The start of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball play has officially begun. The Syracuse Orange and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are slated to begin conference play from the Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana at noon on Saturday.
To preview that matchup, we talked with our old friend Patrick Sullivan from One Foot Down. We even talked a little bit about football. See transcript below.
Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician: You guys still mad over that Syracuse field goal to break up the shutout?
Patrick Sullivan: It was so petty -- which I almost respect -- but I also just reeeeeeeally wanted a shutout in that one, so can’t say I loved it when it happened. Whatever, though...I’m trying not to think about the football team after Saturday’s debacle in Dallas.
I’ve moved on; I love Dino Babers too much to be angry about that.
TNIAAM: Okay, more seriously, how has the Notre Dame fan base moved on after that loss to Clemson last weekend?
PS: It helped that we got to see Georgia get stomped by Texas after they talked so much shit following ND’s loss to Clemson, but honestly it was a sobering, depressing feeling to root for a CFP team that’s clearly a rung below the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world.
I’ve moved on to basketball because even in down years like this one I find more joy in watching Mike Brey and his squad than Brian Kelly and his, but I’m sure a lot of Irish fans will be reeling for a while and questioning if the Irish will ever actually compete for a football title again.
TNIAAM: Moving along to basketball, Notre Dame lost a great deal from last year, can you take us through the roster overhaul?
PS: It’s been rough, especially considering the injury issues last year means it’s back-to-back down/NIT years for this team (most likely).
Bonzie Colson, ND’s All-American forward, graduated and is off playing in the G-League, taking with him 19.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Matt Farrell, the Irish’s all-ACC point guard, also graduated, taking his own 16.3 points and 5.5 assists per game. Martin Geben came on STRONG last year in Colson’s absence, and his graduation meant losing nearly another double-double average (11.1 points, 8.0 rebounds). That’s a ton to lose, especially if you’re an ND program that struggles to bring in talent that can produce immediately.
Add in the transfer mid-season of senior captain Elijah Burns, who was never a big producer but was a great hustle guy and a key leader, and then the ACL tear for Rex Pflueger in mid-December, and you’re talking about a roster that’s really lacking for a lot of veteran guys.
Juniors TJ Gibbs and John Mooney are key guys who have played a lot the past year or two, and the return of sophomore DJ Harvey after a bad knee injury last year is key in having someone else who’s at least played some significant college minutes, but otherwise the Irish are playing 3 freshmen (it was 4, but Robby Carmody is out for the year with a shoulder injury) and a transfer in Juwan Durham who had played very little at UConn prior to sitting out due to transfer last year.
TNIAAM: How has TJ Gibbs been able to step up this season for ND?
PS: Honestly, until recently, Gibbs actually hadn’t been playing well. He was scoring as a volume shooter, but struggling to pick up the slack of Farrell, Colson, etc. in commanding the offense, and seemed to be playing wildly on offense a lot of the time and not being his most efficient self.
Recently he’s begun taking better shots and playing more within himself, which has helped a lot, especially considering he’s now one of two healthy captains (along with Mooney, who was named a captain after Burns left).
TNIAAM: Losing Rex for the season with an ACL tear is a huge loss. How devastating was that?
PS: Pretty devastating. Pflueger was never an exceptional offensive player, but he usually made decent decisions and was a capable passer, and was beginning to play his best basketball in a while against UCLA and Purdue before he went down (10.5 ppg on 70% shooting, 7 apg, and 4.5 rpg against those two P5 opponents).
More importantly, though, he was ND’s best defender, capable of guarding just about anyone on the perimeter while also having the size and athleticism to handle longer guys slashing to the hoop and to help clean up on the boards.
Most importantly, Pflueger is a very vocal leader who’s been a key contributor since his freshman year, so even though he can still be a voice from the bench, in timeouts, and in the locker room, losing him on the floor to help direct young guys on what to do is a big loss. That, along with the gap he leaves on defense, will truly affect this team the rest of the way.
