Notre Dame has its chip.
The edge Irish coach Mike Brey didn’t need is there for his players and staff to use throughout the summer during practices and on their Aug. 7-13 trip to the Bahamas.
Notre Dame was one of the last teams left out of NCAA tournament last March. Sure, Bonzie Colson came back after missing 15 games and a seven-game losing streak. But the Irish’s wins with Colson post-injury were two against bottom-dwellers Pitt and one upset over Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament before losing to Duke. The results weren’t deemed enough to get the Irish in the field.
Their NIT run ended with a double-overtime loss to Penn State in the second round.
Gone are Colson, Matt Farrell and Martinas Geben, leaving rising junior TJ Gibbs Jr. (15.3 points per game) and senior Rex Pflueger (eight points per game) as the top returning scorers and new leaders.
“Rex and Gibbs are our guys,’’ said Brey, who added that the NCAA move to four hours a week of offseason practice instead of two gives the Irish more than enough time in addition to the 10 a team gets prior to a foreign trip.
“We will have the continuity of leadership,’’ he said. “We rotate up into our senior year (at Notre Dame). I’ve been very impressed with them. They’re veteran guards. They’ve played a lot together. They will be our voice and set the tone for us.’’
That means the inexperience will be up front and the onus will be on 6-9 John Mooney. He was limited to 15.4 minutes a game last season. But he had his moments when Colson was out in scoring 16 in a win over Boston College and 18 in a loss to North Carolina. Count on 6-8 junior Elijah Burns as well, who only averaged 10.6 minutes a game and gave the Irish five points in 13 minutes in a win over Florida State while Colson was out.
“We’ve had that succession here where all of a sudden the light bulb goes on in their junior year,’’ Brey said. Juwan Durham, a 6-11 UConn transfer, will also be heavily involved up front after redshirting last season.
“There is a nucleus of veterans, but we will need to get our freshmen class ready,’’ said Brey of the signed commits guards Robby Carmody, Prentiss Hubb, Dane Goodwin, forward Nate Laszewski and Chris Doherty. “We will need three or four of them to be players for us (this season).’’Brey said he told his team that they will likely be picked to finish 11th or somewhere near there in the ACC.
“Five times in my tenure in the ACC or Big East we were picked ninth or 10th or 11th and jumped up and finished third or fourth and got an NCAA bid,’’ said Brey. “We’ve done this before. We’re off the radar. I keep bringing it up in practice. We’ve had a great atmosphere to develop.’’
The Irish will have the non-conference schedule to provide some pop. Notre Dame will play Oklahoma in the Jimmy V Classic in New York and then host UCLA in the same week in December. Notre Dame gets Purdue in the annual Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis and DePaul coming into South Bend, too.
“We have no buzz but we’ve got the chip on our shoulder that we missed the NCAA tournament,’’ Brey said. “We want to get back.’’