GAME NO. 27: NO. 20 NOTRE DAME (19-7; 8-5) AT BOSTON COLLEGE (9-17; 2-11)
-- Date: February 14, 2017
-- Place: Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
-- Time: 7:00 pm (ET)
-- TV: ESPNU
-- Opponent Nickname: Eagles
-- Head coach: Jim Christian (271-214 overall; 29-61 at Boston College)
-- Location: Chestnut Hill, Mass.
-- 2015-16 record: (7-25; 0-18 in the ACC)
-- 2016 Post-season: None
-- Point spread: Notre Dame is favored by 10.5 points
Losers of nine straight including each of its last four home tilts, Boston College has nonetheless managed a pair of league wins at home (Syracuse and North Carolina State) and also beaten Providence inside the Conte Forum this winter.
Remarkably, Notre Dame is tied for second among ACC foes with its current two-game winning streak. (Duke has prevailed in five straight including a January 31 win in South Bend.)
The Eagles rank 10th among 15 ACC programs in scoring offense, ninth in free throw percentage and second in defensive rebounding percentage (the Irish are last in that regard).
Boston College is winless on the road in ACC play and will travel to South Bend for a rematch of tonight’s contest on March 1st.
GETTING INTO A GROOVE
Boston College will be forced to change course from its matchup Saturday against the ACC’s worst shooting team, Georgia Tech, to the nation’s 14th-most efficient offense in Mike Brey’s Irish.
In other words, Saturday’s 65-54 loss to the Yellow Jackets should in no way resemble tonight’s affair against the spread-motion, small-ball approach favored by Notre Dame.
“Certainly I think we’ve found a better offensive rhythm from the second half of Wake (Forest) through the whole game against Florida State,” said Brey of his four-around-one approach. “That’s something I hope we can ride moving forward.”
Brey offered that the presence of a second big man would likely be necessary in the near future, but he’s willing to ride out his newest version of “small ball” and the free flowing offense it engenders.
“I think right now, this is the way we’ve got to play. This is especially the way we have to start a game,” Brey added. “When we start that way, the floor is open and there are more opportunities early. There’s nothing like putting points on the board before the first media timeout to kind of feel like you’re in a rhythm.”
Notre Dame put a 40-spot on the board against Florida State in the game’s opening half, racing to a 40-31 edge at the break. The Irish scored 52 points in the second stanza vs. Wake Forest three days prior – the birth (rebirth) of Brey’s six-man, undersized rotation. They likewise outscored North Carolina 42-41 in the second half relying largely on the same approach in a February 5 loss in Greensboro.
Remember the old Big East days when an opposing perimeter lone wolf would go off on Mike Brey’s defensively challenged Irish that inevitably resulted in avoidable road defeat?
The modern-day presence of Steve Vasturia and Rex Pflueger as diligent backcourt defenders has lessened that regularity (Villanova’s Josh Hart doesn’t count, he’s the best player in college basketball) and the two will be tasked at some point tonight with checking Eagles high-scoring guard Jerome Robinson.
Robinson enters tonight’s contest eighth in conference play at 18.3 points per game (19.4 on the season) but the sophomore is a volume shooter, firing off 419 field goal attempts (hitting 44.2 percent) including 128 efforts from beyond the arc (32.8 percent).
He’s attempted at least 15 shots in six of the Eagles’ last seven contests (all losses) and 15 times this season Robinson has scored at least 20 points though just twice during Boston College’s current nine-game losing skid.
BUT IS BOWMAN BETTER?
Robinson’s efforts are aided by his backcourt-mate running mate Ky Bowman. The freshman point guard averages 13.5 ppg., scoring double digits in 10 straight highlighted by a 33-point outburst in a 90-82 home loss to North Carolina.
At 6’1” 182 pounds, Bowman has ripped down 31 rebounds over the last five games and averages nearly six caroms per contest in 11 league games. Bowman leads the Eagles in three-point field goal percentage (45.1% on an economical 102 attempts).
Burly fifth-year senior forward Connar Tava (6’6” 250 pounds) averages 5.8 boards per contest while junior guard Jordan Chatman ranks first in the ACC in free throw percentage, hitting just under 92 percent. Chatman has made good on 21 of his 22 free throw attempts in league play and hit 43.5 percent of his 108 three-point field goal attempts on the season.
BONZIE BACK TO BOSTON
The New Bedford, Mass. resident and ACC’s reigning player of the week returns home to compete in front of friends and family for the third time in his collegiate career.
Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson, the ACC’s leading rebounder and double-double producer has recently forged his way into conversation for not only a first-team All-ACC selection, but All-America status as well.
(Colson ranks seventh on Kenpom.com’s statistically based national Player of the Year list.)
“I do want to talk to him because he’s had a monster week, he’s player of the week, and he’s going back to Boston with all the family,” Brey noted.
“He usually handles stuff great, but I want to spend a little more time with him because I think they’ll really come after him, and if he’s not going good early, I don’t want him frustrated because he’s not playing well in front of his family.”
Colson appears nonplussed to that end.
“Everybody likes to go home and play,” he admitted. “Everybody marks it on the calendar. My dad used to be a coach there and me playing in the arena when I was younger.”
Colson scored 16 points (on 8-for-9 shooting) with six boards off the bench in a February 2015 win over Boston College and followed with 16 points (again, 8-for-9 from the floor) four boards and four blocked shots in a blowout win last January on Chestnut Hill.
The junior power forward has connected on 23 of his 31 field goal attempts in four career games vs. Boston College, all Irish victories. Notre Dame hasn’t lost to the Eagles since 2004 when the two were Big East foes. The Irish have since won seven straight including six as ACC opponents over the last three seasons.
Note: Former Irish standouts Demetrius Jackson (Boston Celtics) and Zach Auguste (on break from his Turkish Super League squad, Muratbey Usak Sportif, will both be in attendance tonight. Auguste is a native of nearby Cambridge.
Eh, call it distaste, this isn’t football…
But Boston College’s creative student body and fan base should be at full throttle for this one, especially if the contest stays close. Notre Dame is expected to win, but more important needs to, at least if they plan to contend for a double bye in the upcoming ACC Tournament and thus a likely top six seed in NCAA play thereafter.
In short: the Eagles can’t have a good season, but they can certainly enjoy a night at Notre Dame’s expense.
On tap for Brey’s Irish during a five-game, three-week stretch run are three matchups against the league’s two worst teams in the Eagles and North Carolina State (in Raleigh, Saturday), plus a rematch against 6-6 Georgia Tech, they of the back-to-back buzzer beating home victories over the Irish in 2016-17.
Four wins in those three contests is a reasonable goal for a contending team – three is the minimum allotted, especially with a vexing rematch at Louisville to close the regular season.
“They’re better,” said Brey of the Eagles, an 0-18 ACC crew last winter. “They made 16 threes against Syracuse (in victory). If we’re not ready to play, we’ll get beat. I hope we’re mature enough to understand that with what we did the last week, you can do some things at the end to put yourself in a position for a double-bye in the league tournament.”
O’Malley/Prister Prediction: Notre Dame 90 Boston College 78