Notre Dame basketball made a huge jump in the ACC standing after knocking off the conference’s best, Florida State, 84-72.
Since the Fighting Irish decided they were going to switch from a tradition lineup to a small man set, they’ve found more success than they have all season. With their win over Florida State, a team they desperately needed to beat, Notre Dame proved that if they’re going to win they need to do it through their guards.
The Irish haven’t decided on a rotation yet. In their first game, they started Austin Torres in hopes of providing a reliable middle man between the front and backcourt. Then, Rex Pflueger got the job, and the Irish snapped a four-game losing streak. Finally, Temple Gibbs locked up the starting spot against FSU, and the Irish pulled off their second top 25 victory of the season.
What the Irish and Mike Brey have realized is that they aren’t built like an ordinary team. Their best player is a postman who’s 6’5. But when Bonzie Colson can take on the best big men in the country and win, there’s nothing you can do but let him be your star board grabber.
This team doesn’t have a real superstar. No one on this team can win a game single-handedly. So, the alternative is to play through the strongest part of your team, which in this case is your guards.
Gibbs was already averaging over a minute more a game than Martinas Geben, and Pflueger was a full six minutes. What the Irish were using this forward for was to start with a big presence and then adapt to the small ball game. Now, they just need to rotate these two players between each other and keep the hot hand going throughout the game.
Notre Dame has four players averaging over ten points per game. All besides Colson are their starting backcourt. With Gibbs and Pflueger getting the go from tip-off, the Irish only need to focus on playing their game and not having to worry about the liability of an unreliable presence down low.
Colson can handle the paint. He’s slowed some of the top forwards in the NCAA this season, and over the last two games he hasn’t done anything but improve. Now that Notre Dame spreads the floor, Colson is able to play his style of offense by bringing defenders outside and beating them to the bucket.
On defense, Notre Dame is getting better in the post. In their first game against Florida State, Notre Dame gave up a combined 39 points to the Seminole’s big men. In their second meeting, FSU forwards combined for 12 points.
This team is finally built the way they should be. There’s no need to keep guys on the court that aren’t producing. By playing small, Notre Dame can run their style of game and feel confident doing so.
With five games left on their schedule, Notre Dame has a serious shot at a regular season ACC title. Keeping their new found confidence, their chances are high.