Noie: Notre Dame basketball rotation needs to shrink, but how? Who?

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

{child_flags:featured}Game of rotation

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{child_byline}By Tom Noie

South Bend Tribune{/child_byline}

Two games in 48 hours to start the regular season didn’t do it.

Four days between games didn’t do it.

The rotation situation for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team looks a whole lot like that pile of stale and soggy leaves clinging to the curb waiting to be picked up.

One big mess.

Going 10 deep — deeper than he has at almost any time in his 19 seasons — Irish coach Mike Brey came to a conclusion while watching last week’s 27-point victory over Chicago State. It’s one he reached after waves of two and three and sometimes four guys walked to the scorer’s table to check in. One he reached after another combination of five sputtered to do this and do that.

“I had a little epiphany like, that’s a lot of guys,” Brey said of the rotation. “At some point, you’re going to have to make some decisions Mike, and here’s the guys. Let’s play.”

Brey has one of his youngest teams — four freshmen and one sophomore are in the rotation — and potentially one of his deepest. He could legitimately lean on 10 dudes. That was Brey’s goal in each of the first two games — play all 10 by the 10-minute mark of the first half, then determine combinations and minutes and roles for the second half based on those early efforts.

All worked well against UIC. Not so against Chicago State. The Irish fielded 15 lineup combinations over those 40 minutes. Some groupings were together for less than 60 seconds. No five played together for more than eight minutes.

The most productive unit of guards T.J. Gibbs, Dane Goodwin and Rex Pflueger and forwards Elijah Burns and Nate Laszewski finished with a plus/minus rating of +24. They outscored Chicago State 27-3 with 11 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. Nine other lineups finished with a negative or a zero for plus-minus. That means that when they were on the court, they weren’t very good.

Historically, rotation and substitution trends are clear, even this early. Now, there seems little rhyme or reason to the method of Brey’s rotation madness. It often looks a grab-bag of guys.

At one point last week, the head coach turned to his assistants with an observation.

“I said, ‘Shoot, I feel like we’re playing too many guys,’” Brey said. “It’s one of those where we have to think about shaving it down.”

Easier said than likely done as Notre Dame (2-0) returns to action Wednesday at home against Radford (2-0). Brey plans to start a different lineup for the second time in three games. He might go old. He might sprinkle in some young. He does intend to start five. Getting another guy into the equation isn’t exactly an option.

Brey wants to get the rotation to nine. That sounds good in theory and will move the coach closer to his comfort zone. Then it comes time to tighten it. Somebody might get too many minutes, others likely too few.

“The sad thing is, like, those 10 we’re playing are good players,” Brey said. “You’re looking and going, well, who do we play?”

Gibbs will play a lot. Pflueger will play a lot. Brey breathes easier when both are on the floor. Laszewski is averaging a team-high 12 points in 19 minutes. He’s going to play a lot. Probably needs to play more. D.J. Harvey is the team’s best rebounder and a go-get-one scorer. He’s going to play a lot.

After that, it could be a combination of the freshmen of Goodwin or Robby Carmody or Prentiss Hubb one night; could be veterans Burns or John Mooney or Connecticut transfer Juwan Durham the next. Could be a mix of young and old.

One night, the rotation will hinge on what group’s flowing best on offense. The next, by who’s digging in defending. On Wednesday, maybe the five oldest guys get the start. For Brey and for now, it’s a “let’s see where we’re at approach.”

Ten Irish are averaging between 13 and 27 minutes a game. That’s too crowded a rotation for what the Irish want to do — move and flow and operate as one. Notre Dame is shooting only 39.8 percent from the floor, 27.4 percent from 3. Some of that is a result of not having a consistent high-percentage presence in the low post. Some of that also stems from test-driving too many combinations.

Too deep a rotation means not enough offensive rhythm. That’s what makes the head coach uncomfortable. You could see it in his body language last week. Hear it in his words. While it may be new and exciting, it’s also unsettling for coaches, who don’t like to be unsettled. Not this time of year.

