Irish Basketball Opens Season With a Win Over DePaul

In what was I’m pretty sure the only hotly anticipated Fighting Irish matchup on Saturday, the hoops team secured a big road win over DePaul to start the 2017-18 season on the right foot.

Game Summary

The first half started out slowly as the Irish dealt with an excited crowd at the first ever game at the Winstrust Arena in downtown Chicago. The defense, which Mike Brey has consistently hyped as an improved aspect of this year’s team, was able to feed off of this energy, forcing the amped up Blue Demons into mostly difficult looks. However, the offense opened up with some out-of-character sloppiness. A number of careless turnovers from Matt Farrell and Rex Pflueger combined with some stagnant possessions to keep it close throughout the first.

Bonzie Colson, coming fresh off a preseason ACC Player of the Year recognition, carried the Irish offense through the period with 9 points and 6 rebounds. DePaul double-teamed Bonzie pretty much any time he received the ball within 15 feet of the hoop. Bonzie passed out to an open teammate a few times, but he mostly went right at the double teams, creating just enough room to get off his signature off-balance shots.

Despite this strong play from the Irish’s best player, the three ball would not fall early, extending what was a cold-shooting preseason for many of the Irish guards. Solid play on the defensive end was largely responsible for the modest 4-point lead the Irish carried into halftime.

The game’s turning point took place early in the second half. DePaul’s Devin Gage swatted a Colson three-point attempt, leading his teammate Max Strus on a 2-on-0 breakaway with a chance to take the lead. Trying to blow the roof off the Wintrust Arena, Gage lobbed it up for a Strus alley-oop, but Strus back-rimmed the wide-open attempt. TJ Gibbs answered with a 3 on the next possession before Strus missed yet another alley-oop attempt on a DePaul baseline inbound. A Matt Farrell 3 extended the lead to 7, and DePaul had missed their best chance for some much-needed momentum.

From that point on, the Irish offense kicked into gear for the first time this season, and it was beautiful. The Irish connected on an absurd 8 consecutive three-point attempts in the second half, many of which were wide open due to the ball movement that the Irish thrive on. The headliner was TJ Gibbs, whose slimmed-down frame showed immediate results. The sophomore looked supremely confident shooting from deep and driving to the hole as he put up a career high 21 points.

The Blue Demons were never able to cut the Irish lead to single digits in the last 8 minutes, as the Irish were able to hang on comfortably for a nice win to kick off the season.



Individual Performances

As I stated earlier, TJ Gibbs was the most impressive Irish player in this one. When everyone else was struggling with their stroke early on, Gibbs was the only one knocking down open looks. This is especially reassuring after Gibbs suffered a long stretch of cold shooting to end last season. When DePaul started closing out on him at the three-point line, he started attacking the rim. On drives, Gibbs flashed everything you wanted to see – nice lay-ups, a couple of trips to the line, and some nice vision to get teammates easy looks. If TJ can maintain this level of performance, the Irish can sport an extremely dangerous two-point guard lineup that harkens back to the 2013-14 pairing of Demetrius Jackson and Jerian Grant.

Bonzie Colson had a very nice stat line to begin his season, with 18 points, 13 boards, and 5 assists. However, Bonzie was not at his absolute best on the offensive side of this one. After he successfully attacked the DePaul double team a few times, I feel that he fell a bit too much in love with his fadeaway jumper, putting up some very tough looks instead of cycling the ball back around. That being said, he was able to draw contact and get to the line on many of these attempts, and Bonzie is talented enough where I’m never going to complain too much about him being overaggressive. He also pulled down some big rebounds, which is something the Irish always need from him against athletic opposition.

Matt Farrell got off to a very slow start in the first half , as he didn’t look for his own shot very much and committed some odd turnovers. He completely turned it around in the second half, punishing DePaul for slipping under high screens by walking into some wide-open threes. I’m not sure if the numbers bear this out, but Farrell feels especially lethal when he dribbles into threes at the top of the key. It was a very solid performance from the Irish PG.

Martinas Geben was hugely helpful on the defensive side of the ball. He made life very tough for the DePaul bigs, really giving the Irish everything they want from him early on. He was a bit hesitant offensively around the rim at times, and he committed a few dumb fouls, but I came away from this one encouraged with Geben’s level of play.

The lone individual sore spot for the Irish was Rex Pflueger. Apart from some of his usual hard-nosed takeaways on defense and a career-high 9 rebounds, this wasn’t Rex’s night. He had a few missed shots and turnovers early on; after that, he seemed to lose confidence and handled the ball with uncertainty. Tonight was likely just an off-night, but it remains to be seen whether Rex can thrive in an expanded offensive role this year.

DJ Harvey was the big positive off the bench in his Irish debut. Harvey’s jumper looked very nice, going 3-4 from the field, and he seemed to have a very good sense of when to look to create his own shot within the flow of the offense. He impressed Brey so much that he replaced Geben with the starters for the stretch run of the game. A few of us kicked around that idea for Brey’s ultimate closing lineup, but I found it surprising that Brey was willing to ride with the freshman in his first career game.

