Senior trio hoping to take Fighting Irish to Final Four
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Mike Brey believes his 2017-18 team can go where only one Notre Dame men’s basketball team has ever gone before.
“We’re driven by our senior class to play in a Final Four,” said Brey, whose 18th Notre Dame team begins its regular season Nov. 11 against DePaul at Chicago’s new Wintrust Arena.
Seniors Bonzie Colson, Martinas Geben and Matt Farrell were teammates on 2015 and 2016 Irish teams that came up one victory short (against Kentucky and North Carolina, respectively) of the national semifinals, which Notre Dame last reached under Digger Phelps in 1978.
As they prepare for their fifth ACC season, the Irish were picked by the media to finish third behind Duke and North Carolina.
The 6-foot-6, 224-pound Colson, a first-team all-ACC selection last season after averaging 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds, is the preseason pick to be the league’s Player of the Year. He’d like to end the season in San Antonio for a shot at the national title.
“Making that next step is something we have within us as a team,” said the long-armed Colson, who had 19 double-doubles and 20 10-rebound performances last season. “I think the sky’s the limit.”
So does the 6-foot-1 Farrell, who started all 36 games last season for Notre Dame’s 26-10 team that went 12-6 in ACC play.
“It’s not fun getting close and not getting there,” said Farrell, who averaged 14.1 points, hit 42 percent of his 3-point shots and had 51 steals. “Me, Bonzie and Marty have one more year to get it. It’s there.”
Last season, the 6-foot-10, 252-pound Geben, a native of Lithuania, averaged 3.1 points and 3.4 rebounds. Over the summer, he helped his nation win gold at the World University Games in Taiwan. He averaged 10.8 points and 6.9 rebounds, shot 53 percent from the field and had 14 assists and nine blocks as the team went 7-1, finishing with an 85-74 victory over Purdue.
“I told my staff after he got back (that) his confidence has never been higher, and darn if I’m going to do anything to screw that up right now,” Brey said.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
The Irish have reached the ACC tournament championship game twice in four years, winning 90-82 against North Carolina in 2015 and falling short 75-69 against Duke last season.
“If Bonzie doesn’t twist that ankle (against Duke) maybe we have two trophies in our first four years,” Brey said, “and we probably would have been kicked out of the league.”
D.J. Harvey, a 6-6 ½ prep All-America guard/forward, is the latest graduate of DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Maryland, to make his way west to Notre Dame. Brey and assistant Rod Balanis played for legendary DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten. Over the years, the Stags have sent Bob Whitmore (1966-69), Sid Catlett (1968-71), Adrian Dantley (1973-76) and Jerian Grant (2011-15) to Notre Dame.
Notre Dame led the nation in free-throwing shooting last season at 80 percent. Despite losing Steve Vasturia (91 percent) and V.J. Beachem (83.6), Brey has seen improvement in the preseason and believes the Irish will be close to the top again with the return of Colson (78.3), Farrell (79.4), T.J. Gibbs (83.1) and Geben (76.7). Plus, Notre Dame had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.66, second to UCLA’s 1.91.
Beginning his 18th season at Notre Dame, Brey’s 382 victories rank second all-time on Notre Dame’s coaching list to the 393 for Phelps from 1971-91. Phelps, a former analyst for ESPN, maintains his home not far from the Notre Dame campus and regularly visits practices.
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