• Game 2: Milwaukee (3-0) @ Notre Dame (1-0)
• Date: Nov. 17, 2015
• Place: Purcell Pavilion; Notre Dame, Ind.
• Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN3
• Opponent Nickname: Panthers
• Head coach: Rob Jeter (10th Year)
• Conference: Horizon League
• Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
• 2014-15 record: 14-16 (9-7)
Notre Dame’s second opponent of the 2015-16 campaign can hang its hat on one reality at the season’s outset: it’s consistent.
Milwaukee claimed the 2015 Cable Car Classic in Santa Clara last weekend by scoring 71 points in each of its three victories, including a pair of 71-65 wins, the latter of the come-from-behind variety to claim the tournament championship.
The already battle-tested Panthers (only one other Division 1 program has won three games) were led by junior swingman Akeem Springs (17 pts., 10 rebs) in a title-game victory over Santa Clara while Springs’ classmate Austin Arians took home the tournament’s MVP honors.
Arians won the award on the strength of 12 three-point buckets over the three-game set, averaging 15.3 points for the three-game set. Aiding the pair’s efforts to date is senior forward J.J Panoske, who registered an impressive 15-rebound, 5-blocked shot outing in a six-point, Game 2 win over Lipscomb.
At their best, the Panthers play a patient game, pounding the ball inside to senior Matt Tiby (2nd Team All-Horizon last season) and Panoske while relying on Arians to stretch defenses from the arc and Springs to provide a slashing presence.
Rounding out their early season efforts is diminutive point guard Jordan Johnson, averaging nearly eight points and seven assists through three games to date.
-- Of note, the Panthers are outstanding from the charity stripe, connecting on 80 percent this season and 72 of 84 dating back to last spring.
-- Tonight will be the second meeting between the Panthers and the Irish. Notre Dame eliminated then UW-Milwaukee in the opening round of the 2003 NCAA Tournament, benefitting from a missed Panthers layup at the buzzer, 70-69.
-- Panthers head coach Rob Jeter is in his 10th season at the helm following notables Bruce Pearl and Bo Ryan at the program.
And thus the floor…
Notre Dame has 46 days and either 10 or 11 contests (pending their forthcoming Orlando Classic performance over Thanksgiving) to decide how it will approach ACC action. That is, will Bonzie Colson be asked to stretch the floor as did his acclaimed “power forward” predecessor Pat Connaughton (head coach Mike Brey’s preferred method of offense has proven to be a four-around-one approach) or will he more often team with senior big man Zach Auguste for a high and low-post combo?
Friday’s season-opening win over St. Francis (Pa) did not include a comfortable Colson. The sophomore hit just one of four shots in 14 minute, fouling out in the process.
Colson concluded the 2015 season by connecting on a ludicrous 35 of his final 59 field goals, nearly all of them within 15 feet of the hoop.
SOLIDIFYING A 6th…AND 7th
Last Friday’s bench boost was provided by freshman forward Matt Ryan (8 field goal attempts in 16 minutes) and sophomore point guard Matt Farrell (six shots in 17).
Assuming that pair builds on its opening efforts – if not today then in the near future – it would behoove future Irish efforts if one from the Martin Geben/Austin Torres big man duo were to build equity with Brey during the nonconference slate, as a three-man bench brigade – one perhaps aided by the occasional solid 10-minute outing from senior captain Austin Burgett – could help carry the load prior to conference play.
Thereafter, Notre Dame’s rotation will inevitable stabilize, but it’s crucial that the squad’s regular contributors number seven (not six), with eight a dream scenario for a team that lost two ironmen to the NBA over the off-season.
A NOTABLE NUMBER?
The opening weekend of college basketball action furthered the modern-era reality that the gap between the Have’s and Have-not’s is not as wide as it once was.
Future Irish foe Monmouth won at UCLA. Virginia Tech lost at home to Alabama State. Western Illinois won at Wisconsin. Marquette, Arizona State, and North Carolina State lost openers as well.
Brey’s Irish are favored by 14.5 points tonight, a stark contrast to last weekend’s 27-point spread against clearly overmatched St. Francis.
Sans Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, a close contest is not out of the question this evening on the Joyce Center floor, especially with the Irish offense in flux. And without Grant, close contests become troublesome, because the nation’s best player last season turned up his efforts when games remained in doubt.
To win comfortably (perhaps leading by 8-10 entering the final three minutes), Notre Dame’s defense – led by the backcourt duo of Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia – must be as advertised.
Brey noted in his pre-season address that his defense was ahead of the offense in terms of game readiness. That’ll be put to the test tonight vs. a Milwaukee squad that’s already found its rhythm.