Elijah Burns was the first man in off the bench, as expected, but he did not end up playing much. He only played 5 minutes, as Brey opted to use John Mooney as the bench big in the second half. Neither Burns nor Mooney did anything especially notable, with Mooney’s made three-pointer being the only real highlight. Nikola Djogo got a DNP, and it looks like he’ll have to impress against some of the cupcakes to work his way into the rotation.

Other Observations

DePaul’s new arena looked really nice, although this was a pretty tough matchup for them on its opening night. Tre’Darius McCallum was very impressive for the Blue Demons, scoring 14 points on 6-9 shooting, with 2-4 from deep. On the negative side, big man Marin Maric was completely shut down, going a horrific 1-8 from the field. Props to Geben on his work there. In addition to his pair of missed dunks, Max Strus had absolutely no conscience about shooting from deep, making only 3 of his 12 three-point attempts in a subpar performances.

I was a big fan of the alternate away jerseys the Irish broke out for this one. The gold lettering on the blue looked very classic and clean, and I found it to be a nice tweak to the usual white accents. The Main Building-inspired design on the shorts was also a neat touch.

The Irish have a quick turnaround as they travel home to take on Mount St. Mary’s on Monday. The Notre Dame women’s hoops team knocked off Mount St. Mary’s by 56 on Saturday, so a comparable performance from the men would be nice.


By |2018-05-09T22:25:47+00:00November 12th, 2017|18S Reads, Basketball|14 Comments

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kevreyalsteinJoe SchuellerUnderthrown ShoelaceKG Recent comment authors
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Excellent review! It was nice to read something positive about the Irish today!


Rex has to learn how to move without the ball. He’s unlikely to ever be as good as Vasturia at dribble driving, so if he wants to be more than just that shutdown defender, movement without the ball has to improve. He’s so athletic, and last year he showed he can spot up in a catch and shoot role. With both Farrell and Gibbs (and maybe even Harvey) as guys who can get themselves to the paint, Rex doesn’t have to have the ball in his hands to be an effective offensive weapon.

Speaking of Harvey, he really did look solid. Only 4 shots, but after the first minute or two, he didn’t look hesitant at all. I’m excited to see what he does all year.

This game from Gibbs is what I was hoping he could become by about 2/3 of the way through the season. I know it’s just DePaul, but I never would have predicted that Gibbs would put together a game where he showcased the D, the shooting, the finishing in the paint, and the lack of turnovers before we rolled into the New Year. That was my dream game from Gibbs; good for him for working his tail off this offseason.


Meh who cares about football anyway. We’re a basketball school! (Nice review)

Underthrown Shoelace
Underthrown Shoelace

I was a little concerned by this performance. If we don’t get white-hot from 3 in the 2nd half (granted a decent amount were open looks), this thing is a dogfight. Absolutely missed Vasturia’s midrange game and driving ability, maybe even Beachem’s rare highlight drive and dunks. Gibbs was a nice exception to that, and I hope Farrell, Rex and Harvey can get in on the action.

I do hope Bonzie doesn’t suffer the Harangody disease, in trying to expand his range, impress the NBA scouts and lose his hard-nosed inside edge. I don’t see it happening, but there were some fadeaways and 3s sprinkled in, more than I would have liked.

I think the non-conference will be a success if we go 4-1 in our “real games” (maybe including DePaul is generous, but hey it was on the road). I see this most likely being beating Michigan and Wichita State in Maui, losing to Michigan State and beating Indiana. Taking 1 of 2 from Wichita and Michigan State is the trickiest part, but that’s what we need to do to have a legit top 10 OOC win.

Joe Schueller

I shared the Harangody concern, but Bonz now has shown in both exhibition and this game that he still has a lot of Junkyard Bonz in him, and I loved his leadership and how he talked to guys. He was the first guy to TJ after his big 3. I like where he’s at.

I share your desire to have some great non-conf wins to bolster the seeding resume, however, I’m not going to freak out if they end up losing 3 of those 4. The league is going to be tough and the goal should be another double-bye. Get that, and everything else will work out.


Bonzie was also really unselfish (and good!) passing the ball, which definitely mitigates the Harangody concern for me. He’s clearly going to do whatever he can to help the team win.


I agree a little bit with the 3pt reliance, but my goodness just about all of those shots were wide open off great off-the-ball movement and penetration from Gibbs and Farrell. DePaul was selling out packing the paint to stop those two guys and to double Bonzie whenever he got the ball, so there wasn’t much room inside but we made them pay from outside like we should have. If opposing defenses need to sell out to stop us inside like that (and I’m gonna guess Harvey will show that he can get to the rim as well), we’re gonna have a ton of open looks all year, and I’ll take that.

I think the biggest concern is Rex being so worthless on offense still. He’s going to play 35+ minutes every game, and he simply has to find a way to make himself more useful in the flow of this offense, otherwise that really handicaps our offensive potential.

