Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Basketball

Three Hoops Concerns

January 19, 2017
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I am not sure Mike Brey ever pictured his team being 16-3 overall and 5-1 in the ACC at this point in the year. Notre Dame has overachieved to this part of the season but will have some defining games coming up over the next few weeks against Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and a trip to sneaky Georgia Tech.

The Irish likely won’t win them all, but with the hot start to ACC play, Notre Dame still has some wiggle room when it comes to fighting for the ACC Title and getting a good seed in March.

Three concerns stuck out to me after watching Notre Dame lose a close game at Florida State on Wednesday.

1. Matt Farrell

This kid is one of the most improved players in the country, but he is also one of the most interesting players to watch. The New Jersey native is a complete wild card at times, but when Brey needs a bucket, Farrell gets a bucket or makes a play for a teammate to score.

It’s hard to argue that Farrell’s play has been negative, but it’s interesting that he can have so many ups and downs over the course of a single game. Against Florida State, Farrell had three turnovers in the first four minutes of the game and five turnovers in the first half. Farrell finished the night with 17 points, three three-pointers, and seven assists.

I am not sure I would take Farrell over Lonzo Ball (UCLA), Markelle Fultz (Washington), Dennis Smith Jr. (NC State) or De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky), but with that said, I am not sure I would take those guys over Farrell.

It’s worked out for Brey and Notre Dame so far, as Farrell has made plays to win games, including an incredible steal against Virginia Tech. However, I do think it’s a fair question to see if Farrell’s wild play can be efficient throughout an entire season.

I believe a few high turnover games are something Notre Dame will have to live with, as Farrell brings more good than bad, as he is going for 14.2 PPG and 5.5 APG on the year. I’ll take Farrell’s confidence every day of the week, but if he can learn to settle down at times, Farrell could become that much more of a weapon.

2. Going into the season, I had questions about Notre Dame’s size and athleticism. While I feel better about it 19 games in, I think DJ Harvey can’t get to South Bend soon enough. Florida State used big and long guards to really bother Notre Dame’s offensive flow and made it tough to simply pass the ball at times.

Notre Dame rebounded OK on Wednesday, as they lost the battle 34-29, but it was the ability of Florida State to almost force the Irish backward on offense that concerned me. Notre Dame’s guards are at their best when they penetrate and then can kick or finish. Against Florida State, they were forced to outside the arc, as Notre Dame struggled to penetrate.

The Irish lost the game by three points, so it’s not like they got blown out, but they were working extremely hard on the offensive end to get shots and it impacted energy on the defensive end.

Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac was an impressive player on Wednesday and has the talent to turn into a special player, but that’s what Notre Dame is missing. Now, I don’t expect Brey to land a 6-foot-10 kid that plays like a guard and has three-point range to go with crazy athleticism, but getting some more size on the roster will definitely help in games like Wednesday.

3. This isn’t so much a concern, but a good problem. Freshman point guard TJ Gibbs needs more minutes. Outside of some early blowout games, the last two games, Gibbs has seen his highest minutes of the season and has responded with big games.

Gibbs logged 17 minutes against Virginia Tech and went 5 of 7 from the field for 13 points and then against Florida State, the New Jersey native logged a career-high 25 minutes and score 12 huge points off the bench.

It’s clear Brey rewards Gibbs with minutes if he is playing well and that’s a very good thing for the freshman. There is no need to overwhelm the kid, but the last two games, Gibbs has looked anything but overwhelmed in the finals minutes of close games on the road.

The call to put Gibbs on the floor is also an interesting one, as it’s not ideal to take Farrell, Beachem, Vasturia or Colson off the floor in close games, but if Gibbs is on the floor with those four, then Notre Dame gets really small.

I don’t want to make that call and that’s why Brey gets the big bucks, but I think it’s time to let the young man play more and more. He’s still learning, but he has given Notre Dame a boost on each end of the floor recently.
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