Tag Archives: Zach Auguste

Indiana vs Notre Dame: Answered, or Left Without a, Prayer?

The days leading up to the holidays have become a feast for college basketball fans featuring exciting match-ups before the conference seasons start. On Saturday December 19th, the University of Virginia (8) outlasted Villanova (12) 86-75; Utah avenged last year’s NCAA tournament loss to Duke (7) with an OT 77-75 win; and Xavier (10) finished its preseason with an unblemished 11-0 record, defeating Auburn 85-61.

In a battle of storied programs, North Carolina (11) knocked off UCLA (22) by a convincing 89-76 score. In an intense battle resulting in a huge upset – unless you believe that the University of Kentucky’s number four rating was as over-inflated as their fans’ forty-and-oh sized egos – Ohio State out-shot, out-rebounded and out-hustled the Wildcats to a 74-67 victory in the CBS Sport Classic matchup in the Barclay Center in Brooklyn.

In Indianapolis, Indiana and Notre Dame met up to feature two of the best offenses in college basketball. Notre Dame’s potent combination of point guard Demetrius Jackson and big man Zach Auguste contributed to the number two offense in the nation. The game doesn’t pack the wallop of a Duke-North Carolina rivalry, it provided an opportunity for a critical game for both teams.

The important win for Indiana provides an opportunity for several observations.

Indiana does not give up. Trailing at one juncture by sixteen points, the gritty Hoosiers fought hard throughout the game to end up with an 80 – 73 win over in-state rival Notre Dame at the Crossroads Classic at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse. Coach Crean would later say that the team received quality contributions from all the players. James Blackmon, Jr., Robert Johnson, Yogi Ferrell and Collin Hartman all contributed long range buckets that whittled away the Notre Dame lead. When Indiana balances urgent tenacity with individuals playing within themselves, they are a difficult team to control.

Indiana has too many players that think “I’m going to score; give me the ball.” The motion offense that was part and parcel to Indiana basketball has given way to the NBA individual effort mentality. While the game is no longer played with a “three passes before looking to score” discipline, the extra pass produces more open shots and shimmies the defense out of position, which can help in rebounding. Indiana’s moving the basketball to the hoop does produce some positives. The Hoosiers were 16-23 from the free throw line, making twice as many shots as the Irish attempted.

Indiana commits silly turnovers or makes poor judgments at critical moments. The turnovers are often a result of the frantic pace at which Indiana moves the ball up the court. The legendary “Hurrying Hoosiers” live up to their name and the offensive mistakes mount. The poor judgments can be seen in forcing the ball to the basket, lack of communication and movement on defense, and being unaware of basic things in the flow of the game.

For example, Troy Williams makes a terrific steal with under a minute left in the game, with Indiana sporting a two point lead. Instead of pulling the ball back and working for a strong shot – and eating a little bit of time off the clock – Williams drives on the basket against three Irish defenders. Fortunately, he was fouled and able to hit his two shots, but the outcome could just as easily been a clanged lay-up and returning the ball to Notre Dame.

Indiana is better when Ferrell does not have to be the leading scorer. Yogi Ferrell can get hot from beyond the three-point stripe and seems to score almost at will. He is quick off the first step, changes directions more than adequately, and gains an advantage off most defenders driving to the basket. But Indiana is a better team when Ferrell is truly playing the point guard position. Ferrell has a keen eye for the whole floor. He seems to always be aware of where the opponent’s defense is out of position. Ferrell can score with the best of them. When he doesn’t feel as if he has to carry the team in scoring, Indiana’s many offensive threats make them a difficult team for anyone to guard.

Indiana still seems to lack calm, savvy leadership. But there are glimmers of hope. Sophomore Robert Johnson continues to be a quiet, consistent presence for the Hoosier team. Johnson played 32 minutes against Notre Dame and produced game-steadying numbers – 17 points on 6 for 9 shooting, three rebounds, three assists, two blocks and no turnovers. He is drilling the three-pointers at 57.5 percent. The numbers shout that Johnson is playing within his game, not trying to force things to happen, which seems to be the leadership stream of some. Perhaps more importantly, Johnson is providing a strength and urgency that is helping his teammates become more aware on the defensive side of the ball.

He certainly isn’t calm, but Thomas Bryant showed some clear maturity in Saturday’s game. Two fouls sent him to the bench early, but he did not commit another one the entire game. He finished with 10 points and 5 rebounds in 21 minutes. Notre Dame’s powerful center, Zach Auguste, collected 7 rebounds and pushed through 12 points, both below his season averages. After being schooled by Duke, the freshman responded with numbers that speak louder than just a respectable performance. Indiana has become accustomed to its big men picking up quick fouls, sitting on the bench, and then returning to commit more fouls and make decisions that were not within the flow of the game. Bryant kept his mind in the game on the bench, and then came back onto the court to provide a strong presence against an extremely talented center.

Coach Crean is not a wizard on the sidelines like a John Wooden, but his demeanor and leadership has stayed steady and strong when the team and fans were spinning like a whirlpool. His adjustment to a zone defense was the right decision to pull the team together and to stop a Notre Dame offense that was dominating the game. ESPN’s Dakich marveled that they set up a 1-3-1 defense. After the game Coach Crean and some of the players said it was really a 2-3 scheme. Collin Hartman grinned and called it a rotating 2-3. What it appeared to be was a zone defense where the players were communicating with each other, aware of where the ball AND key players were located at all times. That kind of movement and communication – rotation if you will – gives the defense a varying look on the floor. The variance and the intensity held the number two offense in the nation to only one field goal in the final six minutes of the game.

