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Notre Dame faces tough path to the NCAA tournament after Bonzie Colson injury

Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson (35) celebrates after his team went on a big run during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia Tech, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

No longer can Notre Dame realistically hope for a top-four finish in the ACC this season. Now the Irish are merely trying to survive the ill-timed absence of their best player.

Notre Dame announced Tuesday that All-American forward Bonzie Colson will undergo surgery on Thursday after fracturing his left foot during practice this week. Colson is expected to miss eight weeks, which would mean he likely could not return until the final week of ACC play.

“We are all feeling for Bonzie right now, who was performing as well as any player in the country,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said in a statement. “We need to embrace this challenge. This program has lost key guys before and we figured out a way to earn an NCAA bid.”

Seldom has Notre Dame lost a player as important as Colson, the ACC’s second leading scorer at 21.4 points per game and third leading rebounder at 10.4 boards per game. The 6-foot-6 Colson excels at scoring in the post against bigger defenders and is also Notre Dame’s most effective rebounder and rim protector at the defensive end.

There’s nobody on the Notre Dame roster capable of replacing the interior scoring Colson provides, so the Irish will have to lean more heavily on backcourt standouts Matt Farrell (16.4 ppg) and TJ Gibbs (14.1 ppg). Stretch forward John Mooney will probably see the biggest increase in minutes up front, while center Elijah Burns could also get more playing time.

Notre Dame banked quality wins against Wichita State and LSU during the Maui Invitational, but since then the Irish (11-3, 1-0) have dropped three of their last eight including a home loss to Ball State and a neutral-court upset at the hands of Indiana. They’ll likely need to go .500 or better in Colson’s absence to be in strong position for an NCAA tournament bid when he returns.

Given the strength of the ACC, that’s no easy feat. The Irish have nine ACC games left against teams in the KenPom top 50 including a pair of games against North Carolina and visits to Duke, Virginia, Clemson and Syracuse.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!