NCAA Notes: Martinas Geben understands path to playing time

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

PHILADELPHIA – Each time the rotation went up for grabs this season, members of the Notre Dame men’s basketball team were counseled by their head coach to stay patient – their time would come back around.

Sophomore power forward Martinas Geben kept working and waiting and waiting and working for a call that never did come.

It wasn’t expected late Sunday when No. 6 seed Notre Dame faced top seed North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament East Region championship at Wells Fargo Center.

Working behind fellow power forwards Zach Auguste, Bonzie Colson and Austin Torres, Geben was the fourth man in a rotation that rarely stretched past two. Every scholarship player on the roster had a chance to play double-figure minutes in 2015-16.

Everyone but Geben.

After logging 194 minutes as a freshman, Geben played only 48 this season. He scored 22 points in 16 games. His next minute of action in the NCAA Tournament would be his first.

Frustration could fester if he let it, but he preferred to stay positive knowing that one day his chance – with this program – will come.

“It definitely gets frustrating at times,” Geben said. “You’ve got to stay up about yourself and everyone around you. It’s about the team and not about you.

“You want to play and participate and contribute, but at the end of the day, you also want the team to win. If they win, then you win, too.”

Tournament time can be tough to take for players on the outside of the rotation looking in. Between- and post-game media scrums in the locker room often come at the expense of those on the back end of the rotation. They’re squeezed from their lockers as reporters swarm to get something from the main guys.

But even in those instances, Geben found a way to have fun. He would occasionally jockey for position around a key teammate while using a protein bar as a prop microphone. Last year, it was a banana.

It was good for a few laughs.

“We don’t over-stress about things,” Geben said. “You have to remember that basketball needs to be fun for us to play well.”

Geben plans to play and play more in the future. As it was a year ago, this summer is key for him. Following his freshman year, he maintained his current playing weight - around 260 – on his 6-foot-10 frame, but turned much of what had been fat into muscle. Too mechanical as a freshman, he moves better these days. He has more bounce. He expects another jump in strength and court savvy this summer.

Maybe next year, fans will see more from Geben. What that is, well, remains to be seen. Geben has an idea of what he can do, but he’s not telling. Players often have to wait their turn in Mike Brey’s program, and Geben believes his turn is coming. Soon.

“There are always going to be critics who say our players aren’t going to be good enough, but people are going to be surprised,” Geben said of his game. “I feel like I can do some things in the future here.”

Name game

North Carolina’s starters and coach Roy Williams were answering media questions during Saturday’s group interview session when a reporter addressing Tar Heels guard Joel Berry and power forward Kennedy Meeks wondered about Irish power forward Zach Auguste as Zach “Ogoost.”

Williams cut off the questioner.

“Is his name Ogoost?” Williams said as the room erupted. “Because if it is, I’ve been mispronouncing the name for three years. Let’s go with Auguste.”

More laughter.

“Scare me to death,” Williams continued. “I’d rather you mispronounce it than me. He can get back at me; he can’t get back at you.”

Sunday was Auguste’s seventh career game against the Tar Heels. In the previous six, which included three Irish wins, he averaged 11.8 points and 8.3 rebounds with two double doubles.

Third time charm?

Sunday was the third time this season that Notre Dame and North Carolina met, something that happened only four previous times during Brey’s 16 seasons in South Bend.

Notre Dame and Pittsburgh played three games during the 2003-04 season with the Irish going 2-1. Connecticut was a three-peat opponent in 2007-08; the Irish were 1-2. In 2007-08, Notre Dame and Marquette met three times with the Irish 1-2. And last season, Notre Dame and Duke played thrice with the Irish winning twice.

Notre Dame and North Carolina split its two meetings prior to Sunday.

Tourney tidbits

• Prior to Sunday’s game, and since the start of the 2014-15 season, Brey was a combined 9-4 against the league’s four Hall of Fame coaches – Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Rick Pitino (Louisville) and Roy Williams (North Carolina). Brey was 0-2 against Boeheim, 4-1 against Krzyzewski, 2-0 against Pitino and 3-1 against Williams.

• Irish guard Demetrius Jackson and Tar Heels forwards Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks were McDonald’s All-American teammates in 2013.

• Auguste entered Sunday’s game with 1,269 points, tied with Ryan Hoover for 32nd in school history. His 819 career rebounds ranked 13th, four behind former teammate Pat Connaughton.

• Heading into Sunday’s regional championship, Notre Dame had won a school-record six NCAA Tournament games the last two years. The Irish won only five in Brey’s first 14 seasons in South Bend.

• The Atlantic Coast Conference placed four teams in the Elite Eight (and will have two teams in the Final Four) while going 16-3 overall heading into Sunday’s regional championships, which featured four ACC teams.

• Sunday was the same regional championship time slot (8:49 p.m. tip) that Notre Dame had last season against Kentucky. That Midwest Region championship in Cleveland was played on a Saturday.

• Sunday’s game determined the final team in next week’s Final Four in Houston, where it would be an All-ACC national semifinal between the Syracuse-Virginia winner against the North Carolina-Notre Dame winner.

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Notre Dame sophomore power forward Martinas Geben is the only scholarship player who hasn't really been given a chance at extended action this season.Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN