Despite the fact that the Irish still have one remaining non-conference game against St. Peter’s (my Peacocks) next week, this is a good point to take stock in what has happened thus far and what the ACC slate has in store.
This team reminds of some of Brey’s earlier teams – a squad that can beat anyone in the country, but also lacks the mental toughness to withstand an opponent’s best punch. Early win over Northwestern, Colorado, and Iowa established the Irish a tournament team.
The first halves against Purdue and Villanova were tantalizing for Irish fans, but the failures in the second halves of those games illustrate ND’s significant shortcomings.
Both games saw critical pireces come up short. Against Villanova, Beachem and Colson weren’t at their best and against the Boilermakers, Beachem again struggles while fellow senior Steve Vasturia uncharacteristically came up small in a big spot.
At this point in the season, the season can be viewed in two ways. The optimistic route would be the fact that the Irish were a few key plays away from being undefeated with two wins over top-15 teams despite some of there best players putting forth subpar performances.
The pessimistic route would be that Villanova and Purdue both exposed ND’s glaring weaknesses and the Irish were lucky to withstand late rallies against Colorado and Northwestern.
The reality is somewhere in between those two school’s of thoughts, but unless the Irish can improve their performance on the glass and in the post, there is a very definite ceiling for this team.
The one constant for the Irish this season has been Matt Farrell. Farrell has taken ownership of the offense and his demeanor on the court in reminiscent of Ben Hansbrough.
Although Demetrious Jackson was the highly-touted recruit who now finds himself on an NBA roster, there is no doubt Farrell is a better distributor and has better vision on the court – what he lacks in athleticism, he more than makes up for in toughness.
Bonzie Colson has also been a bright spot for the Irish. The undersize big man continues to make plays on the offensive end and does just enough on the glass to hold his own against larger competition.
Moving forward, you can expect the same effort and performance from Farrell and Colson every night. Vasturia is generally a reliable hand, but when is Beachem going to rekindle is magic from last March? Can Matt Ryan develop into something other than a sharpshooter? Will Martin Geben continue to progress?
The answers to these questions will provide insight to what kind of season ND will have in store.
Of late, Beachem has morphed into his form from the 2015 postseason where he deferred to his teammates as opposed to the aggressiveness he displayed last March. Beachem is at his best when he driving and not simply settling for shots on the perimeter.
Matt Ryan has become a liability on the offensive end of the floor if he is not shooting. His critical turnovers against Villanova changed the tenor of the game and his ill-advised three at the end of the Purdue game put the nail in the Irish coffin.
Ryan provides a big body for the Irish, which could help them overcome their rebounding shortcomings. A well-rounded game from Ryan is what the Irish need come ACC play.
People have been overly critical of Geben this season. He is not Zach Auguste, but he is a big body, a tremendous passer and does the dirty work at both ends of the court.
Geben had nine points and our rebounds Saturday against Purdue in what may have been the best game of his Notre Dame career. If the Irish are going to make any waves in the ACC, Geben must continue on this upward trajectory.
ND’s weakness all season will be post defense. Quite frankly, Saturday’s game demonstrated what a poor coach Matt Painter is by not feeding the post from the opening tip.
Teams like North Carolina and Louisville with strong front lines will have a field day against the Irish. Because of this, look for Brey to develop young forwards Elijah Burns and John Mooney as the conference schedule evolves.
Every team in the ACC is going to take their fair share of punches – the conference season is a grind like no other in college basketball. The successful teams are the ones who are able to take that punch and bounce back.
In recent years, the Irish have been older and mature enough to bounce back. They have pulled out tough games on the road and made enough plays in the last two minutes of a game.
The conference schedule provides plenty of opportunities for the Irish to notch key wins that will look impressive on their tournament resume.
A 9-9 conference record will get the Irish to the tournament, but after the past two years, this team strives for higher expectations.
Is this team going to be in the middle of the pack or will they rise to upper echelon of the ACC like the past two years.
If key components like Beachem and Vasturia find their groove and Colson and Farrell continue to play at a high level, the Irish are capable as anyone to earn that double-bye and finish in the top four.
If, however, these previous two games are a sign of things to come, the Irish will be in for a long ACC season.