Has Notre Dame’s Mike Brey Done It Again?

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 1st, 2016

We are now just a few weeks into the season and only two ACC teams remain undefeated. Virginia has been as good as expected, with the Cavaliers handling the unexpected loss of Austin Nichols by using a committee-like approach we laid out when the news broke. The other unbeaten team, Notre Dame, may surprise many who haven’t paid attention to teams outside the Top 25. The Irish have played seven games to this point, four against low-major competition (Bryant, Seattle, Loyola (MD) and Chicago State) — which they have won by an average of 33.5 points per game — and three against middling high-majors. There are a pair of neutral court victories over KenPom top 60 teams Colorado and Northwestern, and an ACC/Big Ten Challenge home win over Iowa. All three of those wins figure to be solid top 100 wins for head coach Mike Brey‘s team come Selection Sunday.

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey's system will prevail this season. (AP)

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey’s system will prevail this season. (AP)

Most pundits figured that, after an outstanding two-year run punctuated by back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, Notre Dame was due for a fall thanks to the losses of star guard Demetrius Jackson and dependable forward Zach Auguste. It’s no easy task to replace a tandem that produced nearly 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists per game, but it’s not like Brey’s teams haven’t done this before. Just last year, Notre Dame entered the season having lost stars Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. The lesson is to never underestimate Brey’s ability to develop the next man up, and it appears that many observers may have made that same mistake again this season. Junior Bonzie Colson has led the way for this year’s version, averaging 17.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. He has become Brey’s go-to offensive player, using nearly 27 percent of the team’s possessions as he has blossomed into a terrific scorer.
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ACC Burning Questions: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Matt Patton on November 7th, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: How far do the Irish slide? (a.k.a. How good are Bonzie Colson and TJ Gibbs?)

Notre Dame probably won’t be as good as it was last year and the Irish definitely won’t be as good as they were two years ago. So where does that leave us? Mike Brey lost his two best players — Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste — and both are going to be nearly impossible to replace, especially defensively. The two most important returnees to watch are junior Bonzie Colson and freshman TJ Gibbs. Colson is an incredibly efficient offensive player already accustomed to high usage (albeit on limited minutes), which makes him a surefire success in many ways. The challenge for Brey will be finding a way for Colson’s increased minutes to not kill the Irish on the glass. Auguste was one of the best defensive rebounders in the country, whereas Colson is merely a good rebounder. Despite Auguste’s proficiency, Notre Dame was still an atrocious defensive rebounding team, so his loss doesn’t help a middling defense unless Colson improves or John Mooney turns out to be ACC-ready faster than expected.

VJ Beachem has the spotlight now, but Bonzie Colson has bigger shoes to fill. (Photo Credit: Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

VJ Beachem has the spotlight now, but Bonzie Colson has bigger shoes to fill. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Gibbs is less known. He’s a consensus top-100, four-star recruit, but he’ll be called upon to replace a former McDonald’s All-American. Point guards tend to translate quickly to the college game, but Gibbs may be a season away from the helm. He’ll likely start the season spelling junior Matt Farrell. Farrell has always proven to be a competent college player, but he is probably best suited for an important supporting role. He could make a quantum leap this season, but neither the eye test nor his statistics point in that direction. Colson and Farrell are joined by seniors VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia. Beachem is most likely the best pure shooter in the ACC. He’s got fringe NBA talent but will need to show he is capable of handling a larger share of the offense this year.

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Top Quotes and Moments from ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

Coaches, players and members of the media all gathered in Charlotte on Wednesday for the 2016 edition of ACC Operation Basketball. It was a long day for all and a fun day for most. We camped out in Salon I in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and witnessed press conferences for all 15 coaches – yes, after staying home last year Rick Pitino came too. We also heard from 30 players — two from each school — and observed commissioner John Swofford’s ‘State of the League’ address. What follows are a smattering of some of our favorite quotes and quips from the day.

PLAYERS

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

One of the interesting parts of the morning session was hearing various players’ responses when asked to describe their head coaches.

  • Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame – On Mike Brey: “He brings energy to practice every single day. He keeps the guys loose, which I think is really a benefit for us, and helps us play loose on the court.”
  • Sheldon Jeter, Pittsburgh – On his impressions from his reunion meeting with Kevin Stallings: “It was just kind of like the same stuff I did my first time meeting him at Vanderbilt. A very genuine guy. Very truthful.”
  • Matt Jones, Duke – On the annual adaptability of Mike Krzyzewski: “It’s been different each year. Coach K does a really good job of figuring out what guys respond to and how well they respond to it.”

Of course there were some light-hearted moments as well, and here are three player comments that brought laughter to the room.

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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 78, Notre Dame 47

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

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Three Key Takeaways.

