Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

Scholarship numbers, recruiting hits and misses, and an appreciation for the little things – sans hyperbole – highlight this week’s edition of the Musings.

1 – Pledge No. 7…and the first of three? Four-star cornerback prospect Kalon Gervin this morning announced his pledge to join the Irish program. Gervin is the first of what will likely be three cornerbacks in the class, a number that would assuage the program’s strikeout at the position for the ’17 cycle just past.

Three corners in 2018 coupled with what appears to be a trio of recruiting hits in 2016 (Julian Love, Donte Vaughn, and Troy Pride) makes the position whole through the 2019 campaign, a season in which, assuming good health, Gervin, Love, Vaughn, Pride, Shaun Crawford and whoever joins hereafter will be available to defensive coordinator Mike Elko.

Additionally, our projected starter for 2017, Nick Watkins, is also eligible to return in ’18.

Of course, no cornerbacks can thrive without a consistent and/or timely pass rush, and therein lies the rub…

2 – Numbers Crunch: Call them the Irish 87.

Freddy Canteen’s transfer as a Michigan graduate to Notre Dame’s program (he has two seasons of eligibility remaining) brings Brian Kelly’s present-day scholarship total to 87 as winter conditioning begins in earnest.

That total is certain to dip to or below the 85 allowed at season’s outset as medical retirement and post-spring transfer are likely and the nearly annual suspension is reality as well. But regardless where the Irish start the season, it’s clear the 2018 recruiting class is unlikely to exceed 18 pledges (as pointed out by our Pete Sampson in a story last week).

Exceptions for elite talents notwithstanding, my ideal breakdown would be as such:

  • 3 CB – Necessary after the aforementioned whiff of ‘17
  • 3 OL – By my calculations 17 of the 29 offensive linemen recruited to Notre Dame have “hit” since and including 2007. That does not include the pending careers of redshirt-sophomores Tristen Hoge and Trevor Ruhland and redshirt-freshmen Liam Eichenberg, Tommy Kraemer, and Parker Boudreaux
  • 2 WR – The addition of Canteen means none of Notre Dame’s 10 wide receivers for 2017 exhaust eligibility, though Equanimeous St. Brown is a potential early NFL entrant following his true junior season this fall
  • 2 LB – One on board in four-star Matthew Bauer
  • 2 DT – One so far in four-star Jayson Ademilola and likely another in his brother, DE/DT tweener Justin Ademilola
  • 2 Rush Ends – One pledged in four-star Ovie Oghouho
  • 1 RB – Secured with the pledge of four-star Markese Stepp
  • 1 QB – Phil Jurkovec ranks among the nation’s best prospects
  • 1 S/Rover – The Irish have ample prospects for the position through 2017-18.
  • 1 TE – The roster is replete with them (six) today, there could be just three in tow by season’s end.
  • No specialists – Tyler Newsome is expected to return for a fifth-year in 2018 and both kicker and long-snapper are theoretically covered through 2020-21

3 – Speaking of Recruiting Hit Rate: Using the following subjective rankings – top tier player, valuable starter, valuable rotation member, rotation member, and recruiting miss – check out Mike Brey’s success rate over the last 11 recruiting cycles dating back to his disappointing trio of NIT appearances in 2004-05-06:

2016: N/A (Freshmen T.J. Gibbs, John Mooney, Nikola Djogo)
2015: N/A (Sophomores Rex Pflueger, Matt Ryan, Elijah Burns)
2014: Bonzie Colson (top tier), Matt Farrell (top tier), Martinas Geben (rotation member/miss)
2013: Demetrius Jackson (top tier), Steve Vasturia (top tier), V.J. Beachem (value starter), Austin Torres (rotation member)
2012: Zach August (top tier), Austin Burgett (miss), Cameron Biedscheid (miss)
2011: Pat Connaughton (top tier) Eric Katenda (injury miss)
2010: Jerian Grant (top tier), Eric Atkins (valuable rotation member), Alex Dragicevich (miss)
2009: Jack Cooley (top tier), Tom Knight (rotation member/miss), Mike Broghammer (miss/injury miss), Joey Brooks (miss)
2008:
2007: Tim Abromaitis (top tier), Tyrone Nash (valuable starter), Carleton Scott (valuable starter), Ty Proffit (miss)
2006: Luke Harangody (top tier), Tory Jackson (valuable starter), Jonathan Peoples (rotation member/miss), Joe Harden (transfer miss/would have been valuable starter)

Add transfers Scott Martin (valuable starter), Ben Hansbrough (top tier), and Garrick Sherman (valuable rotation member) during that span and it’s clear roster management has become one of Brey’s strong suits after his initial seasons at the helm in South Bend. (Valuable starter Dan Miller and miss/vicious dunk magnet Dennis Lattimore preceded them on the transfer train.)

