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Notre Dame Basketball

Notre Dame Set to Start ACC Play this Week

December 26, 2016

Notre Dame entered the season with major question marks and a few of those have been answered through the first 12 games of the 2016-17 season.

If you would have asked for a best case scenario at this point in the year, you’d have to think even Mike Brey would have taken 10-2 with one game left until ACC play. The Irish would have loved to steal one of their losses against Villanova or Purdue, where Notre Dame held late leads, but that’s where Brey’s team can get better.

Notre Dame needs to find someone to take over in late game scenarios. It’s great to have four guys that can score, but when the game is on the line, Notre Dame needs someone to rise to the occasion.

In both of the losses, a player from the opponent stepped up late and won the game. Four of Notre Dame’s starters average in double-figures and the most likely candidate would be VJ Beachem. The Fort Wayne native can score from anywhere on the floor and has shown the ability to put the ball on the floor and create this season.

It’s not something Brey does a ton, but late in close games, he may want to start to drive the offense through Beachem to see what he has.

Steve Vasturia, Bonzie Colson and one of the nation’s most improved players, Matt Farrell, have shown they can hit big shots. However, if Notre Dame wants to get to the NCAA Tournament, I believe they are going to need to find someone that needs to rise up when the game is on the line.

The glaring concern is finding a way to minimize teams shredding the Irish in the paint. In the losses to Villanova and Purdue, the Irish gave up 42 and 40 points in the paint, respectively. That’s isn’t going to cut it against some of the ACC powers over the next three months.

The Irish don’t have to be perfect and stop every team each night, but they have to find a way to steal a couple games against UNC, Duke, Louisville, Virginia and other top ACC teams.

Notre Dame is undersized and are already maximizing the play of 6-foot-11 center Martinas Geben. I am not sure what the answer is at this point, as Brey hasn’t used a zone defense or been aggressive with full-court pressure.

Going against bigger and more athletic teams in conference play, Notre Dame is going to need o find some type of solution to slow the better teams down, as it’s doubtful Brey wants to get into a shootout with the elite programs, as it goes back to the first problem of the Irish looking for a go-to guy down the stretch.

Can Elijah Burns, John Mooney or Austin Torres give Brey something down low? I am not sure, but at some point in January, Brey is going to have to find out. Burns and Torres aren’t going to help on the offensive end at this point, but they are aggressive guys on the defensive end. Mooney can help on both, but is probably a better offensive fit at this time.

On the positive side, Notre Dame is getting good player from its bench and have won games as they should have won games. It’s definitely not an underachieving team, but the ACC is tough and improvements need to come.

The play of Farrell has been unreal. The junior point guard is averaging 13.8 points and 6.0 assists per game. Farrell is also a perfect 27 for 27 from the charity stripe and a respectable 37% from three-point range.

However, it’s been his ability to run the team that has been the most impressive. While he isn’t the talent of a Demetrius Jackson, he might run the offense better. The ball moves and the offense flows well with Farrell.

Rex Pflueger has played 210 team minutes in 11 games this year and has yet to commit a turnover. The sophomore is playing 19 minutes a game and handles the ball frequently, so this isn’t a kid that averages five minutes a game in mop up time. Pflueger has also become more aggressive on the offensive end and I think it will be something to keep an eye on, as he is someone that can help on the offensive end more than people thought coming into the year.

All in all, Notre Dame has to be pleased at where they are heading into ACC play. There are things to get better one and things to improve, but 10-2 is a great starting spot to make a tournament appearance.

The Irish will host Saint Peter's on Wednesday and then head to Pittsburgh on December 31st to start ACC play.
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