ACC Baskeball Preview: Notre Dame

2015-16 Notre Dame record: 24-12 (11-7 ACC)

The Irish are once again coming off an Elite 8 run in the NCAA Tournament but they’ll have to replace key leaders to reach those heights again, or possibly surpass them.

“I mean, we’ve lost four NBA players in the last two years, but we still have some experience back in [Steve] Vasturia and [V.J.] Beachem and [Benzie] Colson, Matt Farrell, Rex Pflueger, guys that were part of two Elite 8s and ACC championships, so you’ve got kind of a confident older group,” head coach Mike Brey said.

Second round NBA Draft pick Demetrius Jackson (15.8 points, 5.7 assists) and free agent signee Zach Auguste (14.0 points, 10.7 rebounds) were the top two leading scorers last season and their production will have to come elsewhere.

The aforementioned trio of double-digit scorers return and the production up front will have to come from Bonzie Colson. Last season, he averaged 11.1 points and 6.7 rebounds plus he was just behind Auguste for the team lead with a block per game. He brings loads of energy to the court and has the wingspan to disrupt on defense.

Vasturia averaged 11.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists while Beachem is the team’s leading returning scorer at 12.0 points per contest. The 6’8″ Beachem also led the team in outside shooting at a clip of 44.4 percent. His ability to stretch the defense will be crucial once again this season.

“Everybody’s given me the green light, especially Coach Brey,” Beachem said regarding his 3-point attempts. “He even gets on me when I turn them down now.”

Sophomore Matt Ryan (5.1 points, 1.7 rebounds) made the most of his limited playing time last season and will be called upon to play a bigger role this season.

Junior guard Matt Farrell was a key player in Notre Dame’s postseason run and he’ll run the backcourt this season. Highly touted freshman Temple “T.J.” Gibbs will be a player to watch as well. He’s got a mature body for his age and will not only provide valuable depth, he’ll play along with Farrell as well.

Junior Martin Geben will be the starting center and a critical piece in the Irish machine.

“He’s played behind Zach Auguste for two years, physical kid,” Brey said. “I think he can be a better post defender than Zach. He’s a very good off the ball screener to get Vasturia and Beachem open, which is going to be important this year.”

There will be a couple of new faces joining him up front with Elijah Burns, a 6’9″ freshman who redshirted due to injury last season, and 6’8″ John Mooney.

The non-conference slate is manageable but tough. 20-game winners from a year ago Colorado and Iowa both appear, plus #15 Purdue and defending national champion #4 Villanova.

Of the ranked ACC squads, only #13 Louisville appears twice so the Irish can maneuver through this thing with the typical effort that we all expect from a Mike Brey team.

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