The players embrace the current setup. In seasons past, there was a core of six, maybe seven but rarely eight who moved through a white (starter’s) jersey in practice. Now it’s common to get 10 in white at some point.

“I love it,” said Burns. “I think it’s great for competition and it’s great for confidence. You never know when you’re going to play.”

Rotation separation may surface this week as the competition level increases. Radford and William & Mary aren’t UIC and Chicago State. Both teams are better. Ten Irish are worthy of minutes, but there will be nights when all 10 just can’t get them. Maybe these seven one night or those eight the next. Not everyone HAS to play. Get a core on the floor and let them go.

“My mind has never raced as much in preseason,” Brey said. “It’s good. It’s fun. You’re thinking all the time.”

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{child_related_content}{child_related_content_item}{child_related_content_style}Bio Box{/child_related_content_style}{child_related_content_title}Men’s Basketball{/child_related_content_title}{child_related_content_content}

Gotham Classic

Second Round

WHO: Notre Dame (2-0) vs. Radford (2-0).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Wednesday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Plenty available.

TV: ACCNetwork Extra (U.S. cable internet subscribers only; requires login from pay television provider to access content).

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

MEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: Carlik Jones scored 24 points to lead four in double figures in Radford’s 88-78 victory Friday over UIC in Gotham Classic play. The Highlanders shot 47.5 percent from the field, 57.1 percent from 3 and 72.6 from the foul line. … Three starters return off last year’s team that finished 23-13 overall, 12-6 and second place in the Big South. The Highlanders won the Big South tournament championship for the third time in school history, then won an NCAA tournament game for the first time in school history with a 71-61 victory in the First Four over LIU Brooklyn. … Radford was picked this preseason to win the 11-team Big South. The Highlanders return six of their top seven scorers and 10 players … Senior forward Ed Polite, Jr., and Jones were first- and second-team selections for preseason all-Big South. … The Highlanders have won at least 22 games three of the last five years. … This starts a stretch for Radford of three straight games and eight of nine away from home. That includes Saturday’s game against Duquesne, which will be played at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.

QUOTING: “Nobody’s sitting like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to play so I’m not going to work as hard.’ Everybody competes every day. It’s amazing.”

• Notre Dame senior Elijah Burns on the current 10-man Irish rotation.

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Notre Dame senior power forward Elijah Burns likes that the Irish are playing a lot of guys minimal amounts of minutes two games in. He believes it keeps everyone on edge — in a good way — between games.

Gotham Classic

Second Round

WHO: Notre Dame (2-0) vs. Radford (2-0).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Wednesday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Plenty available.

TV: ACCNetwork Extra (U.S. cable internet subscribers only; requires login from pay television provider to access content).

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

MEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: Carlik Jones scored 24 points to lead four in double figures in Radford’s 88-78 victory Friday over UIC in Gotham Classic play. The Highlanders shot 47.5 percent from the field, 57.1 percent from 3 and 72.6 from the foul line. … Three starters return off last year’s team that finished 23-13 overall, 12-6 and second place in the Big South. The Highlanders won the Big South tournament championship for the third time in school history, then won an NCAA tournament game for the first time in school history with a 71-61 victory in the First Four over LIU Brooklyn. … Radford was picked this preseason to win the 11-team Big South. The Highlanders return six of their top seven scorers and 10 players … Senior forward Ed Polite, Jr., and Jones were first- and second-team selections for preseason all-Big South. … The Highlanders have won at least 22 games three of the last five years. … This starts a stretch for Radford of three straight games and eight of nine away from home. That includes Saturday’s game against Duquesne, which will be played at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio.

QUOTING: “Nobody’s sitting like, ‘Oh, I’m not going to play so I’m not going to work as hard.’ Everybody competes every day. It’s amazing.”

• Notre Dame senior Elijah Burns on the current 10-man Irish rotation.