After coming out on top 68-59 in their ACC opener against Georgia Tech, things were looking good for Mike Brey and the Irish. Bonzie Colson finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds and Matt Farrell had 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists.
However, when news came out that Colson was out eight weeks with a left foot fracture, it was a devastating blow to a team with ACC regular-season title hopes. Then, in Notre Dame’s very next game against North Carolina State, Matt Farrell left the game in the first half with an ankle sprain.
Brey’s two senior leaders and arguably best players suffering injuries caused doubt as to whether or not Notre Dame was going to make the NCAA Tournament. However, the next game the Irish prevailed 51-49 in a thriller at the Carrier Dome against the Syracuse Orange.
At that moment in time, Notre Dame was 13-3 overall and 3-0 in the ACC. Then, they hit a rough stretch. With four straight losses and another injury, this time to freshman D.J. Harvey, the Irish seem out of answers. In looking at the positives, though, Matt Farrell has returned for the last two games.
Examining the upcoming schedule, Virginia Tech, at Duke, and at North Carolina State in their next three games, life won’t be easy for a team that is already short-handed.
In what seems like one of Mike Brey’s toughest coaching jobs at Notre Dame, what do he and the Irish have to do to be successful and ultimately make the Big Dance?
Play at their pace
Without Colson, Notre Dame lost 21.4 points per game and a player who can beat you inside and out. Knowing they are not as potent offensively as they once were, the Irish have to adjust accordingly. Instead of attempting a lot of contested jump shots and deep three-pointers, they must work the ball around and take high-quality shots each possession. If they play fast, it is to the opposition’s advantage, as Notre Dame will have a very hard time outscoring anybody in the ACC without Colson on the floor.
Commit on the defensive end of the floor
Notre Dame must commit themselves to play solid defense for forty minutes. They must be active, communicating, and aggressive on the defensive end of the court if they want to win games in conference play.
If the Irish can keep the games low scoring, then they have a chance to win. Upperclassmen Matt Farrell, Martinas Geben, and Rex Pflueger have all played in big games and made winning plays for the Irish in their time with the Blue and Gold.
Crash the Glass
With Martinas Geben, John Mooney, Austin Torres, and Elijah Burns in the paint to go along with aggressive guards, winning the rebounding battle is doable for the Irish. It is also something they must do consistently to win games.
On the offensive end of the floor, giving themselves second chance opportunities to score the basketball is crucial. Not only will it allow them to slow the game down, but it will also limit the number of possessions where the other team has the ball.
Just as important as grabbing offensive rebounds is getting defensive rebounds. Getting defensive rebounds limits the other team to one shot and also allows the Irish to play as little defense then they need to. Instead of using extra energy on the defensive end for rebounding, Notre Dame can dedicate more energy to their offensive attack.
If Notre Dame is able to do the three things mentioned above, making the NCAA Tournament is well within reach. Even in the midst of a four-game losing streak and a brutal schedule ahead, never count out a Brey-coached team.