Notre Dame Basketball: No Jackson, No Auguste, No problem

Notre Dame basketball uses their diverse offense to beat Colorado in the Legends Classic.

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The thought coming into the 2016-17 season was that Notre Dame was going to drop off a bit in the ACC because of the losses of Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. Jackson was their star point guard and the team’s leading scorer in 2015-16, while Auguste was their lone true “big man” and averaged a double-double.

But on Monday at the Barclays Center, Notre Dame proved they are here to stay. The Irish knocked off the Colorado Buffaloes in the semifinals of the Legends Classic, 89-83, and will play the winner of Texas and Northwestern in Tuesday night’s final.

Notre Dame surely misses Jackson’s athleticism and Auguste’s size, but even without these two stars, the Irish are elite on the offensive end and Mike Brey is one of the best head coaches in the ACC.

On Monday night, Notre Dame had an offensive explosion against Colorado’s lacking defense. Bonzie Colson (22 points and 13 rebounds), Matt Farrell (20 points), V.J. Beachem (17 points and nine rebounds) and Steve Vasturia (17 points) combined for 66 of 89 Irish points.

As a team, the Irish shot 42 percent from the field, 35 percent from three and a stellar 93 percent from the free throw strike (27-of-29). They also had just eight turnovers and 11 assists on 28 field goals.

The Irish took their foot off the gas in the second half (they let Colorado crawl back into the game late), but in the first frame it was all Brey’s team. They dropped 50 points in the first 20 minutes and shot over 50 percent or higher from both the field overall and the three point line. They also had seven assists on 13 field goals.

But it isn’t just the points they score and the quartet of talented scorers they have. It’s also about the sets they run and the diversity of their attack. Notre Dame can shoot from beyond the arc (Beachem and Vasturia are sharp shooters), they can attack the basket (Farrell was impressive in this phase on Monday) and they can play in transition.

And don’t forget about the splash plays. They can make those too.

They also still love high pick-and-roll sets in the half court, which is the main staple of Brey’s scheme. However, they showed an ability to throw the ball into the post and let Colson operate. That may prove to be more difficult against taller teams with more talented bigs, but it’s another phase of an offense that is expected to be potent.

Colorado is a team that I predicted to be a sleeper in the Pac-12. While they have some talent in Johnson (23 points on 8-of-15 shooting), George King and Derrick White, they still seem to be adjusting on the interior without Josh Scott and don’t have a true point guard.

The difference in Notre Dame’s point guard play and Colorado’s was evident on Monday night. Farrell was distributing effectively to his teammates and helping the Irish get easy shots around the rim, while Colorado had a host of ball handlers who brought the ball up and couldn’t attack their man off the bounce.

Colorado is deep though, with Bryce Peters and Lucas Siewart, in particular, helping off the pine. This should help Tad Boyle’s team be competitive in the ‘Conference of Champions’ (as Bill Walton likes to call it) and clinch a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Colorado is a dangerous team, and Notre Dame threatened to run them out of Brooklyn. The ACC is just too darn good.

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