For the sake of reference, the 11 recruits from Brey’s initial classes of 2002-03-04-05 included the following:

One top tier player (Chris Quinn), five valuable starters (Rob Kurz, Torin Francis, Russell Carter, Colin Falls, and Kyle McAlarney), four rotation members (Ryan Ayers, Rick Cornett, Zach Hillesland, Luke Zellar), and one miss (Omari Israel).

Note the recent uptick in top tier college performers by the time Brey’s players reach their final two seasons of play.

4 – Passing Thought: W Equanimeous St. Brown; X Chase Claypool; Z Alize Jones…

Try dealing with that sizeable trio in the red zone if Notre Dame can reestablish its running game under new offensive coordinator Chip Long. 

5 – Young Skywalker: Had a great time during my week off at Walt Disney World with my family but I have sobering news to report for Star Wars fans:

We’ve seen the last of Darth Vader. He has been vanquished.

6 – The Little Things Add Up: I think (well, know) that Mike Brey took the liberty of hyperbole when he referred to senior captain Steve Vasturia as one of the best players in program history. Nevertheless, appreciation for Vasturia’s steady improvement and basketball acumen is necessary in a sport we rarely break down after the games conclude. (A basketball season doesn’t lend itself to much published tape review for fans and media.)

Consider the following for Vasturia on Saturday against Florida State:

Bonzie Colson had a smaller player (5’11” guard C.J. Walker) pinned on the low block with no opposing Seminoles size in sight. Instead of lobbing a pass to Colson (and thus drawing help-side defense) Vasturia patiently broke down his defender off the dribble knowing full well there was no one protecting the rim.

Had Walker helped off of Colson, Vasturia would have dropped it down to the big man for a layup. He didn’t, and Vasturia instead finished with an underhand finger-roll – one not possible if any of Florida State’s sizeable frontcourt players had been drawn closer to the hoop by the seemingly “easier” lob pass.

He’s not Adrian Dantley or Laphonso Ellis or Troy Murphy, but Steve Vasturia is a winning basketball player – and he’ll likely prove it again in March.

7 – All ACC Predictions: Seems plausible and you’d have been laughed out of the corner saloon had you posited this scenario back in 2014-15 when each among the quartet was a freshman or sophomore.

First Team: Bonzie Colson
Second Team: None
Third Team: Steve Vasturia and Matt Farrell
Honorable Mention: V.J. Beachem

8 – Soft Foes, Strong Finish? Notre Dame will likely lose at Louisville to conclude the regular season. But a two-game road set at cellar-dwellers Boston College and North Carolina State, followed by a week off and a two-game home tilt vs. Georgia Tech and BC (both rematches) suggest a 4-1 finish should be Brey’s chief charge to his troops.

The above would equate to a 5-4 road finish in ACC play (7-2 at home) and a likely double bye in the conference tournament.

9 – Livin’ on the Edge: College basketball’s only back-to-back Elite 8 appearances serve as the remarkable bottom-line results for Brey’s program over the last two seasons, but remember this reality regarding the last two post-season runs:

Northeastern had the ball and a two-point deficit with 30 seconds remaining in Round 1…Two days later, Butler had the potential game-winning shot blocked by a flying Pat Connaughton in Round 2…Notre Dame trailed Michigan by a dozen at the halftime break…A Rex Pflueger tip-in at the buzzer staved off a Stephen F. Austin upset in Round 2…Consecutive steals in the final 16 seconds vs. Wisconsin took Notre Dame from down one to five-point victor in last year’s Sweet 16.

Yes, Notre Dame could have beaten Kentucky at the buzzer in the 2015 Elite 8 to advance to the Final Four, and yes, they handled a quality Wichita State team two days prior – but there’s generally a razor-thin line between March Madness and ongoing program sadness.

Don’t expect anything to be easy whether the Irish win zero, one, two, or three again during the greatest tournament of all.

Until next week, Irish fans…


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