by Kevin O'Neill
If Notre Dame is going to do any damage in either of their postseason tournaments, it will need contributions from the two freshmen on the team – Zach Auguste and Cameron Biedscheid. Not both at once. Not with any consistency. But there will be games that can swing because of one guy making a great contribution over 5-10 minutes. Bonus points. Bonus rebounds.
Auguste has provided a pair of examples lately – 15 points in 21 minutes against Marquette and 9 rebounds in 12 minutes against Cincinnati. Those were glimpses of how good he can be as his career progresses. Another glimpse during March can swing a game in Notre Dame’s favor.
Auguste, as you might recall, didn’t play much early in the season thanks to a pair of ankle injuries that kept him out of preseason practices. He has built his playing time over the course of the season and now has a regular spot in the playing rotation. He has averaged 17.4 minutes over his last five games. He challenges shots, hits the boards hard on both ends of the floor, and runs like no ND big man has since Ryan Humphrey. If he’d stop dribbling in traffic, I’d be completely relaxed when he’s on the floor.
Auguste’s offense remains a work in progress. Screens still leave something to be desired. Post moves can be a bit mechanical. He is, however, starting to fit with his teammates as he has begun to execute his assignments without thinking too much about them.
“I think he’s gotten easier to play with on the offensive end,” Head Coach Mike Brey said after the Cincinnati game. “Both he and Cam… They understand after 4 months, 25 games, this is how I play off these veteran guys; and they’re enjoying it, and they’re getting results.”
The results are inconsistent, but the contributions matter when they happen. Auguste’s team leading rebound tally vs. Cincinnati helped the Irish dominate what was, at the time, the Big East leader in rebounding margin 43-27; and his 12 second half points and a pair of assists were instrumental in the Irish making a game of it vs. Marquette after falling behind by 15 in the first half.
The next two games were more typical of the freshman’s numbers – 3 points and 5 rebounds in 12 minutes vs. St. John’s and 2 points and 4 rebounds in 17 minutes at Louisville. The Irish can put those contributions to good use in the postseason, but an outburst resembling the Cincinnati game or the Marquette game matters a lot in a single elimination format.
Getting Cameron off the (Bied)schneid
Like his classmate, Cam Biedscheid has given Irish fans a taste of how good he can be. Unlike his classmate, it has been a while since his last outburst… unless you count the fight in the St. John’s game.
Biedscheid excelled in the 5 overtime game against Louisville a month ago – 14 points including a key three point basket to force the second overtime. However, Biedscheid has averaged only 2.4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 13.8 minutes in the last five games he has played. He looks like a young man who has hit a wall. His three point shooting accuracy has fallen to 27% in conference games.
Still, we have seen Biedscheid get hot. He only needs to have one of those games to make a big difference in the team’s postseason fortunes.
The Dreaded P-Word
What is beyond this season for the freshmen? We have seen the potential. We have seen the inconsistency. One thing stands out for both young men. They aren’t strong enough to excel game in and game out at the major conference level. Surely there bad habits to break and fundamentals that must become habits, but skill development will be meaningless until these guys can’t be pushed around on the court.
The evolution from potential to outstanding major conference basketball player will happen in the weight room more than it will happen in the gym during the offseason.
Honors for Cooley, Grant
Jack Cooley was named to the Big East All-Conference first team. Jerian Grant made the second team.
Cooley was one of two Big East players who averaged double figures in scoring (12.4) and rebounding (10.1) in conference games. Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng was the other.
Grant finished as the #2 assist man in the league, and his 14.2 point scoring average was the best among the top five assists leaders.
How the conference couldn’t muster an honorable mention for Eric Atkins is beyond me.
Irish Women Try for the UConn Hat Trick
The Notre Dame women will face Connecticut for the Big East Tournament Championship Tuesday night at 7:00 EDT on ESPN. It will be the third meeting for the two teams. The Irish won at UConn 73-72 in the conference opener on January 5th, and they won again in three overtimes a week ago. It’s time to thump these people, to crush their spirit. We wouldn’t want them to have hope come the Final Four.