Zach Auguste spent the final two seasons of his college career holding down the interior for Notre Dame. One of the best ways to complement a roster with several perimeter shooters is by adding a rim-running big man in the middle who can suck defenders into the paint. Following a ball screen, when the roll man is diving hard to the basket, a defense will — depending on its rotations — have to send a help defender from the weak side corner to bump the big. This can result in wide open looks from that opposite corner.
In the last two seasons, the Fighting Irish finished second (124.3 points per 100 possessions in 2014-15) and ninth (119.5 points per 100 possessions in 2015-16) in offensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. The 6-10 center was ideal for the system. Auguste shot 58.8 percent from the field during this stretch of time, which in turn helped create shooting space for Notre Dame’s roster of elite shooters: V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. Auguste is gone, though, and in his place the Irish will turn to Martin Geben.
However, one of the other requirements for creating four-around-one nirvana on the offensive end is another frontcourt player who can stretch the floor, post when necessary, defend multiple positions and rebound well. Bonzie Colson, now a junior, is perfect for this positionless position.
Colson has appeared in 68 career games, making 25 starts. After coming on strong toward the end of his freshman season, including a 17-point performance against Duke in the ACC Tournament, Colson took on a bigger role as a sophomore. He averaged 11.1 points and 6.7 rebounds, while shooting a high number from the field (53.2 percent).
Colson is an excellent rebounder; he grabbed 11.7 percent of available offensive rebounds when on the court in 2015-16, which was 10th-best in the ACC. He finished his sophomore season with a player efficiency rating of 25.7 — No. 6 in the conference.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Colson’s offensive rating of 122 points per 100 possessions ranked 81st in the nation.
Despite being 6-5, Colson is a sneaky good shot-blocker, too. He was one of just 17 ACC players last season to average at least one block per game. Colson ranked 13th in the league in block rate: 4.0 percent (277th nationally). This is a number better than Auguste and other long-armed menaces, like Kamari Murphy, Tonye Jekiri and Brandon Ingram. Working in Colson’s benefit is his ridiculous reach; according to multiple reports, the junior possesses a near-7-foot wingspan.
Colson has launched just 19 career three-pointers, making only five (26.3 percent). That’s a small volume of attempts. However, he has such nice touch on his midrange jumper, he could push his range back further as a junior.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey told ACCSports.com at Operation Basketball on Oct. 26 that he expects Colson to stretch the floor more this season, but not at the cost of his efficient interior game.
“He’ll shoot a little bit more,” Brey said. “He’ll shoot more threes. For him, when you have him out there, when do you post him? We start him and Geben together — he’s kind of out. I’d say we’re not quite four-around-one; we’re three-and-a-half-around-one because he’s a little bit of both.”
Brey also noted that Notre Dame will sub for Geben like it did for Auguste. The Irish will downshift, use perimeter players — Matt Ryan and Rex Pflueger, in particular — and then play four shooters around Colson. That has the potential to be one of the nation’s best offensive lineups, especially with Beachem and Vasturia deployed as spacing agents.
According to KenPom, the Irish used lineups similar to this 18 percent of the time over their last five games in the 2015-16 season, which is an estimate of about 36 minutes in total. This translates to a little over seven minutes per game, too. In those five games, Notre won three and lost two — both of the defeats came at the hands of North Carolina.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Notre Dame leans on this lineup when it’s attempting to juice the offense, especially if Geben starts slowly. KenPom currently has the Fighting Irish projected as the No. 16 offense in the nation (110.4 points per 100 possessions).
Brey stated that freshman power forward John Mooney — a three-star recruit from Florida — has shot the ball extremely well in the preseason. Over the course of 16 practice sessions, Mooney has connected on 55 percent of his three-pointers, according to the head coach. Mooney gives the Fighting Irish another stretchier frontcourt presence.
Since joining the ACC, Brey has had a lot of success against his former boss and employer: Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. As ACC members, the Fighting Irish have won five of six games against the Blue Devils but have a scoring margin in those contests of minus-five points. This is because, in the one loss to Duke, the Blue Devils scored 50 first-half points, shot 60 percent from beyond the arc and won by 30. It’s an outlier.
In five of those contests, Colson has been a participant and played well: 15.2 points, seven rebounds and 63 percent shooting. He’s also recorded two double-doubles against the Devils.
Notre Dame will miss Auguste this season, but Colson is a dynamic player who has the ability to take on a larger role in what’s become one of the best offensive programs in the nation.