The loss of senior starters V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia to graduation will put the burden on a number of Notre Dame players entering next season.
Freshman point guard T.J. Gibbs is among that group of players that will see an uptick in minutes next season.
The 6-3, 200-pounder made one start this season, during an 84-72 win over Florida State Feb. 11. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey wanted another ball handler on the floor against the Seminoles for that matchup, a strategy he used for stretches against West Virginia on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Gibbs played 17 minutes — his most action in more than two weeks — and scored four points, all from the free throw line. He committed three turnovers against the Mountaineers press defense.
He was also called for a technical foul in the second half when he slapped that ball out of the hands of a WVU player after action had stopped.
“When he did it, a couple of the assistants were mad, and I go, ‘I kind of like that. We need a little fight today.’” Brey said of Gibbs.
When asked what area Gibbs needs the most improvement in entering a crucial sophomore season, Brey said the guard’s decision making is key. In 539 minutes this season, Gibbs tallied 62 assists and just 28 turnovers.
“His assist-to-turnover [ratio] has got to be better,” Brey said, “because he’s going to be in a quarterbacking, playmaking spot more now on the floor.
“He’s a warrior. He’s a battler, he’s a fighter. He will be a key guy for us next year. He’ll have more minutes. There’s a great toughness about him that I love.”
The former four-star recruit had three double-digit scoring games in ACC play, including a season-high 13-point effort in the 76-71 win at Virginia Tech Jan. 14. In that victory, he was 5 of 7 from the field.
Gibbs split time with junior point guard Matt Farrell this season, and sometimes joined the All-ACC honorable mention performer on the court.
Farrell proved to be an excellent shooter for the Irish, making 42 percent of his three-pointers this year, up nearly 10 percent from his sophomore season in which he played just 13.4 minutes per game.
A similar improvement could be in store for Gibbs.
“He’s a better three-point shooter than what his number is,” Brey said. “He hasn’t had a chance to get in a rhythm.”
Brey said he also sees Gibbs improving his three-point shooting when he plays increased minutes. The Scotch Plains, N.J., native shot just 32.1 percent from long range this season, but Brey sees the rising sophomore taking a path like his older brothers did.
Gibbs’ brothers Ashton (Pittsburgh) and Sterling (Texas, Seton Hall and UConn) were prolific shooters in college. Sterling made 39.5 percent of his 501 career three-point attempts, while Ashton was 40.9 percent on his 725 attempts.
“He’s a good shooter, like his brothers,” Brey said. “They can all shoot the ball. He’ll be a weapon from out there shooting the basketball when he plays more minutes.”