Mike Brey has made getting his team old and keeping it old a work of art. He’ll have to paint outside the lines in 2018-19.
Injuries to Bonzie Colson (foot), Matt Farrell (ankle) and D.J. Harvey (knee) sabotaged the 2017-18 season. Now Colson and Farrell — both first-team All-ACC-caliber players when healthy — are gone, as is 6’10” Martinas Geben, who averaged 11.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game while shooting 60 percent from the field and 85 percent from the line.
The Irish find themselves in a rare predicament — counting on freshmen.
“I’m trying to figure out our identity,” says Brey, entering his 19th season at Notre Dame. “I think we can get back to how we’ve moved offensively for most of the past 18 years.”
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Mike Brey
2017-18 RECORD (ACC): 21-15 (8-10)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NIT: Lost to Penn State 73-63 in the second round
F Bonzie Colson (19.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg)
G Matt Farrell (16.3 ppg, 5.5 apg, 2.4 rpg)
F Martinas Geben (11.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
The loss of Colson’s production is an obvious blow, although the Irish got a glimpse of the future without the preseason ACC Player of the Year candidate when Colson missed 15 games. Less obvious on the national scope was Geben, who improved his game by leaps and bounds in his final year of eligibility.
“How will we score on that front line?” says Brey when asked to name his greatest concern.
It’s up to juniors John Mooney and Elijah Burns, 6’11” Connecticut transfer Juwan Durham and 6’10” sharpshooting freshman Nate Laszewski to emerge if the Irish are to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Mooney converted 41.9 percent of his 74 attempts from beyond the arc. His 5.6 points and 3.9 rebounds — along with his 15-plus minutes of action per game — all could double.
Durham gives the Irish a true basket-protecting presence. Burns offers limited offensive prowess but brings bulk, desire and a solid concept of Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive systems.
Laszewski will get instant minutes. “We have to get Laszewski ready because he can shoot it,” Brey says. “He has good length. He’s good with the basketball. And he’s better defensively than I thought he would be.”
If the Irish have a star on the 2018-19 team, it’s junior T.J. Gibbs, who was forced into a lead role as a sophomore. Gibbs scored in double figures in 19 of 21 games vs. ACC competition, including nine games of at least 18 points. He also made 75-of-84 (.893) free throws in conference play.
Senior Rex Pflueger, who often squares off against the opponent’s top offensive player, averaged 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds per game but struggled with his 3-point shot (31.7 percent).
Harvey averaged 5.8 points in 19 games before undergoing season-ending knee surgery. He could be redshirted in 2018-19.
That means freshmen are going to have to contribute.
“Adding Laszewski, Dane Goodwin, Prentiss Hubb … those guys can shoot the basketball,” Brey says. “Offense was hard for us last year. Our shooters weren’t healthy enough to get reps.”
Goodwin and Laszewski are considered the crown-jewel shooters. Hubb — who missed his high school senior season with a knee injury — could be in the starting backcourt with Gibbs and Pflueger. A fourth top-100 freshman — swingman Robby Carmody — is more of a streaky shooter, but he can slash and finish around the basket.
Brey is prepared for preseason speculation that projects Notre Dame in the bottom third of the 15-team ACC. “We still have a nucleus of older guys, but this is the youngest rotation I’ve ever had with five freshmen,” he says. “My whole theme of getting old and staying old is being challenged.”
Notre Dame must embrace the process. “I told the team, ‘We’re going to be picked 11th,’” Brey says. “Some of our best teams here were projected to finish down in the conference and miss the NCAA Tournament. They’ll be thrown in there, but it’s kind of energizing.”
Postseason Prediction: One & Done
ACC Prediction: 9th