Bonz is back.
It's been 57 days since news broke that forever altered the course of this college basketball season for Notre Dame. Around 5:30 that Tuesday evening in early January, on the eve of the program's second Atlantic Coast Conference game, Notre Dame announced that senior power forward Bonzie Colson would be sidelined with a broken bone in his left foot.Surgery was performed two days later before Colson embarked on an eight-week recovery/rehabilitation road. There were whispers at various points throughout the process that Colson might return ahead of schedule. That he'd be back scoring and rebounding like his usual aggressive and energetic self before the target date.
But the date — Feb. 28 — remained in stone. No sooner. Maybe later. Senior Night, when Notre Dame closes its regular-season home league schedule against Pittsburgh, would be the first time fans see No. 35 back in an Irish uniform.
And they will.
The Return... pic.twitter.com/nFtilBF5Ph— Bonzie Colson (@Bcolson_35) February 27, 2018
To what extent remains to be determined. Colson had two solid days of practice — Monday and Tuesday — according to coach Mike Brey. Colson will start. It will be up to him to determine how long he can go depending on how he feels. It won't be 30 minutes. It might be closer to 20. But he will play. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot.
"I'm feeling good," Colson said prior to Monday's practice, which saw him go all-out, five-on-five for the first time since scoring 22 points with 17 rebounds in the Dec. 30 win over Georgia Tech, the day after he felt something wrong in his foot during practice. "I'm trying to ease back into things slowly. Just trying to take it easy and still staying patient with it."
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Patience has been a critical part of the plan. But it's been rough to practice it, while not in practice. Watching Colson work as part cheerleader/coach/mentor/leader/teammate on the sideline during games, it was evident how much he missed being in the ACC battles with his boys. It was hard. It hurt. But even when he was cleared to resume all basketball activities last week, Colson needed only one day on the court to reach a quick conclusion — he was nowhere near game ready.
It's not easy to take eight weeks off from any running and jumping, then go and run and jump. The foot's fine, but what about the rest of that left leg? His Achilles' tendon? His calf? Knee? Quad? Hamstring? Nothing was worked as hard as Colson likely worked it the last two days.
"I feel like I'm getting there," said Colson, still the team leader for points (21.4) and rebounds (10.4).
One step closer... pic.twitter.com/kIkviL1TnQ— Bonzie Colson (@Bcolson_35) February 14, 2018
Whether or not he's all the way there — or even halfway — matters little to teammates. What does is that for the first time in a long time, he'll be one of them again. In uniform. On the court.
"He's been a warrior; I feel for him," said fellow senior Matt Farrell. "I'm so excited for him to get back on the court and play with us.
"Wednesday should be a real special night, whether or not he plays a lot."
The final eight minutes of Saturday's victory at Wake Forest was must-watch film as Notre Dame prepared for Pittsburgh.
Not necessarily because the Irish erased a nine-point deficit with under eight minutes remaining for the 76-71 win, but the way they did it ... with defense.
Notre Dame held Wake without a field goal over the final 8:08 minutes.
"We really dug in," Brey said. "You have your life flashing before your eyes, you really dig in and do it."
Notre Dame did it defensively Saturday with a mix of man and zone. Even though its 2/3 look often leaves a whole lot of holes, Brey said Monday there's no way that leaning on an eight-man rotation for the better part of the season (it will bounce back to nine with Colson's return) could allow the Irish to stay man-to-man for a full 40 minutes.
WINNERS— Mike Brey (@NDMikeBrey) February 18, 2018
Congrats to our 2017-18 senior class.
School record 98 wins... and counting! pic.twitter.com/DUx5kbEYzK
"We have to play some zone just to bide some time with who we are numbers of bodies-wise," Brey said. "It was nice to see us be able to get stops when we needed to.
"We haven't done that enough this year to win close games."
In the mix?
Notre Dame's chances of getting back to the NCAA tournament for a fourth-straight season have been relatively non-existent since a seven-straight league losses. The Irish were so far off the tournament radar that it was of little use wondering what they had to do to earn a bid.
Don't look now, but....
ESPN's latest tournament Bracketology has Notre Dame (17-12; 7-9 ACC) among the next four out — after the first four out.
"We had a celebration today; we had a next four (out) cake," Brey joked. "You love being No. (76). It's awesome. To be honest with you, after what we've been through, that and 55 degrees (on Monday) really picked me up."
So there's a chance that Selection Sunday just might matter say, if the Irish close the regular season with two more wins and do something next week -- nobody can really say exactly what — in the ACC tournament.
"We certainly have more work to do," said Brey, whose team has won four of six. "When you get to the 10-11-12 seeds, they all have a lot of warts.
"Guilty as charged. We do too."
The biggest wart might be Notre Dame's league record against teams that are above .500. The Irish are 1-8 against ACC teams with winning records with one game remaining -- Saturday at No. 1 Virginia. Notre Dame also will have one fewer win come the end of the regular season. The November victory over Division II Chaminade does not factor into tournament consideration.
ND legend happy for you brother https://t.co/F1OqQyrAnF— Pat Connaughton (@PlanetPat5) February 28, 2018
Brey said after the Feb. 17 win at Boston College that if he would look really hard, he could see the proverbial tournament bubble in the distance. That's not changed. Somewhat.
"I'm not squinting as hard as I was in Boston," he said, "but I'm still squinting."
Notre Dame enters Wednesday's game with a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 66, a strength of schedule (SOS) of 39 and a Basketball Power Index (BPI) of 32 according to ESPN.com. In comparison, Tuesday's last team in as listed by ESPN, projected No. 11 seed Texas is 17-13 overall and 7-10 in conference with an RPI of 52, an SOS of 3 and a BPI of 42.
This article is written by Tom Noie from South Bend Tribune, Ind. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.