BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The pop to the mouth that Notre Dame junior swingman V.J. Beachem took during the ACC tournament turned out to be more than just a minor annoyance.
When his face swelled and his tooth began to act angrily in the days that followed, Beachem ultimately needed a root canal during preparation week for the NCAA tournament.
It was Beachem’s second surgical procedure on that tooth.
Beachem proved a pain in the neck to Duke in Washington, D.C. when he tossed in 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, including four three-pointers that propelled Notre Dame to the comeback victory over the Blue Devils.
And while the Irish took a thumping from North Carolina the next night, Beachem tossed in another three three-pointers and scored 11 points to finish his two-game ACC tournament experience averaging 15 points per outing.
Not a bad effort for a guy who managed just 14 points in seven post-regular-season games a year ago.
It’s that instant-offense and that deadeye shooting touch that makes Beachem such an important variable for the No. 6-seeded Irish as they open NCAA tournament play Friday night against No. 11 seed Michigan at the Barclays Center.
The Irish know what they’re going to get from Zach Auguste up front, and although their play has been up and down at times, the backcourt pairing of Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia is going to log the better part of 80 minutes combined. Bonzie Colson, too, pretty much can be penciled in for 10 or 12 points and seven or so rebounds.
Beachem is the wildcard that can put the Irish over the top.
“If I can bring it and play at the highest level I can, that really helps our team on both ends of the floor, especially using my athletic ability on the defensive end and helping stretch the floor on the offensive end,” said the 6-foot-8, 200-pounder out of Fort Wayne, Ind.
Twenty-four times in 32 games, Beachem has connected on at least two three-pointers in a game. He’s made at least three three-pointers 15 times. He’s shooting an outstanding 43.2 percent (76-of-176) from beyond the arc, has more than doubled his rebounding average (from 1.4 to 3.8) from last year and, as of last week, added another dimension to his game.
Beachem, a long, lithe athlete with great jumping ability, began taking the basketball to the hoop in the ACC tournament.
“As far as attacking the rim, that’s something my teammates and coaches have talked to me about,” said Beachem, who’s averaging 11.7 points per game. “It’s something I tried to do last weekend and something I want to do this weekend as well.”
Beachem, quiet by nature, often allows his reserved demeanor to affect his aggressiveness on the basketball court. Not only did he show more assertiveness penetrating the lane in the ACC tournament, he even showed a bit of grim determination on his face when he went on a shooting streak against Duke.
“I think I was just reluctant,” said Beachem of driving the lane. “It was something I really didn’t think about much. But guys are telling me – especially with how hard (opponents) are closing out on me now – that I can just take a couple dribbles by them, attack the rim and finish.”
If the Irish can keep Beachem in an aggressive frame of mind, he just might be the difference in Notre Dame’s advancement to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
“I just want to keep it going,” Beachem said. “Keep that confidence, continue to play hard, and knock some down big shots for our team.”
Mike Brey has been coy about a starting lineup against Michigan.
“Not sure, we’ll make a decision tonight,” said Brey of his starting lineup. “Just to change it up…next question.”
The Wolverines are the ultimate four-around-one basketball team, which means the Irish will match-up accordingly to defend their penchant for three-pointers. Michigan averages 25 three-point attempts per game.
When the Irish take the court late Friday night, look for just one of Notre Dame’s two bigs -- Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson – to be on the floor. Colson has been very effective at times coming off the bench, which he’s done eight times this season.
Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune suggested that someone like sophomore guard Matt Farrell could make his first career start as Brey tries to find the right mix of guard combinations.
Another possibility is freshman Rex Pflueger, a lockdown defender, who made his first and only start at Syracuse.
TRIPUCKA ON THE CALL
Kelly Tripucka (1978-81), Notre Dame’s 15th all-time leading scorer and one of just 10 Irish players to average double-figure scoring all four years, will provide the analysis for CBS’ broadcast Friday night.
Tripucka, who scored more than 12,000 points, grabbed more than 2,700 rebounds and was a career 85 percent free-throw shooter in 10 seasons in the NBA with Detroit, Utah and Charlotte, is impressed with the job Mike Brey has done in his 16 seasons at Notre Dame.
“Notre Dame is fortunate to have him as a coach,” Tripucka said. “For him to be as consistent and successful as he’s been, he deserves a lot of credit. I think he’s done an outstanding job and it’s fun to watch because the way they play is conducive to getting guys.
“No, he doesn’t have the pick of the litter, but he molds them in a certain way, gets them to do what he wants them to do, and they all play together. They’re unselfish, they trust each other, and that’s what makes it fun to watch.”