O’Malley’s Monday Musings

Player comparisons, a reemerging big man, ill-timed slumps and the best collegiate sports days of the year highlight this week’s edition.

1 – ACC vs. NCAA Tournament: A hunch – Notre Dame will play two more games AND finish with two more wins in the NCAA Tournament than it does this week in Brooklyn.

2 – Plus-Minus: Curious about Notre Dame’s individual Plus-Minus rankings for the *ACC season? Well that’s what I’m here for:

-- Bonzie Colson: +73. His best outing was Syracuse (+19) followed by the home win over Florida State (+15). Worst day was the home loss to Virginia (-10), one of just four outings in which Colson finished in the negative (at Miami, at North Carolina, and at Louisville were the others).

-- V.J. Beachem: +51. That despite a remarkable minus-22 in the aforementioned loss to Virginia. Beachem offset that mark with a team season-best +24 in last week’s win over Boston College – no small feat as the Irish trailed for the bulk of the first half.

-- T.J. Gibbs: +48. His worst outing came at Louisville (-10) to conclude the regular season but the freshmen was in minus territory just four other times – three of them in a three-game stretch of mid-season losses to Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Duke. Of note: Gibbs was -8 against Louisville in a home loss on January 4 as well.

-- Matt Farrell and Steve Vasturia: Both +31. Farrell has plateaued since a +16 outing in the rematch win over FSU (+17 in the five-game aggregate since). Vasturia was +19 vs. Syracuse but -13 and -12 against Virginia and Duke, respectively.

-- Rex Pflueger: +14. All over the map with +14 (BC home), +13 (Clemson) and +12 (at Pittsburgh) in wins and -10 (loss at Georgia Tech), -9 (home win over Louisville) and -8 (Saturday’s loss to the Cardinals.

-- Austin Torres: Minus-6 for the season though he posted a +12 at Georgia Tech and a +11 in the home win over Florida State. Finished a stunning minus-16 in just eight minutes of action in a home loss to Duke.

-- Matt Ryan: Minus-7 for the season. Ryan’s worst outing was a -8 game score in just six minutes at home against FSU while his best came last week, a +11 effort (despite the fact that he did not score or even shoot) in a win over Boston College.

-- Martin Geben: Minus-9 on the season including 10 games in the negative. But Geben was the only player to be on the plus side (+13 and +4) against Louisville in both matchups this season.

*Note: Plus/Minus totals were not made available for Notre Dame’s win at Virginia Tech. Since the Irish led for nearly the entire 40 minutes, each player’s would be improved as a result.

3 – Silver Lining? Notre Dame’s loss Saturday at Louisville did little to impact its seeding, either this week in Brooklyn for the ACC Tournament, or next week for the one that matters most.

More important than the technicality of a second- or third-place finish as a result of Saturday’s loss was what was rediscovered in defeat:

Martin Geben.

The following is a list of Geben’s contributions in 16 minutes of game action:

-- Screen to free V.J. Beachem for a 3-pointer
-- Steal
-- Offensive rebound
-- Layup courtesy Matt Farrell
-- Backdoor assist to Farrell, shot-clock winding down
-- Offensive rebound
-- Steal
-- Defensive rebound
-- Charge drawn vs. Louisville’s best player, Donovan Mitchell
-- “Hockey assist” (Geben to cutting Farrell to Colson for 2 FTs)
-- Rebound tip-dunk to cut the lead to 64-60 late

Geben provided more positives Saturday inside the KFC YUM! Center than he did during the month of February for Brey’s rotation. He’ll likely need one more similar outing this week – and the following weekend, to boot – if the Irish are to reach the realistic goals of a Saturday night date in the ACC Championship game and a second weekend of action in the NCAA’s thereafter.

4 – Player Comparison: It dawned on me Saturday – freshman T.J. Gibbs reminds me of Tory Jackson. Both were buoyed by grit, strength, innate savvy around the hoop, and were plus rebounders from the point position.

Jackson was a better ball-hander; Gibbs the better spot-up shooter. Gibbs has a better team around him, though Jackson’s rookie season of 2007 with freshman classmate Luke Harangody and all-Big East seniors Colin Falls and Russell Carter (plus Rob Kurz) wasn’t bad.

5 – Best of the Best: The NCAA First Round (Thursday-Friday), College Football in November, Old School January 1st Bowl Games, Final Four Saturday.

Discuss…

6 – We interrupt these basketball musings… Notre Dame released its 2018 and 2019 football schedules last week. Highlights include a 2018 home slate that’s well worth the increased ticket prices (Michigan, Stanford and Florida State in one year? Sign me up!) and, from a writer’s perspective, a late-October trip to San Diego for a game against Navy.

