March 5, 2018
By John Heisler
It may not be listed among current Broadway productions, but “The Bonzie Effect” plays on the Brooklyn stage this week.
Thanks to the return of a healthy Colson in the final two games of the University of Notre Dame men’s basketball regular schedule, postseason potential for Irish head coach Mike Brey’s crew takes on a markedly different light.
Those Irish are seeded 10th for the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship that begins Tuesday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
But, is Notre Dame really a number-10 seed considering Colson, the preseason ACC Player of the Year, played in only three conference games due to his fractured foot and subsequent surgery?
And what exactly are the Irish chances of playing in the NCAA Championship? The current 18-13 overall record includes most of two months with Colson sidelined, plus five games missed for an ankle injury to senior guard Matt Farrell (and multiple others when he was not at full strength). Don’t forget the ongoing absence of highly regarded freshman D.J. Harvey, who hasn’t played since January 16 due to a knee injury.
All that has turned a Tuesday matinee into must-see TV (the Irish play Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship at 2 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN2).
Colson’s 24-point, 15-rebound performance Saturday (18 and nine in the first half) in Charlottesville powered Notre Dame’s run to the very end against top-rated and ACC champion Virginia. Here are some other reviews of “The Bonzie Effect” early screenings:
— From Stewart Mandel of The Athletic Monday: “The Irish are admittedly a longshot, but if they can go on a deep run in Brooklyn, the committee might give them a pass for playing so much of the season without star Bonzie Colson.”
— From CL Brown of The Athletic in his ACC Championship preview Monday: “Potential NCAA play-in game: Notre Dame vs. Duke — The Irish lost by 22 at Cameron Indoor Stadium during their only meeting in the regular season but were without both 6-5 Bonzie Colson and 6-1 Matt Farrell, so a rematch could play out quite differently. To get to this game, Notre Dame would have to beat Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. Beating those two teams likely wouldn’t be enough for a bid, but a victory over the Blue Devils would surely grab some attention. Notre Dame will be a most-interesting discussion for the selection committee. Before Colson’s injury, the Irish looked like a bona fide tournament team. Without him — and a couple of Farrell DNPs because of injury — the Irish went 6-9, including a stretch of seven straight losses. Short of winning the ACC tournament and claiming the automatic bid, reaching the semifinals might be the minimum work the Irish have to do to keep their at-large hopes alive.”
— More from Brown: “KenPom.com ran 10,000 game simulations and none had the Panthers advancing past Notre Dame in the first round.”
— Here’s a tweet Saturday from Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports: “Notre Dame 12-4 with Bonzie Colson, 6-9 without him, 0-4 with neither Colson nor Matt Farrell. Bonzie’s back now, and was great against Virginia today in a close loss. Irish will be the single most fascinating topic for the selection committee.”
— Here’s another tweet, this one from Dick Vitale Saturday: “2 teams 8-10 in conf play that really deserve a special look by r @TexasMBB & @NDmbb Texas wins today over WVU & Irish lose heartbreaker to # 1 @UVAMensHoops Bonzie Colson back makes Irish a top 25 team @NDMikeBrey If u r taking the best /eye test says both should be in.”
— Brian Hamilton of The Athletic covered Colson’s return last Wednesday against Pittsburgh and wrote this about an earlier exchange when the Irish played Miami: “It’s worth noting the sight of Colson in uniform did provide some comic relief at the expense of the uninformed. Before a Feb. 19 game in South Bend, Miami coach Jim Larranaga spotted Colson in warmups. (Mike) Brey laughed as he recalled the hint of panic in Larranaga’s voice as he shook Brey’s hand before the game and asked, “Is Bonzie playing?!” Brey says he cursed to himself before muttering, ‘No, Jim, he’s not.'”
— Wrote Sam Blum of the Charlottesville Daily Progress on one of his three takeaways from Notre Dame-Virginia Saturday: “We learned that Notre Dame might have shown they’re an NCAA Tournament team, even in defeat. A win over Virginia would have seriously boosted Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament hopes. That’s what you get if you’re on the bubble and beat the best. But, even with the loss, the Fighting Irish showed they deserve a spot, even if they won’t get one. This is for several reasons — namely that they played really well against the No. 1 team. That said, this is still a sub-.500 ACC team that lost seven straight conference games at one point. But they showed just how capable they could be with a fully capable Colson, and that’s a message Brey hopes the NCAA Tournament committee gets.”
— Said Brey after the Virginia game, “We are probably one of the harder ones to analyze. Now, we have some work in Brooklyn to put ourselves on the docket. But we’re in there, they have to look at us. Our numbers are good, and one thing I’m very happy that the committee saw today is Bonzie Colson is obviously back. I hope we can give them a few more wins so that we are really debated in that room.”
— Wrote John Gasaway on ESPN.com before the Virginia game: “It’s time to talk about the Fighting Irish. Bonzie Colson returned to the lineup after a lengthy absence because of injury. He scored 12 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in 21 minutes in Wednesday’s win over Pitt. The Fighting Irish are 12-3 with Colson and 6-9 without him, a stretch that included almost the entire ACC season. . . . Keep in mind that on paper, a Notre Dame team that played without Colson for the balance of the conference season is as good as, if not better than, Miami, NC State or Virginia Tech in per-possession terms. Keep an eye on Notre Dame.”
— Joe Lunardi’s Monday edition of Bracketology on ESPN.com listed the Irish as one of the last four teams out of the bracket (behind Louisville, Marquette and Oklahoma State), actually the highest Lunardi has listed Notre Dame since Colson was hurt.
Meanwhile, the Irish team flew into New York Sunday night — then headed to the Barclays Center for a noon practice Monday.
Notre Dame plays a Pitt team that meets the Irish for a second consecutive game since the Panthers had a bye on the final weekend. Pitt, without a victory since December 22, is only the second team in 30 years to go winless in ACC play.
The Irish return to the Barclays Center where they stand 7-2 in games played there beginning with the 2012-13 season. That includes a pair of wins in the 2016 NCAA Championship (Michigan and Stephen F. Austin), a pair of wins to claim the 2016 Legends Classic (Northwestern and Colorado) and a pair of wins n the 2017 ACC Championship (victories over #21 Virginia and #16 Florida State).
Bonzie doesn’t have to do it all. He has help from Farrell, a third-team All-ACC pick Sunday. Farrell led the ACC in made three-pointers with 86 (3.92 per league game). Senior front-liner Martinas Geben finished tied for second (with three other players) in voting for the ACC Most Improved Player (behind North Carolina’s Luke Maye). He averaged 13.1 points and 9.4 rebounds (fifth-best mark in league play) in ACC games this year.
The Irish win over Pitt last week marked Brey’s 400th victory at Notre Dame and he needs one more to make it an even 500 in his career.
Colson’s return to form makes Notre Dame’s matchup with Pitt Tuesday one of the most intriguing first-round conference tournament outings in recent history — and it may top the list for a team facing an opponent that didn’t win a league game all winter.
Considering many midweek first-day daytime conference tournament games draw mainly friends and family for an audience, this one figures to be different. And virtually every observer will be eyeing the 6-6 New Bedford, Massachusetts, product who is making up for lost time.
Call it “The Bonzie Effect.”
Brey and his charges hope there will be multiple showings on the Brooklyn stage throughout the week.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978.