1 – Full Circle: Plaudits such as “greatest” and “best” are passed around our modern sports culture more haphazardly than tips in Vegas. And I’m as guilty as any in terms of compiling lists ranking the best among the best.
But if you grew up in South Bend during the mid 1980s, the phrase “point guard” conjures a single image to this day:
“Basketball Einstein,” as dubbed by the late Al McGuire when Rivers once called timeout at Marquette while falling out of bounds (a practice that became prevalent thereafter), Rivers was a revelation – a whirling dervish ball-handler and passer far ahead of his time – and the owner of the quickest behind the back dribble anyone west of the Hudson.
Notably, Rivers was the first I’d ever seen go behind his back twice (right-to-left and back) without a dribble needed between, splitting two defenders at full speed in the process.
Since his days on campus and since the game and its athletes have grown, the sportswriter in me admits that Jerian Grant (the 5th-year senior) was probably the best single-season point guard Notre Dame has had. And that Chris Thomas, the wunderkind freshman was awfully good with the ball as well.
And that Matty Farrell, the junior year revelation is the straw that stirs the present-day, intoxicating Irish drink.
But for Notre Dame fans currently in their 40s, David Rivers was the man. And always will be.
(Now GET OFF MY LAWN!!)
2 – The Final Litmus Test: I’m not sure what’s more surprising, the fact that Notre Dame is 6-1 in ACC play or this personal change of opinion since the last time we spoke in this space:
I believe they’ll beat Virginia and head coach Tony Bennett – Mike Brey’s nemesis – Tuesday night in South Bend.
Bennett is 5-0 vs. Brey dating back to an all-time bundling – his 61-41 victory in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament as head coach of Washington State. Since, the Irish have lost by 15, 21, 6, and most recently 11 points last season when pitted against Bennett’s “Pack Line” defense.
Worse? At no point did the Irish players or head coach believe they’d win any of those matchups. At least not shortly after the proceedings were underway.
The opposite mindset accompanies Brey, Farrell, veterans Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem, and Bonzie Colson for Tuesday’s matchup at the Purcell.
Notre Dame’s current crew believes in anything and everything. Unicorns, a Leprechaun’s Pot of Gold, the second shooter, love conquers all, that the Falcons have a chance, you name it – they’re all in.
And they believe they can beat Virginia – the nation’s sixth-ranked squad per Kenpom.com (6th defensively; 16th offensively; 6th overall).
As a point of reference, Kenpom.com has the Irish 18th overall; 9th offensively and No. 62 on the defensive end.
Win Tuesday and the chase for the regular season ACC crown begins in earnest.
3 – Star Count: With National Signing Day approaching, it seems appropriate today to list the Star Rankings (per Scout.com) for Notre Dame’s projected starters and weekly reserves next fall.
Not including any incoming freshmen, this is what I came up with assuming every veteran we believe to be available at present remains in the fold:
-- Starting Offense: 4, 4, 3, 4, 5, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4
-- Skill Position Weekly Rotation: 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, NR
-- Top 3 Backup OL: 4, 4, 4
-- Backup QB: 3
-- Starting Defense: 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 5, 3, 4, 3, 3, 4
-- Weekly Defensive Reserves: 4, 4, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 3
Even without the inclusion of freshmen, it seems like a winner, right?
4 – Beyond the Numbers: Notre Dame has faced 12 Power Five foes, plus a capable Fort Wayne squad among its 20 games played to date. (17-3; 6-1 in the ACC).
In those 13 contests, Matt Farrell has produced 80 assists vs. 36 turnovers. Among those 80 dimes, 35 resulted in a 3 3-point basket while 34 more ended with either a layup or a dunk for his teammates.
5 – At Peace: A treasured friend, Heather Tetzlaff Smith, passed away Saturday evening after a prolonged battle with Multiple Sclerosis. Her impact on the community, family, and friends was defined by two enviable traits: a desire to help those in need, and a love of life.
She never stopped fighting, and Providence never failed her.
God Bless you Heather, and bring peace and guidance to your son Ezra, your sister/rock Hillary and her husband, Ryan, and your loving parents Deb and Burt. There’s one hell of a dance party going on in heaven – maybe the only place that could furnish the disparate playlist you’ve always required.
6 – Welcome to College (Campus): The University of Notre Dame welcomed five mid-year enrollees to its freshmen ranks last Tuesday – not coincidentally, they’re all purportedly really good at football!
A quintet of film reviews is thus necessary now that each member of the quintet is officially Irish:
Robert Hainsey (OL/G): Attempts to punish, not just protect…Finishes blocks violently…Extremely strong hands…Impressive short-space quickness on traps and pulls and breaks down to engage defenders on the move…Will be well-equipped to handle transition to major college practices thanks to the last two years spent at IMG Academy…Admirable job of fighting when he’s initially beaten as well…
Seemed as if every player he was assigned to block was the kid he hated from the old neighborhood…Notably held (not called) a few times when faced with a much quicker edge rusher, but he did so with anger, so I’m on board…Not a dancing bear a la Ronnie Stanley in terms of his footwork, but give me three Hainsey’s in each class and Duke won’t win at the line of scrimmage again in South Bend…
7 – Brock Wright (TE): Stays with blocks through the whistle…Didn’t run away from a lot of people as a junior but seemed to have a major uptick in speed and athleticism in his senior film…Work as an in-line blocker at the prep level should ease his transition upon arrival as a player that “runs to green” to borrow a phrase from the former tight ends coach…If Brock Wright doesn’t develop into at least a solid blocking tight end at Notre Dame I’ll stop watching prep highlights of TE/OL, because he has a voracious appetite for contact.
8 – Isaiah Robertson (S): Great frame (6’3” 190)…Breaks down in space to make form tackles, driving through the ball carrier…Good ball skills when they split him wide offensively, but he’s a DB…Closed quickly on short throws from his solo high safety spot and was consistent in tackling low thereafter…Showed good closing speed when needed…Accelerates into tackles, a welcomed trait for a guy that consistently wraps up low…Diagnoses screens and reacts quickly… Senior season hamstring injuries could hamper him a bit in terms of spring practice impact.
9 – C.J. Holmes (RB): Highlight tape is replete with the following: a fast, major college prospect running away from kids that are not, but Holmes sure looks good doing it…
Biggest adjustment will be when he’s no longer the best athlete on the field…Second adjustment will be running through tackles, because his offensive line at Cheshire Academy made life pretty easy for Mr. Holmes…Does had a suddenness to him and cutting ability in space, no choppy steps and does not need to set up his cuts…Good upfield burst and finishing speed…Lower the pads, man, lower the pads…I liked 2016 freshmen Tony Jones, Jr., and Deon McIntosh more on film last year as a point of reference…Holmes though is an athlete that could play RB, CB, and even S in South Bend.
10 – Aaron Banks (OL/G): At present, a massive human being that’s set to be a massive scout team guard as a true freshman…A realistic goal of taking over a starting or rotational role for the 2019 Irish seems appropriate…Won’t remain at tackle at this level and doesn’t have to, not with Liam Eichenberg (2016) and Josh Lugg (2017, film review forthcoming) within a year of his class…Engulfed and destroyed smaller defenders on film — can he do the same in three years vs. players 20 pounds his junior rather than 150? As important: can he stay in the 325- 335-pound range (listed at 335 now) while gaining strength?
Until next week, Irish fans…