Steve Vasturia to take over the point at Syracuse
Brian Plamondon | Wednesday, January 27, 2016
No. 25 Notre Dame has slid back into the national rankings just in time for their tilt at the Carrier Dome on Thursday when the Irish visit Syracuse.
Notre Dame (14-5, 5-2 ACC) is coming off four straight ACC victories and is now ranked for the first time since November.
“You know I’m really thinking … we may be the first program to petition to rescind the ranking,” Irish head coach Mike Brey joked Monday. “We don’t want it; we want to stay under the radar. Next week is football signing week, and come catch up with us in two weeks. No, it’s great … we’re at a good frame of mind. And we have a couple of days to work against the 2-3 zone.”
Although the 2-3 zone, which has become Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim’s trademark, will be different for the Irish compared to the usual man-to-man, Brey said it won’t change Notre Dame’s approach a whole lot.
“Same man-to-man principles when you’re attacking the zone,” Brey said. “Reversing the ball, certainly driving some gaps a little bit. Getting a low post touch against the zone.”
“It kind of forces teams to live or die by the [3-pointer],” senior forward Zach Auguste said. “But I think we have great movement, great spacing, and we should be able to expose the 2-3 if we’re passing and kicking it out.”
While the Irish have a plethora of shooters, they’ll be missing their star point guard in junior Demetrius Jackson. The Mishawaka native pulled his hamstring Saturday against Boston College, and Brey said his status beyond Thursday isn’t known yet.
“We want to avoid a re-injury,” Brey said. “That you’re 5-2 in the league you do have a bit of a cushion here. If you were 2-5 it would be a little different story, so you’re in a little different situation. I just want to make sure it’s right. He’ll be back, and when he’s back there will still be time to add to a résumé.”
Without Jackson, Brey said the Irish will employ a starting lineup featuring junior guard Steve Vasturia shifting to the point, freshman guard Rex Pflueger — set to make his first career start — and sophomore forward Bonzie Colson, who has seen a recent resurgence after losing his starting role and coming off the bench.
While the loss of Jackson will hurt, Notre Dame still has options from behind the arc. Vasturia is averaging 12.8 points per game and has connected on 38.6 percent of his 3-point field goals, while junior forward V.J. Beachem has averaged 11 points while connecting on 42.3 percent of his triples. Both are key cogs in an offense that leads the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics.
On the other end of the floor, however, the Orange (13-8, 3-5) also present a tough matchup.
Syracuse employs two veteran graduate students at guard in Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije. Cooney averages 13.7 points per game, while Gbinije leads the ACC in steals per game in addition to scoring 17.4 points and dishing out 4.1 assists per game.
“You’re dealing with two 23-year-old, fifth-year seniors,” Brey said. “These guys are men up top — and they really make them go. So it’s a great challenge for Rex and Steve to start the game to defend those guys.
“ … Cooney has destroyed us before up there. We’ve got to be more alert chasing him around, especially early.”
While defending Cooney and Gbinije and going against the 2-3 zone will be tough without Jackson, Brey said he’s confident in his team’s abilities.
“I think it’s daunting no matter what defense you’re playing when you lose a guy like [Jackson],” Brey said. “But again I think this group has kind of had reps playing without him. And that they had to play the whole game pretty much on Saturday [without him] … gives us a pretty good frame of mind heading up there.”
The Irish travel to Syracuse, New York, without their top player Thursday to face the Orange at the Carrier Dome. Tip is set for 7 p.m.