(You had me at “San Diego.”)

Challenges?

How about five true road games in 2019 against five power conference foes. (The same holds true for the coming season, mind you.)

Remember, Notre Dame is 4-10 in its last 14 true road tilts that after Brian Kelly started 10-4 as head coach – a notable line in the sand that offers as a microcosm of the Kelly Era entering Season No. 8 in South Bend.  

7 – The Elephant in the Room: Steve Vasturia’s mired in an end-season slump.

Again.

Vasturia has hit just 19 of his last 47 three-point shots over the last 10 contests.

Moreover, in his last nine contests (including the two tournaments) of 2016, Vasturia made good on just 5 of his 33 long-range attempts (15%).

The numbers are more troubling when you consider Vasturia’s first eight ACC Games this season produced 42 percent shooting effort from beyond the arc (17-for-40) and similarly, a 19-for-45 performance in the 10 games that preceded his cold spell last winter.

Vasturia’s ability to drive in one-on-one situations is made possible in part because foes respect his outside shot. He’d do well this week and next to begin games on the attack (penetrating to finish or get fouled) and expand his range thereafter – especially after seeing the ball go in the hole a few times, his confidence growing as a result.

Shooting slump aside, Vasturia’s 34-minute presence on the court is mandatory if the Irish are to win another game this season.

8 – Hit Rates: Over the previous three weeks, this space has examined the last decade’s (plus) recruiting successes and relative failures of quarterbacks, offensive linemen, wide receivers, and running backs for Notre Dame.

Today’s focus – the Safeties:

2005: Ray Herring (miss) but Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton – a remarkable pairing of under-recruited Hits.
2006: Sergio Brown (hit, kind of), Jashad Gaines (transfer miss) and Leonard Gordon (miss).
2007: Harrison Smith (all-time Hit)
2008: Danny McCarthy (injury miss), Jamoris Slaughter (hit)
2009: Zeke Motta (Hit)
2010: Chris Badger (transfer miss) and Austin Collinsworth (relative hit)
2011: Matthias Farley (hit after position change from WR), Eilar Hardy (injury miss)
2012: Elijah Shumate (hit), John Turner (miss), C.J. Prosise (N/A as a safety. All-time “Athlete” hit, however.)
2013: Max Redfield (miss)
2014: Drue Tranquill (hit/pending)
2015: Mykelti Williams (transfer miss), Nicco Fertitta (relative hit/pending)
2016: Devin Studstill, Jalen Elliott, D.J. Morgan, and Spencer Perry all pending
2017: Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah, Isaiah Robertson, and Jordan Genmark-Heath pending as well.

Though the downhill trajectory following Zeke Motta’s career (an all-time late bloomer) is troubling, there’s a more pressing matter at hand:

Will the Irish hit on four of the seven prospects taken over the last two recruiting cycles?

9 – Apples to Oranges: Not everyone was pleased with Brey’s offering last week that Vasturia and Beachem rank “among the best winners in the history of the program.” (Remember, he said “among” not definitively “the best.”)

Barring a Final Four run by the pair this month, the 1981 senior class of Kelly Tripucka, Orlando Woolridge, and Tracy Jackson (plus Gilbert Salinas and Stan Wilcox) doubtless accomplished more, earning spots in the Final Four, Elite 8, second round, and Sweet 16, respectively.

But to be representative of the realities of the times, that was basically what was expected of them. Each among the trio was a first-round NBA Draft pick, and Woolridge and Tripucka were “lottery selections” by todays’ standards.

At no point in their collective tenure was Notre Dame anything but a national title contender.

-- As freshmen, Notre Dame ranked between No. 4 and No. 10 throughout the season en route to the Final Four.

-- As sophomores, the “Big Three” led a squad to the Elite 8 and a loss to Magic Johnson while never dipping below No. 5 in either poll.

-- As juniors, they ranked between No. 4 and No. 14 throughout, losing in the second round in upset fashion (and in overtime) to a Missouri team likewise blessed with future pros.

-- And famously as seniors the Big Three, ranked No. 7 at the time, lost in the Sweet 16 to BYU’s Danny Ainge and his infamous full-court, buzzer-beating sprint. (Notre Dame never dipped below a No. 13 national ranking that winter.)

In short, Digger’s top senior class was clearly “better” than the current group, but rarely did they outperform expectations.

That’s exactly what Vasturia, Beachem, and Demetrius Jackson (the class’s third member) did in both 2015 and 2016 – especially last winter on their improbable run to a second straight Elite 8.  

Another march to the NCAA’s second weekend would cement the duo’s legacy as winners, regardless of your reasonable definition of the word.

Until next week, Irish fans…


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