Notes: Notre Dame men may again shuffle starters

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune


He doesn’t have a jersey or a hometown or a high school listed on the Notre Dame men’s basketball roster. His updated numbers for points and rebounds and minutes played don’t appear on the statistics page. Nobody knows how tall he is, or even how good he is. Can he shoot? Defend? Rebound?

For the third straight game, he’s tentatively in the Notre Dame starting lineup heading into another Atlantic Coast Conference contest, this one at home Saturday against No. 14 Florida State.

There’s no secret to four of the five Irish starters. V.J. Beachem will hear his named called. So will Bonzie Colson. And Matt Farrell. As usual, Steve Vasturia will be the last one off the bench for introductions.

But who’s the fifth starter?


To be determined.

That was the case Sunday when Notre Dame visited North Carolina before senior power forward Austin Torres made the first start of his collegiate career. That again was the case Tuesday when Notre Dame snapped a four-game league losing streak as sophomore guard Rex Pflueger made his first start of the season.

And now? Is it Torres? Pflueger? Does junior power forward Martinas Geben step back into the first five? Or might coach Mike Brey tap freshman guard T.J. Gibbs for his first career start?

Decisions … decisions …

“It’s something to look at and talk about,” Brey said prior to Thursday’s practice. “Not sure who we start Saturday.”

Geben played well early in limited minutes the first time the teams met last month in Tallahassee. He finished with four points, two rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes. Gibbs was really good in helping fellow point guard Matt Farrell handle the Seminoles’ pressure. He scored 12 points on 4-of-5 from the floor in 25 minutes. If the Irish want to stay with the small ball that helped them go for a league-high 88 points earlier in the week against Wake Forest, Gibbs or Pflueger, who started Thursday’s practice in a white (starter’s) jersey, are the most logical starting choices.

“Either way, we’re going to play the same way we always play,” Gibbs said. “I know my role; Rex knows his role. We’re both going to be confident in ourselves.”

Colson’s challenge

Another tall test beckons Notre Dame power forward Bonzie Colson.

Working Tuesday as the lone Irish big man, the 6-foot-5 Colson was charged with checking Wake Forest’s John Collins, who stands 6-10. Colson scored a season-high 27 points, grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds and blocked a career-high five shots in the 88-81 win.

On Saturday, Florida State’s front line features Dwayne Bacon (6-7) Jonathan Isaac (6-10) and Michael Ojo (7-1). The Seminoles come off the bench with Phil Cofer (6-8) Jarquez Smith (6-9) and Chris Komadje (7-4).

That’s some serious size.

Colson’s mindset? Bring it on.

“Every big I play, I kind of take it personally and understand that you can’t let him out-work you,” he said. “You’ve just got to do it. You’ve got to bring everything.”

Colson leads the ACC in rebounding in league games (11.3) and overall (10.8). His 15 double doubles for points and rebounds also are tops in the conference.

Colson has had at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in four of the last six games. He scored nine points with eight rebounds in the first game against Florida State.

Hoppin’ house

Saturday is Notre Dame’s fourth home sellout this season, all in ACC play. There’s talk that tickets for Florida State are tougher to come by than the Jan. 30 home game against Duke.

“Florida State lights everybody’s fire,” Brey said.

This comes on the heels of Tuesday’s must-win home game against Wake Forest, where the crowd was announced at 8,851 (capacity is 9,149) despite several sections that had multiple rows of empty seats.

That wasn’t lost on Brey, who often wonders about the local love for a program that has advanced to the last two NCAA Tournament Elite Eights.

“I’m always disappointed when there’s empty seats because I think we have a great product here,” he said. “We need our fans to beat anybody in this league, especially here.”

Bottling the energy and keeping it for 40 minutes remains the proverbial work in progress. On Tuesday during almost every second-half trip down the defensive end of the floor – which is the basket in front of the student body – Brey was on the sideline furiously waving his hands to try and get everyone going.

It wiped him out.

“My son said, ‘You coached everybody in the building the other night,’” Brey said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get that energy up.”

Notre Dame’s home attendance average (8,064) ranks eighth in the 15-team ACC.

Weird repeats

Each season, the ACC designates four repeat opponents for each team. This year’s doubles for Notre Dame are Boston College, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Louisville.

Saturday is the second time in 24 days that the Irish and Seminoles meet. Notre Dame hosted Louisville in the second league game of the year in early January, while the trip to Yum! Center closes the regular season the first Saturday in March. The second date with Georgia Tech arrives later this month while Notre Dame has yet to even see Boston College.

Those teams then will play twice in a 15-day window.

“It’s unusual,” Brey said. “The rhythm of the schedule, in any league now, there’s no rhythm to it any more. We had some really weird rhythm in the Big East, too.”

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