A mere two seasons ago, Bonzie Colson was a role player for a Notre Dame team that won the ACC championship. He played 12 minutes per game and was far from prominent status.
In 2015-16, Colson became a starter and averaged 11.1 points per game. Now, however, as a junior, Bonzie Alexander Colson II has transformed himself into an All-ACC superstar and one of the best players in college basketball.
Colson is the only player in the ACC to average a double-double: 16.9 points and 10.7 rebounds. He has grabbed every board within reach of his near seven-foot wingspan; in conference play, Colson has snagged 28.3 percent of available defensive rebounds, which is No. 1 in the league, per KenPom.com. The forward has recorded a double-double in 16 of 27 games this season.
I thought we would see Colson evolve as a floor spacer this season; in fact, I asked Mike Brey before the season if his junior big man would look to shoot more three-pointers. Well, Colson has launched a career-high 41 triples this season, but that is good for just 1.5 attempts per game. He has made far more significant strides as an interior hub for the Irish offense.
Notre Dame’s star may be undersized for a center, but he is a devil at finishing around the hoop. His hyper-efficient play extends beyond his 52 percent shooting from the field; the closer to the rim he gets, the more dangerous he becomes. According to Synergy Sports, Colson shoots 64 percent from the field on non-post-ups at the rim.
The junior scores in variety of unorthodox ways, too. Colson possesses a runner that would make T.J. Warren well up with pride. Per Synergy, Colson scores 1.37 points per possession on runners while shooting 68.4 percent — both of which rank second in the ACC, behind only London Perrantes.
High ball screens are a key feature of Brey’s mover-blocker motion offense; Colson, who is referred to lovingly by his teammates as Junkyard Bonz, has done his best to replace the void left my rim-running menace Zach Auguste. When Colson pops following a screen and looks for his own jump shot, the junior shoots 39 percent, according to Synergy.
However, Colson is even more potent when he rolls to the hoop as he scores 1.55 points per possession on rim dives (88.2 field-goal percentage). That is actually better than Auguste from a season ago: 1.18 points per possession (72.2 field-goal percentage). Colson does not have the same long and bouncy vibe of Auguste, but he gets the job done.
Now, it is clear that this team could use a threat like Auguste around the basket on both ends of the floor, but what Colson has done in this role this season in profoundly positive. Despite playing mostly below the rim, the 6-5 Colson has dominated the paint for Notre Dame.
After a six-game stretch when the Fighting Irish lost five contests, including four in a row, Notre Dame has heated back up. Colson and company have won three straight, and the team’s next three matchups are as winnable as anything you will find in the ACC: NC State, Georgia Tech and Boston College. Two of those games are at the Joyce Center.
This team has a chance to gather steam before heading to Brooklyn.
A third straight trip to the Elite Eight could be in Notre Dame’s future; if that is to happen, the celebrity of Colson will continue to grow — one day at a time.