Will Notre Dame and Mike Brey be able to put the talent together for another NCAA run?
A year ago at this time, the Fighting Irish basketball program was relishing an ACC Championship and an appearance in the Elite Eight, the furthest trip into the postseason under Mike Brey. Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant were off to the NBA, no question about it, and they were both selected in the draft.
This year, the Irish lose Zack Auguste to graduation, who blossomed into a reliable center and breakout NBA prospect, churning out double-doubles along the way. Demetrius Jackson will forego his senior season and enter the draft, and may be a lottery pick. Even VJ Beachem has submitted his name to the draft for evaluation coming off his outstanding tournament performance. The Irish will need a new batch of youngsters to step up and follow vets such as Steve Vasturia and Bonzie Colson.
The Irish, of course, will still have guys with bright futures ahead of them entering the starting lineup and getting heavy rotation, and these are guys you’ve heard of. Matt Ryan, Rex Pflueger, Matt Farrell, and hope among hopes, Martin Geben. Here are two guys that may be called upon in an effort to fill in for DJ, Beachem and Auguste if the Irish look to repeat their success next season.
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The incoming freshman and 64th best prospect in the nation according to Rivals was given a four-star rating by the recruiting service. He will likely begin the season behind Matt Farrell, and soak up the knowledge and winning attitude the Notre Dame basketball program has built like a sponge.
At 6’3”, 185 lbs as a high school senior, Gibbs is a tall point guard, and will look to fill out his frame once he gets into the swing of a college-level strength and conditioning program. Gibbs had offers from Georgetown, Miami, Oklahoma and Pitt, to name a few, but chose the Irish in the end. He played his high school ball at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey, where he averaged 20 points, four boards and 4 assists per game.
Though he hasn’t stepped on a college basketball court yet, Gibbs will have the opportunity to seize the type of role his predecessor – Demetrius Jackson – took on during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Irish fans hope to see the same flashes of brilliance early on from Gibbs that we saw from Jackson. Time will tell if the early expectations are too much.
Elijah Burns signed in the same class as some guys who got some serious play time and provided some production this year – Matt Ryan and Rex Pflueger. Burns injured his ankle and needed surgery in March of 2015. Not a whole lot is known regarding the surgery, but according to the official athletics website, Elijah is fully recovered. If so, Burns could be a good power forward next to Colson or a swingman if Beachem doesn’t return and Brey wants to go big.
Burns comes from Blair Academy in New Jersey, which also produced talents such a Luol Deng, Royal Ivey and Charlie Villanueva. He came to Notre Dame as a freshman physically ready to play the college game, at 6’8” and 220 lbs. His game tape from high school shows a great passer who is athletic and shoots the ball well. He averaged 14 points, nine boards and six assists in his senior campaign at Blair Academy, leading the team to the state championship.
The apparent combination of size and athleticism will lend itself well to a Notre Dame team that loses Zach Auguste, especially since our best returning big man is undersized on Colson. There is a spot on the floor for Burns in big and small lineups. Brey could go with Matt Ryan to stretch the floor, or Burns to slash up the defense.
Rex Pflueger and Matt Ryan
Speaking of Pflueger and Ryan, much of the success of next year’s edition of the Fighting Irish will come down to them building upon their contributions from their freshman seasons. Vasturia and Colson, and if he returns, Beachem, will be a good core and will be expected to shoulder the loud, but Pfluger, Ryan, Gibbs and Burns will be expected to do the little things that have led to big success for the Irish in the past two years.