  1. If North Carolina plays defense like it did tonight, the Tar Heels will win the national championship. Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country and they couldn’t buy a good look for 10 solid minutes. Roy Williams’ team was incredibly aggressive, especially on the perimeter, never allowing Notre Dame’s guards to any space to operate. They only gave up 22 points (a season low for both teams) on 34 possessions, good for a first half defensive efficiency of 0.65 points per possession. After the run ended five minutes into the first half, it was far too late for Notre Dame to catch up. The Irish ended up scoring only 47 points in the game, its lowest total since a loss to Syracuse in 2013.

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  2. Repeat after me: North Carolina is really deep. The Heels got 20 points off the bench and they actually played better when Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks both picked up their second fouls with 6:30 to play in the first half. Very few teams in the country would have been able to bounce back so quickly. Isaiah Hicks has played really well over the last couple of games (he finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds), and this was his best game since he scored 21 points at Syracuse.
  3. Notre Dame is a streaky team. It was blown out three other times this season (at Syracuse; at Florida State; vs. Miami), and every once in a while you will see a team get too far into its own head and become woefully overmatched. This was one of those times. The Tar Heels defense totally took Notre Dame out of its offense, as the Irish went from a team that excels on ball movement to one trying to isolate against a much taller front line. Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson were held a combined 1-of-16 from the field, an unbelievably disappointing performance.

Star of the Game. Tonight Marcus Paige looked every bit the first team all-ACC player everyone expected. He played great defense, hit some soul-crushing threes, and finished with seven assists and no turnovers. When he’s locked in, guarding the Tar Heels is borderline impossible. The last few years the question was always: “Can North Carolina shoot well enough to win?” This tournament has been evidence that both Joel Berry and Paige are more than capable. (Author’s note: It’s worth noting that Berry finished the game with four assists and no turnovers.)

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ACC M5: 01.26.16 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 26th, 2016

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  1. The Dagger: I agree wholeheartedly with the headline of this article. Duke shouldn’t be ranked next week. But the reason Miami didn’t rush the court against Duke says as much about the Miami program under Jim Larranaga as it does about the undermanned Blue Devils. More on Duke’s recent struggles and their NCAA Tournament hopes later, but don’t let that distract from the fact that the Hurricanes are great this season. They’re experienced, well-coached, and a little inconsistent.
  2. Tomahawk Nation: Exhaustive review from Michael Rogner of Florida State‘s rebounding struggles against Pittsburgh. He classified each offensive board as lucky, good offense, or good defense. My first takeaway reading this was that I wish we had similar numbers for all teams. Florida State’s much smaller than expected because of injuries, so they’ll need to start rebounding by committee.
  3. Chicago Tribune: Speaking of important injuries, Demetrius Jackson will be out in Notre Dame’s game Thursday at Syracuse. Jackson’s absence (assuming reports are correct and the team is just being cautious) may prove a blessing. The reason is freshman Rex Pflueger has played very well in the last three games after only playing more than ten minutes once earlier in the season. It also gives Steve Vasturia valuable time at point guard, which could be important if Jackson ever gets in foul trouble.
  4. Syracuse Post Standard: If the Orange want to safely make the NCAA Tournament, the next five games are all close to must-wins. The first four are at home and the Orange should be favored in all four. At 3-5 in ACC play, Syracuse has to claw it’s way into the top half of the conference. They do have two very strong non-conference wins (Connecticut and Texas A&M), but the St. John’s loss looks awful.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: Louisville is an enigma. Statistically, they’re a great team. But they have no “great” wins (the last three are the only ones even worth mentioning). We should find out more  starting Saturday. Eight of the teams last 11 games are against likely NCAA Tournament teams (not even counting Pittsburgh as one), including at Duke, Virginia, and Miami. Rick Pitino, mildly trolling, noted: “It reminds me so much of the Big East in its prime.”

EXTRA: The NCAA made a good decision pushing back the date college players have to declare for the NBA Draft until after the combine. That gives kids a lot more time to get accurate information on where they might be picked. And while coaches might privately complain about the uncertainty (publicly doing so in the current climate would be out of touch), they may see more borderline guys come back and this should prevent the draft from becoming a distraction during the NCAA Tournament.

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Notre Dame’s Explosive Offense Makes Them A Dangerous Team

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2016

Last season, Notre Dame had the most successful run of Mike Brey‘s tenure in South Bend. The Irish finished third in the ACC with a 14-4 record, and then won the ACC Tournament in Greensboro by knocking off league stalwarts Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back nights. Then came an excellent NCAA Tournament run where they fell to an unbeaten Kentucky squad on the game’s final possession in a Regional final. That Irish team featured the second ranked offense in the country according to KenPom’s efficiency ratings, trailing only Wisconsin’s historically best offense. After losing its top two players from last year’s group, Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton (both NBA draft picks), Brey’s current team may not be as strong overall due to a significant drop off defensively. But Notre Dame’s offense has remained elite (currently #1 in Kenpom) and that makes them a threat to win any time they take the floor.

