Thursday, November 9, 2017

Notre Dame expected once more to be among the elite in the ACC

By: Jon Opiela
Twitter: @jonopiela24

A disappointing loss to West Virginia in the 2017 NCAA Tournament second round left Notre Dame with a sour taste throughout the offseason. After two consecutive trips to the Elite Eight, the Irish are looking to bounce back after a second round upset this season.

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey is 12 wins away from becoming the winningest basketball coach in school history. With 82 wins since the beginning of the 2014-2015 season, the No. 14 Notre Dame Fighting Irish are coming off of their best three-year stretch in school history. 

Projected to finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, Notre Dame is looking for their fourth straight top 4 seed in the ACC Tournament. In a league stacked with powers like Duke and North Carolina, the Irish are currently the only team in the ACC with three straight top 4 seedings. 

The Irish lost starters V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia after graduation following last season. Matt Ryan also left Notre Dame and transferred to Vanderbilt and lost Patrick Mazza, a graduate student walk on who only appeared in four games last season.

Notre Dame returns three starters from last season to the hardwood this year and expects to be among the elite again in the ACC with Matt Farrell, Temple Gibbs, and Rex Pfluger in the backcourt with Bonzie Colson and Martinas Geben in the front court.

Colson is the only player out of the 15 selected to first, second, or third-team All-American by the Assosciated Press last season that is returning to college basketball this year. Colson was the only player in the ACC to finish the year averaging a double-double (17.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg).

Freshman D.J. Harvey will be an interesting player to watch off the Notre Dame bench. Under Mike Brey, freshmen do not typically get a plethora of minutes. Harvey was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and is one the most highly touted Irish recruits in a long time. With the ability to score in a variety of ways, Harvey could find the floor if one of the starting guards falters during non-conference play.

Notre Dame will open the regular season on the road against DePaul at the new Wintrust Arena and heads to the Maui Invitational in Hawaii during Thanksgiving week. Notre Dame will travel to East Lansing to take on Tom Izzo and the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans in the Big Ten—ACC Challenge.

No team in the nation has been better over the past three seasons than Notre Dame in regards to assist-to-turnover ratio and free throw shooting.  The Irish have also exceeded at staying out of foul trouble, which has limited free throws allowed late in games.  If the Irish can continue to dominate the ACC, expect another run into late March.