Three burning questions that Notre Dame must answer heading into the 2017-18 season

Bonzie Colson should be on the short list for National Player of the Year candidates heading into the 2017-18 season.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team is back on campus for summer school, and the 2017-18 season is slowly approaching.

On July 6th, the team held an open practice, giving everyone a first look at the 2017-2018 Irish. The media got a look at players like T.J. Gibbs, who is looking lean and fast, Canadian Nikola Djogo who showed great skill but lacked confidence, and Notre Dame’s new guys on campus who looked good in their own right.

Throughout the off-season, the Irish have a lot of work to do and have questions that must be answered either before the season opener or early on in the season if they want to reach the NCAA Tournament.

1. Who Will Help Bonzie Colson In The Front Court? 

There is no denying that while the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have one of the best power forwards/centres in the country in Bonzie Colson. Outside of him, their front court rotation is quite weak; not in the number of players, but in proven production.

Notre Dame does not have very many tested options at the forward position other than Colson, which raises concerns. Head Coach Mike Brey needs certain players to step up and help or else teams will push the ball down low to draw fouls or tire out Colson.

So who needs to step up?

While Notre Dame did pick up a front court transfer from the University of Connecticut in Juwan Durham, the Irish will be without his services for the upcoming year due to NCAA transfer rules.

Therefore Notre Dame will need at least one of four players to have a big year; Martinas GebenAustin Torres,John Mooney or Elijah Burns.

Out of the four that were just mentioned, Geben seems like the candidate to get the most playing time and who will step up. While he did not produce much offense last year, he served his purpose as a strong rebounder.

Geben will need to turn the 3.1 points he averaged last year and turn that into eight, nine or ten points per game to compliment Colson.

Austin Torres is entering his final year at Notre Dame as a 5th year player and, while his whole career has been underwhelming, he will be called upon more to use his big body to box out other giants.

John Mooney is coming into his sophomore season after playing in 12 games last season, where he scored a total of 14 points and came down with 19 total rebounds. I see Mooney getting more playing time and serving his role as a rebounder.

Finally, Notre Dame will need Elijah Burns to step up and do his part. Burns appeared in 11 games last season after redshirting the year before. Like Mooney, it is hard to say what Burns can do next season as he has not seen much action so far. If Burns finds his groove, I could see him passing Austin Torres in playing time.

2. What Can The Irish Get Out Of Freshman D.J. Harvey?

It is always hard to determine what a freshman will do in his first year at the college level. For some it may take a while to get used to the fast paced college game. But for D.J. Harvey, I don’t think the Irish will need to wait too long before the freshman makes an immediate impact.

From what I have seen from D.J. Harvey in high school and recent practice tape, I don’t see a redshirt in line for the 6 foot 5 hybrid. Listed as a guard/forward, Harvey possesses a smooth athleticism that was missing from the Irish. He not only shoots the ball well but he attacks the rim.

The freshman reminds me a lot of NBA superstar DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors, based on his shot and athleticism.

I foresee we will be see a lot of this in the next coming year.

The Irish lost two of their most productive offensive players in Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem, and with Matt Ryan out the door as well, the Irish need to fill these voids with players who can produce on offence like these players did.

Other than Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, and Matt Farrell, Notre Dame doesn’t have another guard with real game experience.

Getting Harvey early game experience and confidence at the college level can help ease the transition as the Irish will want to take full advantage of his natural athletic ability.

3. Who Will Be The Starting Five on Opening Night?

Replacing standout players like Vasturia and Beachem will not be an easy task. But lucky for the Irish, they have players with enough game experience and talent to step up.

It is safe to say that players like Colson, Farrell and Pflueger are locks for starting roles:

Bonzie Colson was a first team All-ACC in 2016, averaged a double-double and is considered to be one of the best forwards in the country. He’s a lock.

Matt Farrell came into his own last year and took control of the offence, averaging 14 points per game. He is what Jay Bilas called, the most improved player:

He is the type of player that when the ball is in his hands, you feel at ease because he makes good decisions, scores and makes everyone better. He’s a lock.

Finally, Rex Pflueger is the next guard on the roster who possesses the most games started at 11. Rex has always been a reliable player for the Irish and was the Notre Dame defensive player of the year in 2016. Whenever the Irish need a stop, Rex can be counted on to change the momentum with a defensive steal. He’s a lock.

So which two players will Mike Brey pencil into his starting five?

If it were my guess, it would be freshman D.J. Harvey and senior Martinas Geben

I believe D.J. Harvey possesses the skills and size necessary to start immediately. He stands 6 foot 5 inches tall with a 220 pound frame and could be considered a guard or a forward. He would fit perfectly in the spot between Rex Pflueger at shooting guard and Bonzie Colson at power forward.

I don’t see Mike Brey going to a four guard system (if you consider Harvey more of a guard) with the amount of forwards and the lack of guards they have. T.J. Gibbs will back up Matt Farrell and Canadian Nikola Djogo is inexperienced. Running more guards could drain the Irish squad.

With that said Martinas will get the nod as Mike Brey will want to give his team some height. Geben is the most tested forward other than Colson and should increase his offensive production with the experience he got from last year.

With the pressure that teams will put on Bonzie Colson, I could see Matt Farrell and Martinas Geben having fun with the infamous pick and roll.

-R. Scarfone