Demetrius Jackson leads Notre Dame's outstanding offense and is among the nation's best point guards. (Ben McKeown/AP Photo)

Demetrius Jackson leads Notre Dame’s outstanding offense and is among the nation’s best point guards. (Ben McKeown/AP Photo)

As if to prove this point, on Saturday afternoon Notre Dame outscored Duke 95-91 by posting an outstanding 1.36 points per possession. We looked over the 15 years of KenPom historical data, and couldn’t find a better offensive performance for a visiting ACC team in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Granted, this is not a vintage Duke squad, with youth and a lack of depth being the main problems. But yesterday, the Blue Devils played hard and well most of the game (51.8 FG%, 50.0 3FG%), and the Cameron crowd was at its best, making it a difficult environment for the visitors. Still, Notre Dame maintained its poise and offensive efficiency down the stretch to come out on top in this shootout.

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ACC Preview: Notre Dame’s Burning Question

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on November 9th, 2015

Is the entrenched culture under Mike Brey enough to overcome the loss of two of the most decorated players in program history?

When Jerian’s Grant last second prayer went unanswered in Notre Dame’s valiant attempt to upset Kentucky in the Midwest regional final, it put an end not only to a remarkable late season run by the Fighting Irish but to two careers that won’t soon be forgotten. With the graduations of Grant and fellow classmate Pat Connaughton, Brey bid farewell to a combined 3,204 points, 1,166 rebounds, 947 assists, 268 steals and 8,821 minutes. What’s more telling than the staggering loss of that numerical production is that the club, given its setup of the roster, has a better chance to seamlessly replace those gaudy statistics than the exceptional intangibles provided by the departed captains.

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey's system will prevail this season. (AP)

The Notre Dame faithful is trusting that Mike Brey’s system will prevail this season. (AP)

For Brey’s sake, he must trust that the sum of his ingrained system is greater than the individual parts. Coming off a 32-win season, an ACC Tournament title highlighted by a meticulous dismantling of eventual national champion Duke, and a deeper March run than any team in school history since 1979, Brey should feel more confident than ever that he has laid the groundwork in place to eventually return the school to its second Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »

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Freeze Frame: Neutralizing Kentucky’s Big Men

Posted by Brian Joyce on April 2nd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Thirty-eight teams have taken their best shots at Kentucky this season but none have come away with a victory. Last Saturday night, Notre Dame became “another test” for coach John Calipari’s team en route to its fourth Final Four in the last five years. Much has been made over nothing regarding Calipari’s postgame comments following the 68-66 win (the guy just moved to 38-0 on his way to another Final Four; what do you expect him to say when asked questions about the Irish?), but while the Cats have had a few games that were as closely contested, none were more meaningful.

The most efficient offenses this season against Kentucky.

The most efficient offenses this season against Kentucky.

Notre Dame’s defense last Saturday night was nothing particularly special. The Irish played with great toughness on that end of the floor, but so did every SEC team the Wildcats faced during the regular season. Notre Dame’s offense, however, was a completely different story. The Wildcats’ defense had only allowed five teams to score above a point per possession against it all season long, and Mike Brey’s team moved directly to the top of the list with its 1.16 PPP performance. In this edition of Freeze Frame, we analyze the three ways in which the Irish were able to neutralize Kentucky’s big men and do something that few other teams have been able to consistently do: score.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

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While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16” team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcMWregion for reporting from Cleveland this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: #1 Kentucky. The new favorite is the old favorite, as there was nothing that happened over the first weekend that suggested a change. Kentucky is now an ungodly 36-0 after easily dispatching #16 Hampton in the round of 64 before overcoming a brief first half scare to ultimately blow past #8 Cincinnati in the round of 32. We all know about Kentucky’s talent level, its excellent defense and its superior depth, but can the Wildcats get to the Final Four with an unscathed record? Right now, it looks like the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Wichita State. It is difficult to call a team whose core (with the exception of Cleanthony Early) went 35-1 last year a “horse of darkness,” but the Shockers had to battle through an offensively potent #10 Indiana squad and intrastate rival #2 Kansas to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Wichita State proved during the first weekend that it is a much better team than the #7 seed it earned on Selection Sunday. Point guard Fred VanVleet was terrific all weekend. Shooting guard Ron Baker recovered from a shaky performance against Indiana to greatly contribute to the win over Kansas. Gregg Marshall’s squad also had an unlikely hero step up against the Jayhawks, as forward Evan Wessell (who averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game on the season) tallied 12 points (4-of-6 threes) and collected nine rebounds.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): The way #8 Cincinnati defeated #9 Purdue. If you want to teach a course on how to NOT close out a basketball game, Purdue’s efforts in the final minute of Thursday’s round of 64 game against Cincinnati should be your textbook. The Boilermakers led by seven points with just 48 seconds left in regulation before allowing the offensively-challenged Bearcats to go on an unbelievable 10-3 run over to force overtime. Cincinnati ultimately emerged victorious in the overtime session, and after the final buzzer sounded, Bearcats associate head coach Larry Davis and his players appeared to be more stunned than anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

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