Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Basketball

Brey Notebook: 2/16

February 16, 2017

As Notre Dame hits the road to North Carolina State on Saturday, the number one task will be slowing down Dennis Smith Jr. The freshman point guard has lived up to the hype this season by averaging 19.0 points, 4.4 rebound and 6.7 assists per night.

Mike Brey has seen teams try many different things to both the 6-foot-3 sensation but knows the Irish will need to throw the house at Smith on Saturday afternoon.

“Florida State really trapped him a lot,” stated Brey. “Some people have played a lot of zone against him. You’re going to have to weather numbers. I said to our staff when we were watching NC State and Dennis Smith Jr., ‘We’re good at giving up 30 to point guards. We have that down to a science.’ Maybe no one else can get going too much, but we’re really good at that.

“Can you just slow him down a little bit? Can you double-team on ball screens and make him a jumper shooter? When he gets into the lane, he’s going to get fouled.”

Smith will go very high in June’s draft and Brey knows he is good enough to beat the Irish by himself. Notre Dame will use multiple guys on Smith in hopes of slowing him down.   

“He can beat you,” said Brey. “Rex (Pflueger), Matt (Farrell), TJ (Gibbs), Steve (Vasturia), we do have a number of different bodies that can guard him. We’ll play some zone and we have to do the whole thing.”  

He can beat you. - Mike Brey on N.C. State freshman Dennis Smith Jr.
The other challenge for the Irish will be dealing with an emotional N.C. State squad. On Thursday, N.C. State announced head coach Mark Gottfried would not be the head coach after this season. Brey knows that will only fire up the fanbase and the team on Saturday, so the Irish will need to get off to a good start.

“Given the coaches situation, I think it stirs the intensity, energy with the fanbase and probably the team,” Brey explained. “They have really good players. Certainly, they have a top five pick handling the ball. They have a physical front line and there’s a reason they were picked high. They have ability.

“There are certain nights they have really put it together. My feeling is they are going to play great and we are going to have to play fabulous to win a road game. You have to throw out the record right now of an N.C. State given the dynamics of the program.”  

Speaking of starts, Notre Dame can’t afford to start the way they did on Saturday against Boston College. Brey understands the season is taking a toll on his Big Four, but his team can’t give up almost 50 points in the first half and expect to win on the road.

“We have to be more rested,” stated Brey. “It may be been a little fatigue. It may have been a little of them really ready to play. Hopefully, we can defend better. We’re going to have to do that Saturday because they’re really gifted.”

Brey’s message to his team is simple: Get to 10-5 and in the ACC. With a win on Saturday, the Irish will be able to sit for eight days and let the conference sort itself out.

“We have talked about trying to get to 10-5 and seeing what happens in the league the rest of that week,” said Brey. “If you get to 10-5, then all of a sudden your position could be really interesting that following Sunday when you play Georgia Tech.

“We are going to get a break physically and really get refreshed next week. I am also not trying to over coach too much right now. There will be a time to really start shoving buttons. I am trying to figure out how to pace this thing.”  

The first half play against Boston College was a concern, but Brey wasn’t going to overreact in the moment. He knows his team has leaders and those leaders stepped up in the locker room at Boston College.
“I didn’t say anything at halftime,” explained Brey. “I don’t think it was the time to do that. Our guys are really sharp and they’re really hard on themselves. They were upset with themselves. I thought leaving them alone to figure it out without me guiding it in any which way – I think everyone spoke up.

“Matt is fiery and he’ll get up and speak up. I am sure he did. I didn’t even ask, but it was obviously handled.”

Brey also isn’t worried about guys talking as it’s an experienced group. That’s a perk of building a program around four and five-year players. The experience speaks for itself and the respect is mutual throughout the locker room.

“I think it’d depend on the young man,” Brey said of containing a player when he speaks up. “Anybody who speaks up – the ones that are going to speak up are going to be our older guys. I respect that. They’ve invested with us and have been so coachable. If they have something to say, great. Afterward, would I coach them a little bit? Sometimes, but I wouldn’t want to get in the way of letting the natural – this group has taken ownership of itself or we wouldn’t be 20-7, so you have to let them run with it.”

There are few who saw this type of season coming from point guard Matt Farrell. The junior is averaging 14.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game, but also has taken and run with his leadership role.

He can make shots. - Brey on Matt Farrell
The success has led to Farrell being a top candidate for Most Improved Player of the Year and Brey knows there are few that can stack up to Farrell.
“That’s the epitome of him and his makeup,” stated Brey. “I am really proud of it and I think it’s a great statement for our program and our player development. There are people deserving, but there isn’t anyone more deserving. We have some other guys that have jumped up there, but how he has driven us and the big shots, the big plays and the emotional stuff that gets contagious with our guys. I just think he is a clear-cut guy.”  

It was clear last year in March that Farrell brought a playmaking element to the team, but the scoring and big shots was a bit of a surprise to most this season. Brey saw it and Farrell’s scoring ability was a large part of him landing an offer.

“He can make shots,” said Brey. “He’s a shot maker off the dribble, off the catch and he rarely misses a mid-range shot. I’ve watched shooting drills and he’s got a great stroke. His percentages say that, so that’s just another weapon out there that’s consistent.

“In January, I would tell him to take his shot early when he has it. It’s a balance part when you’re a point guard. If he has a great look the first three possession of a game, it’s OK to let that thing fly. I still think he is getting comfortable with that.”

Farrell plays with a huge chip on his shoulder and is one that would almost be offended if he won Most Improved Player of the Year as he firmly believes he could have played like this year ago. However, Brey knows his point guard has improved his game on both ends of the floor.

“Is he going to have the New Jersey mad face if he gets it,” laughed Brey. “He better not because I think it’s a great testament. He has improved. He’s gotten better as a point guard. He’s been more vocal and been better with the ball. He’s better defensively than when he was here as a young guy.”  

Big man Martinas Geben had started most of the year for the Irish, but then Brey made the decision to go small. It took the 6-foot-10 post out of the starting lineup and Geben has handled the move well.

“It’s been hard for him,” Brey explained. “He was a starter for us. His attitude has been fabulous, but I am always sensing where our guys are at. They can show that stiff upper lip in public, but it’s tough.

“You never know when it’s going to be come back around. We played two bigs and zone the other night and it helped us win the game. You never know how this thing is going to evolve and he continues to work.”  

One name Notre Dame fans may have forgotten is freshman Nikloa Djogo. The 6-foot-7 forward is redshirting, but has been seen shooting after games and well before practice begins.

“He’s got a stroke,” Brey stated. “There’s no question about it. He’s a heck of an athlete. He’s really a live body. He’s gained 15 pounds. He looks great and we’ve been able to put him on more of a demanding strength program since he’s redshirting.

“He can drive it. He can bounce. He can rebound and he has good size. We do our conditioning test, he runs all day and he doesn’t get tired. It’s always nice in this program to be able to make an outside shot.”

Brey is excited about Djogo’s future but knew he couldn’t play him this year with the depth at the position. However, next season will be much different with Beachem and Vasturia out of the program.  

“He has a really bright future, but there are some pretty good players leaving the building,” said Brey. “I am excited about him and DJ (Harvey) in our freshmen class next year.”

- Rex Pflueger will start on Saturday.

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