In 15 years as head coach at Notre Dame, Mike Brey has proven time and again that his bench rarely extends very far.
Brey rides his horses to the finish line.
During Notre Dame’s 32-6 season in 2014-15, four starters -- Pat Connaughton, Jerian Grant, Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia – averaged at least 32.5 minutes per game. Zach Auguste averaged a bit more than 24 minutes per game, but would have played more if he didn’t lead the team in personal fouls (94) and fouls per minutes played (one every 9.8).
With Connaughton and Grant off to the NBA, V.J. Beachem and Bonzie Colson are the projected starters in their place. Combined, they averaged 26.7 minutes per contest last year, which means at least two players will have to pick up those minutes. At various intervals during the 2014-15 season, Brey dipped a bit deeper into his bench out of necessity.
It’s just July and there will be numerous practice sessions before determining who will be given those precious, hard-to-come-by minutes. But here are the top candidates to get into the rotation, followed by Brey’s summer assessment.
• C-Martinas Geben (6-9, 255, Soph.) – Geben, who played in 22 games and averaged 8.8 minutes, 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds per game, will fight to get back into the rotation after losing his spot to Colson early in the ACC schedule.
-- Brey on Geben: “I’ve been really after him, and he’s taken it to heart. Nutrition and conditioning are the first steps to helping him. It’s a big summer for him to make a jump and show he can really help us. I need to be on his backside all summer, really get after him, because we need him. The light bulb is on and we need him to deliver.”
• PF-Austin Burgett (6-9, 228, Sr.) – It’s now or never for the athletic Burgett, who enters his final season of eligibility after burning a year as a seldom-used freshman when preserving a year was presented as an option. Burgett played in 20 games and averaged 7.0 minutes, 1.7 points and 1.4 rebounds per game as a junior.
-- Brey on Burgett: “I have a very open mind about who’s coming off the bench for us, and the one thing about Burg is he’s been around and knows how we play. He’s done a fabulous job with our three freshmen in teaching them this is how we do it.
“There are great stories about guys all of a sudden having a great senior year, and no one has had guys have great senior years more than our program. I told him in the spring, ‘I don’t want to overanalyze it. You better come back and compete your backside off.’ He’s a heckuva leader. He’s been a good voice for us. Last year he was fabulous in a tough situation. He continued to be a voice, even when he wasn’t getting time in games.”
• PF-Austin Torres (6-7, 228, RS-Soph.) – Torres provided an occasional spark for the Irish off the bench, particularly in the home victory over Michigan State in December. A team-first guy from the South Bend area, Torres played in 27 games, averaging 7.1 minutes, 2.0 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.
-- Brey on Torres: “He has great energy and he has great things to say. I thought his attitude was fabulous. We love him coming in and flying around.
“I don’t think anything changes from when I said to him, ‘I want you to dunk and make free throws,’ and he did that. Defend, run, fly around and be in better condition to do it longer. He has a very important role for us.”
• PG-Matt Farrell (6-1, 173, Soph.) – Farrell’s role was extremely limited as a freshman as Demetrius Jackson and Jerian Grant became the primary ball handlers. He saw action in just 15 games, averaging 4.1 minutes, 0.9 points and 0.5 assists per game.
-- Brey on Farrell: “We didn’t need him last year because Jerian and Demetrius had that situation handled. But now, we don’t really have another handler. It’s not a real natural thing for Steve (Vasturia), even though he can do it some. We need Matt Farrell to give Demetrius Jackson a blow.
“He really improved in practice defensively last year, mainly because he got to play against Demetrius every day. Improve defensively and be more of a talker, a voice and a quarterback. Those are the things I’ve told him to work on. I’ve been impressed with how he’s understood how he has to adjust to the game at this level.”
• SG-Rex Pflueger (6-6, 193, Fr.) – There’s no immediate replacement for a multi-faceted player like Jerian Grant. But Pflueger is a long, athletic shooting guard with penetration skills and excellent jumping ability. He’s a leading candidate to be the first two-guard off the bench.
• SF-Matt Ryan (6-8, 217, Fr.) – This is a young man with size and a deadly jump shot from virtually anything inside the gymnasium doors. He’s a leading candidate to be the first guy off the bench to replace Beachem.
-- Brey on Pflueger/Ryan: “There’s no question Ryan and Pflueger will challenge. (Freshman Elijah) Burns (6-9, 232) is still coming off ankle surgery from six weeks ago, so we’re slowing him down. Pflueger and Ryan believe they’re ready. They’re very confident guys. They have an edge about them. They love to compete. The two of them are animals and they believe they should be in there. ”
-- Brey on Pflueger: “Pflueger is in great shape, he’s athletic and he can guard people. He knows what to do with the ball. He knows how to play. He’s almost like a Vasturia with better athletic ability and bounce.”
-- Brey on Ryan: “We’ve had great shooters in this program. He will be there with any of them. He’s a better shooter than (Tim) Abro(maitis) was at this stage. With that skill and that 6-foot-8 frame, he plays a little like Connaughton where we can go four-around-one and he’s the four. Now we’re getting back to really stretching out the defense. We’ve got to get him in better shape and a little stronger.”