considering the Irish have lost the bulk of the talent that brought them success, what can we expect from them, and who will step up and make plays when it counts? The absence of Jackson and Auguste is huge, but nobody should be surprised if the Irish don’t struggle to replace them. Bonzie Colson averaged 11.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg despite averaging just 25 minutes per game. Colson has proven that he can play as a big man, grabbing rebounds and banging bodies with the best of them. Austin Torres and Matt Ryan can provide help off the bench as well.
V.J. Beachem will have to be the guy who controls the ball and dictates the tempo. Beachem really came into his own last season, especially in the tournament. He will be seeing a lot more of the floor this season, and Brey will expect him to pick up the scoring after he averaged 12 points and four rebounds per game last year. Expect him to play a much bigger role this time around.
Also expect to see a lot of Rex Pflueger and Matt Farrell, both of whom played major roles in the postseason last year. Pflueger and Farrell can both handle the ball very well and are more than capable of running the offense and creating points.
Despite the exits of several key players over the past two years, Brey and the Irish hope to continue manufacturing success through the strength of their bench. Facing a tough ACC slate, the next generation of Notre Dame basketball must rise to the occasion if they will once again challenge for the conference title and play well into March.
Contact writer John Horlander via email: [email protected] or on Twitter @John_Horlander
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