Troy Williams can be a phenomenal force in a basketball game. Williams plays with urgency and reckless abandon. That pace is going to produce mistakes, but his positives far out-weigh the lapses. Troy ended the game with 18 points and 10 rebounds. His leaping ability and dunks almost always make the day’s highlight reel. His movement to the basket, especially in the second half, proved unstoppable by the Irish defenders. For Indiana to have BigTen success, Williams will need to play the way he did in the second half of the Notre Dame game: focused, within his abilities, and dominant on the boards.

Up next for the Hoosiers, Assembly Hall opens its doors to Kennesaw State at 6:00pm on Tuesday, December 22nd.

 

Irish Men Open With a Win

The University of Notre Dame Men’s Basketball Team raised their first ever ACC Championship banner inside the Purcell Pavilion on Friday night when the team took on the Red Flash of St. Francis (Pa.).

This moment brought back memories of the run last march that saw them defeat both ACC traditional powers Duke and North Carolina on their way to gaining the ACC automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Obviously, Notre Dame did not stop there. The Irish fought their way all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to the number one overall seed the University of Kentucky.

While that was an extremely exciting time for fans of Notre Dame hoops, the days of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton are over, as they have both moved on to the NBA. They’ll be greatly missed on the team, however there are others ready to step up and make this season just as memorable for Notre Dame.

Experienced players such as Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste, and Steve Vastuira will lead the 2015-2016 squad.

They were ready to see the banner go up, and have one final walk down memory lane before tuning their focus to this season, and more specifically the Red Flash.

The Irish did just that in their 87-56 thrashing of St. Francis in the season opener. After the banner was unveiled in the Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame got right to business. They were paced by Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste, both of whom had outstanding games. Jackson was the game’s leading scorer with 27 points on 10/14 from the floor, he also added in eight boards and three dimes. Auguste had the first of what should be many double-doubles this season, totaling 15 points and 14 boards. Off the bench Notre Dame got a boost from Freshman Matt Ryan with nine points.

Senior guard Greg Brown paced St. Francis with 15 on the night.

Demetrius Jackson looked extremely athletic, and ready to take some of the load left by the departure of Jerian Grant. If Jackson continues to shoot as well as he did Friday evening, there is no doubt he will be able to find a home in the NBA one day.

Obviously, all games will not go as smooth as the opener did for Notre Dame, but this team looks primed to win over 20 games again this season.

Notre Dame has been picked to finish fourth in the ACC this season, behind North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia. They are the three teams that finished ahead of them in the regular season last year as well. The Irish are also ranked at 19 in the AP Poll to start the season.

Notre Dame has non-conference tilts with notables Indiana and Illinois before opening ACC play on January 2, at the University of Virginia.

Notre Dame’s Final Four Bid: No Cigar

Close, but…well you know how that saying goes. Last night was fun, despite Notre Dame losing an emotional heartbreaker. It was fun to see social media light up with basketball fans around the country (except one state) root for Notre Dame. Even on TV I heard the “Let’s Go Irish” chants ringing through the arena.

However, not all that glitters is gold and the Fighting Irish came painfully short of a huge upset against the heavily favored Wildcats. The loss ends an unforgettable run in the NCAA tournament that saw the Irish reach the elite eight for the first time since 1979.

Fighting to the End

I would say by the time this column goes live, I feel a lot better about the outcome of the game last night. “Gut-wrenching” is a word I would use to describe what happened. I was so proud of the team. The Irish were not intimidated whatsoever, weathered numerous emotional moments and at time at times, really took it to Kentucky. In the end, the depth of Kentucky ended up being a problem Mike Brey and the Irish could not solve.

Considering the beatdown that West Virginia received Thursday night, many fans wondered how Notre Dame would fare against the overall number one seed in the tournament. The three point threat of Notre Dame allowed the Irish to work the ball around and the Irish defense kept the game close. Center Zach Auguste had a great game, considering the size disadvantage, scoring 20 points with numerous highlight slam dunks. Notre Dame played a gutsy game and Kentucky had a difficult time pulling away.

Looking back, there really is not a whole lot Notre Dame could have done different. They played a tremendous game and even led the majority of the game. Ultimately, the talent of Kentucky was too much to overcome. Notre Dame had no answer for Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns, who single handedly killed the Final Four dreams of the Irish. I’m not going to go into a lot of depth of how Kentucky won or get into the stats of the game. I am more interested in what this means to the Notre Dame basketball program moving forward and reflect on a tremendous season that was for the Irish.

Notre Dame is not really known for basketball. The football program (rightfully so IMHO) garners a majority of the attention. It has been 36 years since Notre Dame went deep in the NCAA tournament. There were times over the past few years I wondered if Mike Brey had the chops to take the Irish to the Sweet 16 or later. I am glad to be proven wrong.

This team, was the best team Mike Brey has had at Notre Dame. When Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant came back this year, they did so to go to the Final Four and win a national championship. Despite coming up short in that regard, Grant and Connaughton led the Irish to a 32-6 record and this year’s ACC tournament championship, including two wins against both Duke and North Carolina, as well as Michigan State and Louisville.

Notre Dame basketball has nothing to be ashamed of. The loss last night was painful, but a reminder for all that the games have to be played and nothing is handed to any team. 32 wins and an Elite Eight is a exceptional season for any team. The future looks bright for Mike Brey and the Irish. Steve Vasturia, Demetrius Jackson and Bonzi Colson all return to Notre Dame next season. All three made meaningful contributions in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

In his post game press conference, Mike Brey said his team left all they had on the court. At the end of the day, that’s about all you can ask. Saturday night Notre Dame certainly lived up to their nickname, the “Fighting” Irish.

Photo Credit: Tom Gilbert from Flikr (original image). Creative commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/