After a pair of big wins last week, the Jackets will look to keep things going against a depleted Notre Dame squad expected to be without both Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell. Pat Sullivan from One Foot Down was kind enough to sit down with us and give us his insight on what to expect from the Fighting Irish the second time around.
FTRS: ND just pulled out a gutsy win in the Carrier Dome without Colson or Farrell. How’d they get it done?
The Irish weren’t just without their top two scorers on Saturday with Colson and Farrell out -- the rest of the team had an abysmal offensive game against Syracuse, shooting 30% from the field and 24% from deep. So to come out of the Carrier Dome with a win (only the 3rd time that’s happened under Mike Brey, and the first since 2007), it was all about defense, rebounding, and hustle.
Notre Dame has never been a great rebounding or defensive team in Brey’s offense-focused system, but with a lengthened bench featuring a lot of young guys rotating in and out, ND managed to out-rebound a much bigger and more athletic Syracuse team, 42-27.
Even more impressive is that the Irish had 21 offensive rebounds, while Syracuse had just 19 defensive boards -- Notre Dame actually rebounded more of their own missed shots than Syracuse did. A lot of that was just pure hustle, too, with no greater example than Rex Pflueger sprinting to the hoop to get the game-winning put-back while multiple Syracuse players watched.
Defensively, it was a pretty similar result. Brey kept things fresh in terms of substitutions and switching defenses, and Syracuse was held to just 39% shooting while only being able to grab 8 offensive rebounds as the Irish limited second chances.
FTRS: Other than the obvious, what part of Bonzie Colson’s game will ND miss the most? What adjustments will they have to make?
Definitely his consistency.
Everyone knows he’s an excellent scorer and a ferocious rebounder, but the biggest gap for the team with Bonzie out will be finding consistent production, both down low and in general, from the rest of this team.
Matt Farrell can pick up some of the slack (once he returns from his sprained ankle), and TJ Gibbs and Rex Pflueger seem to be stepping up a bit more reliably, but Bonzie was a constant 20-10 presence in the box score that the Irish could rely on in games where others’ shots aren’t falling and when our other big men are ineffective on the glass.
A lot of guys will need to quickly improve their ability to bring it every single night, especially with Farrell out as well. Otherwise, the ACC losses will come, and could pile up quickly.
FTRS: If Matt Farrell also ends up being inactive, which other ND players will see an increased role on Wednesday from the last time we met?
Farrell was officially ruled out for this game by Mike Brey yesterday, so the Irish are once again without ~50% of their scoring.
TJ Gibbs will slide over to full-time point guard and run the show, while Rex Pflueger and freshman DJ Harvey will be expected to carry more of the scoring load and help Gibbs make up for Farrell’s absence.
With Colson and Farrell both gone, it also means the Irish will start a different big man alongside Colson. Last game it was Austin Torres, but I think for this one Brey might start out with someone like John Mooney, who can stretch the floor with his outside shooting, or Elijah Burns, who’s athletic and physical and had a very good game against Syracuse last weekend.
Nikola Djogo will see more time than the last time these two teams met as well, as he’s now the backup point guard and may need to spell Gibbs if he can’t go the full 40 (or if Brey wants to give him a break at times and let him play off the ball).
FTRS: Without Colson, how would you expect to see ND defend Ben Lammers?
Honestly, I expect them to defend him a little better. I don’t think they’re capable of shutting him down or anything, but Bonzie Colson is a 6’5” big man who has never been very good defensively.
So, replacing him with a constant rotation of fresh bigs with more size and physicality and less scoring responsibility to worry about makes me think Lammers will at least have to work a little harder to get his.
Martinas Geben, Mooney, Burns, and Torres will likely all get plenty of turns bodying Lammers up, and the Irish will also likely use a decent amount of zone to keep guys from having to guard him 1-on-1 all game, considering he’s pretty mobile for a big guy.
FTRS: TJ Gibbs has taken a big step forward in his sophomore year. What does he bring to ND when he is on the floor?
First and foremost, energy. He’s a balls-to-the-wall guy who gives everything he has on the defensive end and then comes down on offense and is constantly moving, either attacking the hoop or getting himself open for 3-point looks (he’s shooting 44% from deep this season).
He’s a good ball handler, a very good passer, an excellent defender, and is really coming into his own as a scorer. He’s the go-to-guy right now with Farrell also out, and he’s become a great leader on the court due to the increased responsibility thrust upon him with these injuries. I can’t say enough about how quickly Gibbs has come along since his freshman year -- he’s the guy Georgia Tech needs to worry about the most.
FTRS: Is there an x-factor guy on this ND team?
Rex Pflueger. He’s the best defender on the team, with size and athleticism that allow him to shut down opposing players and the toughness and aggression to win lots of battles for rebounds and loose balls. He’s also a pretty good shooter, and his jumping ability makes him dangerous at the rim, assuming he’s decisive enough to go to the rim (something he is still working on).
Really, he just does all the little hustle things that win games, and again, that was evident when he got the game-winning basket against Syracuse by following up a teammate’s missed layup as time was waning. He was recently named a captain, and is a leader both by example and by voice, as he is constantly talking, joking, and making sure he stays loose out there. It’s rubbed off on his teammates as well, so as Pflueger goes, so too does this team.
FTRS: What’s your prediction for this one? Who’s your winner and why?
I’ve gone back and forth on this, as Notre Dame has struggled to beat Georgia Tech on the road in the past, and that was with a fully healthy lineup. However, there’s something about the way this team is playing right now that makes me really not want to bet against them when playing a Georgia Tech team that has talent, but isn’t exactly a juggernaut -- especially offensively.
I’m going to take the Irish in a very close game (I’ll guess 73-71), but not without Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie hitting a bunch of shots that make me rethink this prediction.
Many thanks to Pat for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure to check out my responses to his questions over at One Foot Down.