- Notre Dame received excellent news this off-season when it learned big man Bonzie Colson would return to South Bend for another season. Can the Fighting Irish create enough offense around Colson to deliver a long NCAA tournament run?
The college basketball off-season is long and largely lacking in major news developments. Programs are still finalizing their 2017 recruiting classes and sorting out which of their players will return for another season or jump to the professional ranks. We’ve got a long way to go until Midnight Madness. To help pass the time, SI.com is asking and answering three key questions about each of the teams in our Way-Too-Early Top 25. Here’s No. 12, Notre Dame.
1. Who can create offense?
The Irish finished with the 18th-ranked offense by adjusted efficiency last season, according to kenpom.com. Their weaknesses, however, were laid bare in their second-round loss to West Virginia in the NCAA tournament. The Irish had a ton of trouble creating offense in that game, with Bonzie Colson the only consistent weapon inside the arc. The Irish shot 10-for-28 from three-point land in the loss, and while that would have been good enough for some teams, it wasn’t a formula with which the Irish could win. They’re still going to be a heavy three-point shooting team, but they’ll need to find offense elsewhere if they’re going to be a greater threat in next year’s tournament. While Matt Farrell is the unquestioned starter at point guard, as well as one of the best players on the team, Temple Gibbs could help this effort with the uptick in minutes he should receive. Gibbs was no more than a role player last year, but he can excel at getting in the paint and making things happen for his teammates.
2. Can Notre Dame turn it around on the boards?
Notre Dame was one of the worst rebounding teams in the country last year. The Irish ranked 244th in defensive rebounding rate, and 238th in offensive rebounding rate. That’s going to happen when your center is 6’5” (Colson), and the tallest guy on your team, V.J. Beachem, is a stretch four. Under head coach Mike Brey, the Irish have always shot the ball well and posted low turnover rates, and that’s not going to change this season. Still, they need to be better on the glass, especially on the defensive end. Not only could they not get enough easy buckets last year, they surrendered too many, most notably after offensive rebounds. That’s a dangerous pairing for any team, let alone one that struggles to score when it’s not connecting from distance.
3. What will be Colson’s final act?
Colson is set to put a bow on a fantastic four-year career in South Bend. When he arrived on campus as a freshman, few likely expected him to turn into the player he has become. He averaged 5.6 points and 2.7 rebounds while playing 12.1 minutes per game that season. He improved those numbers to 11.1 points and 6.7 boards in 25.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. Last season, Colson scored 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game on a team that finished in second place in one of the best conferences in the history of college basketball. Colson is everything the Irish need him to be. He’s their best scorer, capable of putting the ball in the hoop from inside and outside. He’s their best rebounder, and one of the few players capable of keeping opponents off the offensive glass. He’s their floor general, an extension of Mike Brey on the court. The Irish came up one step short of the Final Four in Colson’s first two seasons in South Bend. He has one more shot to get them to college basketball’s promised land.