TNIAAM: Speaking of injury, what’s Nate Laszewski’s status?
PS: He has a bruised knee but should be good for Saturday, so hopefully he’ll at least be able to stretch out the Orange zone a bit with his shooting.
TNIAAM: Is it true ND is down to just 7 scholarship players? (2017-18 Syracuse can sympathize)
PS: Not quite -- they have 8, but were just at 7 on Tuesday against Virginia Tech due to Nik Djogo staying in South Bend with the flu.
With that said, 8 scholarship guys, with 4 of them getting their first meaningful college minutes this season, does not inspire confidence. It’s going to be a bumpy, up-and-down conference slate for the Irish with that lack of depth.
TNIAAM: What can we expect from this Notre Dame team against the 2-3 zone?
PS: I think they’ll struggle with it a lot, unless they’re able to really swing it around the perimeter and also happen to catch fire from three. This team has relied too much on the deep ball, especially guys who haven’t shot it particularly well (freshman starting guard Prentiss Hubb is the biggest offender there).
They play a pretty clean game with the ball, as most Brey teams do, but since they’re so young and Syracuse will be their traditional suffocating, long collection of zone defense, I expect the Irish to commit a lot of turnovers and probably put themselves in a hole early on.
I honestly don’t think this will go super well, but maybe guys who have played against Syracuse like Mooney and Gibbs can lead the way and potentially keep the Irish in it. It helps that ND does have a couple guys who can penetrate/attack the hoop/potentially make some plays to force the zone to collapse and maybe open up shooters -- Hubb, Gibbs, Harvey, and potentially even Dane Goodwin come to mind as guys capable of that to varying degrees.
Also, look for Juwan Durham to definitely frustrate Syracuse in the paint a bit -- he’s averaging a ridiculous 3.3 blocks per game right now, and it’d probably be higher if he could stay out of foul trouble.
TNIAAM: Over/Under on 3.5 Mooney threes?
PS: Not sure if you mean made or attempted, but either way I’m gonna say over -- John Mooney at home is gonna let it fly and knock down at least a few, especially against a defense that will limit his opportunities on the block.
TNIAAM: I’ll be in South Bend for this one. Any recommendations for a short weekend trip?
PS: I’d like to direct you to this wonderful summary of what to do in South Bend on football game day that our site manager Joshua Vowles published a few months back. Obviously the football-weekend-specific stuff won’t be relevant, but plenty of good info there otherwise.
My personal recommendations for ND/South Bend:
- Bars: The Linebacker (shitty, wonderful dive bar with a fantastic playlist - it doesn’t look like much, but it’s my favorite bar on earth), Corby’s, Finny’s, Cheers (another shitty dive, sometimes has live music)
- Restaurants: Expensive places like LaSalle Grille, Corndance Tavern, and Cafe Navarre that I’ve never been to; less expensive places like Fiddler’s Hearth (Irish place, usually has live music), Crooked Ewe and Evil Czech (breweries), JW Chen’s (Chinese), Bruno’s/Rocco’s/Barnaby’s (all pizza places), Cambodian Thai (Thai...), Yats (Cajun Creole), Nick’s Patio (late night diner)
- Sights: Everything you want to see is on campus --The Grotto (must-see, recommended at night), The Basilica (gorgeous church, highly recommend going inside), Admin Building (Golden Dome), Touchdown Jesus/Reflecting Pool, etc...just brave the cold and wander around, as the whole place is beautiful and very walkable since it isn’t a huge school
TNIAAM: Who wins, what’s the final score and why?
PS: Syracuse wins this one despite ND finding a way to keep it close for at least a significant portion of the contest (mostly due to being at home and maybe shooting a little better than they have recently).
However, the zone, along with Battle/Brissett just being too much to handle, give the Orange a comfortable 79-66 win in the end.
Be sure to head over to onefootdown.com to check out our Q&A as well.
What do you guys think? How important is it to start ACC with a win and how do you think Syracuse will play?