Joe Schueller

I had the opportunity to watch the game again yesterday, and it was good to observe some things without the emotional weight of wondering if they’d win or lose. As was noted, the defense really seemed to carry the cause early, and it is good to know that the Grant/Connaughton era seems to have cured us of that awful time where a few missed shots led to a defensive drop-off. This group seems to understand that’s when you turn it up on the defensive end of the floor. Rex was the perfect embodiment of that. I thought he moved his feet perfectly on that end. Between his movement and Bonzie’s rebounding, that was an outstanding defensive effort. Granted, it wasn’t against an offensive juggernaut, but for a first game, it is very positive reinforcement of a very useful trait. That run of play in the second half where we essentially went 3.0ppp after they missed the alley-oop was incredible. Pick your favorite superlative. Simply amazing. That’s the potential of this squad, and it will break teams back when it happens. They don’t need it to happen often or even every night, but runs like that let you take control, and that’s exactly what they did. It is easy to focus on TJ, and he deserves the attention, but you have to love what Harvey is doing out there. Took him about two trips and his first made shot to get comfortable. Brey will play him because of the offensive threat DJ represents, but the bonus is that he seems pretty decent defensively. His on-ball technique isn’t great yet, but he moves well and he attacks the defensive glass with a lot of athleticism. I like Harvey as both the small-ball 4 and as the 3 in bigger line-ups. Brey has to be salivating to see Harvey hold up against middle of the road big-conference competition. I don’t think DePaul is going to be challenging for the top of the BE, but they won’t be BC level bad either. This was like beating Wake in our league. More than Brey would every typically bite off in an opener, but helpful to see what we can do against bottom-half big conference competition. Statistically, the story is about what you’d expect. We were 1.115ppp on 59%eFG. We gave up 0.898ppp on 38% eFG shooting. That’ll win you a game every time. The concern in the numbers were the turnover rate – 14% for us and only 6% for them. Some of that was nerves and some opening night pressing. We’ve got to get that down under 10% before we see better offensive teams. DePaul is offensively challenged enough that we could spot them possessions. That won’t be true later. The rebounding rate numbers are pretty typical for us. We pulled down 19% of our misses, and they got 24% of theirs. That’s life vs. athletic teams in a small-ball line-up. Winning the FTR battle 30% to 25% shows that we’re being rewarded for… Read more »

Joe Schueller

I have no clue why I can’t get the paragraph breaks to work on that comment. Sorry for the wall of txt.


Man, you hit on so many good points in the comments on an already solid recap. I think Brey handled the Burns/Mooney/Harvey rotation perfectly. Go first to the guy who has been the best in practices, Burns. When the team’s offense is struggling, go to the more offensive focused player, Mooney (who quickly shot 2 threes and hit 1). When it becomes clear that Harvey is playing the best of the 3, stick with him.

The turnovers included a bunch of unforced errors. Farrell won’t play like that too often (usually his turnovers are due to trying to make one too many passes to a teammate or being over-aggressive while driving, not just carelessness). I’m not worried about him. Rex was the guy who was too loose with the ball that concerned me.

I think DePaul got about 1/3 of their offensive boards during that 3 minute stretch where we went to the 3-2 Zone. That was brutal. There are definitely some lineup combinations that would be great for a zone defense (i.e. Matt/TJ/Harvey/Bonz/Geben), but if they can’t get rebounds, it’s pointless.


Joe, FWIW IMO BC wins more games than DePaul this season. DePaul looks to be a year away. IMO it will likely be a battle between DePaul and Georgetown to stay out of the BE cellar. Once Strus calms down he will score a lot (could see him approaching 100 treys for the season). Rex did a great job on him. One of his two treys came off a double screen on Rex.

I read a lot about Vasturia and his drives, well we tend to forget he had several sent back. Rex does not seem comfortable driving from the top like Steve did (and for the most part Steve was a master of using his body to protect the ball or by going into the defender to prevent the block). From the baseline, Rex is a bit more comfortable but his finishing needs work. What did not help Rex or Farrell was the pack line Virginia was running. Farrell does not have the size to drive on that type of defense and Rex lacks the confidence Vasturia had and DJ/TJ have. Hopefully 3 (in theory) easy games will help Rex on the confidence part.

Harvey looks to be a man out there- my biggest concern for him is adapting to a college schedule. I believe ND will have 6 games in 11 days. Even with the cupcake games, Brey really needs to manage his minutes to have him fresh for the ACC.

Joe Schueller

You might be right, but I’m not sure. KenPom ratings have DePaul at 124 and BC at 91. KP is projecting 5 conference wins for BC and 4 for DePaul. For the purposes of a team with ND’s kind of expectations this season, they’re roughly equivalent.

Steve had a lot sent back. He wasn’t a guy that was going to elevate to finish in traffic. He was very reliant on reverses and using his body to create space. Rex has always been a top 1% athlete, so he didn’t develop Steve’s craftiness around the rim. I kind of wish Rex would just make up his mind to elevate and dunk on people. He might not get many to fall, but he’ll make a living on the line, especially if he can hit enough jumpers to keep people honest on closeouts. My biggest concern with Rex is the contrived nature of his pull-up game. He seems to make up his mind before he takes his first dribble.

After seeing the development of Gibbs and potential of Harvey, my guess is that Rex is already down to the 5th scoring option on this team. His contribution needs to continue to be great defense and non-negative offense.