1 – Out Like A Lamb: Notre Dame’s wire-to-wire defeat at the hands of West Virginia left the squad one win short of reasonable pre-season goals (the Sweet 16 would have been a fitting finish) and key to that end was the unfortunate final game furnished by senior V.J. Beachem.
Beachem was hardly the only culprit during Saturday’s season-ender at the hands of the more aggressive, more focused, and yes, the better Mountaineers. But his 2-for-14 shooting effort Saturday (that on the heels of a 1-for-9 afternoon in the win over Princeton) crippled the Irish on a day every hand was needed on deck.
Notre Dame failed to handle the Mountaineers full-court pressure defense. If failed to start fast and finish strong. And it failed to knock down the big shots that have defined the program’s last three, highly respected seasons.
Because of the latter, Beachem will be the temporary target of the fan base’s scorn – that goes with the territory of big time college basketball.
This derision, however, is misplaced. Beachem went down swinging, and unlike at least three past Notre Dame stars we’ve seen waltz with disinterest into their final collegiate goodnights, wore the agony of defeat on his face.
Beachem took his shots and missed. But the program is better for his contributions.
2 – My Two Cents: Mike Brey’s loyalty to his seniors was often rewarded with bounce-back efforts by the veterans over the last three basketball seasons. But the best way to afford Beachem a chance at redemption for the blanks he shot in Buffalo would have been to play Matt Ryan instead.
Ryan logged just 11 minutes vs. the Mountaineers. He played only 9 in the win over Princeton (scoring six points).
The sophomore sharpshooter is foul prone and he offers little in terms of passing lane length or ball handling help against the press. (Admittedly, Beachem aided the Irish in the latter Saturday.) But Ryan’s reputation and hot start (2-for-3 from long range) resulted in a West Virginia defender hugging him – nearly face guarding him – for 94 feet.
Though that’s not usually a recipe for half-court success Ryan himself, it would have opened ample space for the remaining Irish foursome to attack a defense bereft of one of its help defenders.
(Gibbs at +9 and Ryan at +3 were the only Irish players on the positive side of the Plus/Minus ledger vs. West Virginia. Of note, Beachem was the “best” of the five starters, at minus-10 while Pflueger at minus-20 was the worst.)
Openly frustrated with his role on the 2017 squad, Ryan was the clear choice for court time as the second half progressed Saturday with Notre Dame’s season on the brink.
3 – Turn the Page: Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell are pre-season All-American candidates. *Matt Ryan, Rex Pflueger, and T.J. Gibbs are an intriguing, versatile threesome. Martinas Geben and Austin Torres can help inside and should form an interior trio with rising sophomore big John Mooney.
Add to that mix incoming four-star swingman D.J. Harvey, highly regarded redshirt-freshman Nikola Djogo, and another big body in oft-injured redshirt-sophomore Elijah Burns and Irish head coach Mike Brey has another Sweet 16 contender on his hands next fall.
(The best part of 2016-17 season and the program’s new place in the college game is that it seems odd Notre Dame does not have a game this weekend.)
*Brey’s roster management – and a potentially deeper rotation as a result – will determine how the Irish start next winter and finish next spring.
For a comprehensive review of all of the above, read our Tim Prister’s report below:
4 – Spring Résumés: Wednesday marks Notre Dame’s first football practice since the university commenced spring break on March 10. It’s likewise the first of two looks the media has this week – the entire practice will be open to the media on Saturday and it is likely to include full pads.
A few things to consider as you peruse this week’s practice reports:
- Positioning and usage of unique talents Alizé’ Jones and Chase Claypool
- Live reps (assuming full pads) for oft-concussed senior Daniel Cage
- The reps given to 2016 breakout freshman K.J. Stepherson
- Tony Jones, Jr. vs. Dexter Williams
- The Nickel. We assume a healthy Shaun Crawford will own this role – what we can’t logically assume at this point is a healthy Shaun Crawford.
- Daelin Hayes against Mike McGlinchey. Let’s see how the squad’s best hybrid end fares against its best tackle.
5 – Well Said: A high school friend of mine sent me the following text during the second half of Saturday’s Irish defeat:
“You can spot them 10 and still win, and you can shoot like crap and still win, but you probably can’t do both.”
You also can’t play tentatively against the overly aggressive.
Combine all of the above and you have a 12-point defeat instead of a game that should have been decided in the final minute.
6 – Way Too Early Trouble Spots: If you’re a long-time reader of the site you’re well versed in our off-season “Trouble Spots” series that attempts to forecast Notre Dame’s toughest game situations – not just its best opponents.
My pre-spring version:
- At Stanford – Irish haven’t won on The Farm since 2007
- USC – Talent abounds. This game will likely determine the rest of the Brian Kelly Era in South Bend.
- UGA – Talent Abounds, Part II
- At Miami – True road game and, again, plenty of talent in tow
- At Michigan State – True road game and a third straight physical matchup
- At North Carolina – True road games, Notre Dame, and the ACC don’t (yet) mix
- Navy – Who scheduled this opponent on Senior Day?
- At Boston College – True road game and one-sided hate are a dangerous pairing.
- N.C. State – Letdown Alert. That sound you hear is a pin dropping inside Notre Dame Stadium one week after playing USC (win or lose).
- Miami (Ohio) – Follows a two-game road trip concluding at Michigan State. Which team do you think will be more up for this contest?
- Temple – The loss of established head coach Matt Rhule dropped this matchup significantly
- Wake Forest – Unless things go really, really bad, it’s hard to imagine Notre Dame falling to the Elko-less Demon Deacons
7 – The Way the Ball Bounces: T.J. Gibbs is a competitor. He’s a clutch free throw shooter and a promising defender with quick hands and natural strength that allows him to get into the body of both point and off guards.
He’ll evolve into a solid three-point shooter over the next three seasons and he can already get to the rim utilizing power and an innate change-of-speed approach.
But in addition to improving his basketball conditioning, Gibbs should work to improve his ball handling – every waking hour of the day over the rest of his college career.
8 – For What it’s Worth: And judging from my bracket, not much: Wisconsin, South Carolina, Gonzaga, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Butler, Kentucky…Wisconsin, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky.
9 – Final Tally: Reasonable minds can disagree on the exact order (save for the top spot), but the 2016-17 Fighting Irish ultimately ranked somewhere between the fourth and sixth-best single season squad of Mike Brey’s 17 seasons at the helm:
- 2015 (ACC Champs, 32-6, lost at the buzzer to No. 1 overall seed Kentucky in the Elite 8)
- 2016 (24-12, lost to No. 1 seed North Carolina in the Elite 8)
- 2003 (24-10, blown out by No. 1 seed Arizona in the Sweet 16)
- 2002 (22-11, lost to No. 1 overall seed Duke in the second round)
- 2011 (No. 2 seed in the NCAA’s, 27-7, blown out by #7 seed Florida State in the second round)
- 2017 (ACC Runner-up, 26-10, lost to #4 seed West Virginia in the second round)
What differentiated Brey’s top dogs of 2015 from the rest?
More NBA-level talent.
I expect the 2018 Irish to breech this list in 12 months, but more top-level talent needs to make its way to South Bend thereafter if the Irish of 2019 and beyond are to similarly contend.
Until next week, Irish fans…