Notes: Time for No. 22 Notre Dame to get offense back in good basketball gear
Going small last month got the Notre Dame offense into a much-needed gear.
The Irish could afford that aggressiveness again with post-season play closing quickly.
Four straight losses saw Notre Dame average 62.4 points per game. The Irish didn’t move well and didn’t shoot it well. Coach Mike Brey decided it was time for a change. Out of the starting lineup stepped power forward Martinas Geben. In came sophomore guard Rex Pflueger. Freshman guard T.J. Gibbs also saw his reserve role expand and his minutes increase.
Notre Dame then scored at least 81 points in four straight wins. But since an 81-72 victory at North Carolina State on Feb. 18, a game that saw the Irish lead by as many as 23 points, the offense has been somewhat stagnant.
Notre Dame scored 64 at home on Feb. 26 in a four-point victory over defensive-minded Georgia Tech. Three nights later, it hit for 82 in a 16-point victory over Boston College, but it was a chore to get there. On Saturday, No. 22 Notre Dame closed the regular season with a seven-point loss at No. 10 Louisville. Facing another really good defensive outfit, the Irish again hit for 64.
“Maybe being more aggressive from the start,” said point guard Matt Farrell. “Get the wheels going right away. Not having slow starts. Just get out there and get going right away.”
The Irish have scored 34, 36 and 27 in their last three first halves.
Getting a few days away from game action also may help. Notre Dame averaged 70 points (down from its 78.5 season average) over the final week of the regular season that included three games in seven days. Quality practice time – and rest for the guys who log major minutes – was difficult to manage.
The Irish will have had nearly five full days off when they finally take the court late Thursday in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. That could help find their offensive flow.
“It comes with us knocking down shots,” Pflueger said. “That usually opens everything up for us. We haven’t been hitting shots. That comes with legs. This break will help us make some shots.”
Notre Dame (23-8; 12-6 ACC) heads into the most important part of the season now in search of balance in the way it wants to attack. The Irish started 17-3 with a lineup that featured a heavy helping of two bigs in Geben paired with fellow power forward Bonzie Colson.
Notre Dame then lost four straight and five of six.
Small ball kick-started the late-season run of six straight wins, a school record for ACC games.
Against Boston College and Louisville, Notre Dame worked with a combination of big and small. That might be the case in postseason.
“We have to get reps with the big lineup,” said Brey. “That’s something that is going to be good for us at times. It would be great to get flowing again offensively.”
With the regular season complete, here are some individual and teams numbers as to how Notre Dame fared compared to other ACC teams:
• Colson finished first in rebounding (10.4), fourth in field goal percentage (52.3), ninth in free throw percentage (.807) and 10th in scoring (17.0).
• Farrell tied with Syracuse guard John Gillon for second in assists (5.45), was fourth for 3-point field goal percentage (.425), tied with Gillon for seventh in steals (1.48), seventh in assist/turnover ratio (2.14) and 10th in minutes (34.0).
• V.J. Beachem was third for 3-pointers made (2.65).
• Steve Vasturia finished first for free throw percentage (.911), seventh in minutes (34.23) and 10th in assist/turnover ratio (2.06). His free throw percentage ranks best in program history for a single season. It marked the first time that an Irish player has shot at least 90 percent from the foul line since Ryan Hoover (.905) in 1993-94.
• Notre Dame finished first for free throw percentage (.809), assist/turnover ratio (1.70) and 3-pointers made (9.55). The Irish were second in assists (16.32) and turnover margin (+3.13). They finished third for 3-point field goal percentage (.389), fourth in steals (7.19), fifth in field goal percentage defense (.336) and sixth in scoring offense (78.5), scoring defense (69.3) and scoring margin (+9.3).
Notre Dame was seventh in 3-point field goal percentage (.389), eighth in field goal percentage (.469), 12th in rebounds (34.2) and 14th in rebounding margin (-1.5).
What color uniforms Notre Dame wears for a given game are typically decided by the team captains. As the higher seed in Thursday’s ACC quarterfinal, the Irish will have a choice of three – their traditional home whites, the alternate golds that have become a post-season staple or the seldom-used greens that were unveiled and then quickly shelved earlier this year.
What’s it going to be?
“I think we’re going to keep riding the gold for now,” Beachem said.
Gold was good for Notre Dame during its recent six-game win streak. The Irish lost in their gold uniforms for the first time all season Saturday at Louisville. Typically, a loss is reason enough for the captains to change it up. Not now.
“You’ve got to lose at some point in gold,” Beachem said. “But we’ll keep going with it.”
Notre Dame rode gold for the final two games in winning the 2015 ACC tournament. Last year, it wore gold in its two ACC tournament games, then shelved them in favor of white and then blue uniforms in the NCAA tournament.
The Irish last wore their traditional home whites in the Jan. 30 loss to Duke. The blues were last worn during the Feb. 5 loss to North Carolina. The greens were taken out of the rotation following the first loss of the season, Dec. 5, to Villanova.
The Irish are 11-2 in whites, 6-1 in gold, 5-4 in blue and 1-1 in green this season.
WHO: No. 3 seed Notre Dame (23-8 overall; 12-6 ACC) vs. No. 6 Virginia (23-9; 11-7) or No. 14 Pittsburgh (16-16; 4-14).
WHERE: Barclays Center (18,103), New York.
WHEN: Thursday at 9:30 p.m. (approximately).
RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).
ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.