The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are coming off a strong season that included another trip to the Elite 8, where they eventually fell to the North Carolina Tar Heels, 88-74.
Despite the preseason praise for the program, 2015-16 season started off slow, with early losses to both the Monmouth Hawks and Alabama Crimson Tide. But, the Fighting Irish built momentum after a win against the Duke Blue Devils inside Cameron Indoor Arena, and three straight victories that included the Tar Heels, the Clemson Tigers, and the Louisville Cardinals.
This year, the Irish are without 2nd Team All-ACC guard Demetrius Jackson, now with the Boston Celtics, and big man Zach Auguste, who signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Lakers.
With that said, the ‘Golden Domers’ return an experienced roster with a variety of players who received valuable minutes last season.
The backcourt will be lead by senior captains Steve Vasturia and VJ Beachem, as well as junior Matt Ferrell who will assume the point guard role now with Jackson gone. Ferrell appeared in 28 games last season, with four starts in the NCAA tournament.
Look for sophomore guard Rex Pflueger to aid the Irish in perimeter shooting.
The front court will be lead by 6-5 forward Bonzie Colson, who has great quickness and toughness that more than make up for being an undersized forward.
With Auguste gone, the Irish will look for junior Martinas Geben to step up and take over the big man role. Geben has appeared in 38 games in his two years at Notre Dame. Another option at the forward position is sophomore forward Matt Ryan, who has the size to be a force inside while also possessing the ability to shoot the lights out.
The Irish bring in a promising recruiting class in Temple Gibbs, Jack Mooney, and Canadian native Nikola Diogo, who was a teammate of Thon Maker. Look for Gibbs to see court time right away this year at the point guard position.
The 2016-17 season will be anything but simple, and will include a conference schedule against ACC powerhouses that are poised for big years.
The Irish play five ACC teams that appear in the preseason Top 25 (#1 Duke; #6 North Carolina; #8 Virginia; #13 Louisville; #19 Syracuse).
However, before their ACC gauntlet, the Irish will play three non-conference games that will be great resume builders for the NCAA Tournament. If the Irish can manage to win two of these three key games, as well as steal some wins against their top ACC foes, the Irish should see themselves playing in March again.
November 21st: v. Colorado Buffaloes (Barclays Center)
Head coach Tad Boyle has built a strong program at Colorado in his six seasons of coaching the Buffalos, and will look to make another push to the NCAA Tournament after being knocked out in the first round to Connecticut.
The Buffalos will be without star forward Josh Scott (16.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg) who will go down as one of the best players in program history. The thin front court will be lead by Wesley Gordon, who many say can become a better player than Scott.
At the guard position is where Colorado will shine, as the Buffaloes have great depth and at times may go to a 4-guard lineup.
The Irish will need to take advantage of the front court and push the ball inside to Geben and Colson, as well as be prepared to hit their shots should the Buffalos throw a zone at them.
December 17th: v. Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue will look to bounce back from a heart breaking 85-83 loss in double over time to the Little Rock Trojans in the First Round of the NCAA tournament. The Boilermakers are without centre A.J. Hammons who was selected by the Dallas Mavericks, but still return a deep front court.
Isaac Haas is your new big man on campus who will try to pick up where Hammons left off. The 7-2 junior forward scored 9.8 points per game last season, and racked up 38 points in 47 minutes during the NCAA tournament. Purdue can also expect great production out of Vince Edwards (led team in 3 pointers) and Caleb Swanigan (8.3 RPG), both of returned to school after declaring for the NBA draft.
The Boilermakers added a key member to the point guard spot in Michigan Wolverines‘ transfer Spike Albrecht. Over his career with the Wolverines, Albrecht went 39.9 percent from 3-point range for. While Albrecht did not play many minutes last season due to injury, he will provide experience and leadership to the Boilermaker offence.
Notre Dame not very big up front, giving Purdue the edge. They will need Vasturia and Beachem to hit their perimeter shots in order for the offence to be productive.
December 10th: v. Villanova Wildcats
Before the Irish can take on Purdue, they must square off against the defending national champions. This year’s Villanova team will be without Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, but return three starters in Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, and Kris Jenkins, who nailed the game winning shot to declare the Wildcats as National Champions over the Tar Heels.
The Wildcats also return Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges and Darryl Reynolds, who all played vital roles last season. However, Villanova will be without former five-star recruit and freshman Omari Spellman, as he failed to complete his eligibility requirements to play this season.
Besides the five ranked ACC teams the Irish will play, this game will be their toughest non-conference.
– Ryan Scarfone