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Notre Dame Basketball

Brey Notebook: NCAA Tournament

March 13, 2017
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Fresh off an appearance in the ACC Tournament title game, Notre Dame found out it would be the No. 5 seed in the West in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday evening. While some might have expected a higher seed, head coach Mike Brey was more concerned about establishing his program.

“This never gets old,” Brey said on Sunday. “We are thrilled to be back in this thing. We’re kind of making it an annual event, which is what you want your program to be doing.

“I erase seed lines and all that stuff. We got our little mini-bracket with West Virginia and Bucknell. We are hanging on for deal life. We need some rest.”

The Irish will face Princeton, a team known Notre Dame isn’t familiar with, but every team is familiar with the principles of the Princeton offense.

“The Princeton offense all through college basketball and the NBA,” stated Brey. “I told our team that they finally get to guard the Princeton offense run by Princeton. I also told them they have to guard us.”

They will grind you and play a little slower. We just played Virginia, so we know how to do that dance. - Mike Brey on Princeton
Part of the unique style of the offense is ball entries. Most teams take a direct approach when entering the ball to the post, but Princeton moves the entry higher, so defending angles is crucial for the defense. Brey does have confidence Notre Dame will be ready for it, as the Irish use forms of the offense.

“They like to enter everything at the elbow,” Brey said. “You’re guarding spacing, but we guard spacing every day when we guard ourselves. You’re guarding shooting on the perimeter, and we guard shooting every day because that’s our personnel. Back cutting, they are famous for a lot of that, but we cut a lot, so we guard cutting.

“We’re Princetonish without the predictable movement. Ours is free flowing, but it’s Princeton philosophy when it comes to spacing at cutting. They will grind you and play a little slower. We just played Virginia, so we know how to do that dance.”

Notre Dame has also developed a little pride on the defensive end of the floor this season, which will be useful if the Irish make a run over the next few weeks.

“I think our defensive intelligence can help us against a group like this, and it has all year,” stated Brey. “We’ve been able to digest the scouting report and an opponent’s tendencies. Our main guys have been really good about talking through it and switching it when we’ve had to. I feel we can prepare well for this.

“They have a little pride about sitting down and defending people.”

Energy

Notre Dame played an intense three games in three days against three tournament teams, so rest is at a premium. Brey plans to give his team plenty of downtime over the next few days to make sure everyone gets their legs back.

“We have had tough stretches during the regular season, and I think we have a pretty good recovery plan,” Brey explained. “We will not do much on Monday physically. Tuesday we will be light. You’re past real physical practices.

“I am really glad it’s spring break, and these guys don’t have academic demands this week. They can sleep. It’s quiet around here, so it comes at a good time to get our energy back.”

The Irish have been lucky in avoiding injuries this season, but coming out of the ACC Tournament, a few guys have some bumps and bruises.

“We really need to get some rest,” stated Brey. “We have a couple of guys nicked up. Bonzie has a sore ankle, and he will be fine. (Austin) Torres has a little bit of a sprain on the hand, and he’ll also be fine.”

Expectations

With reaching the Elite 8 two years in a row, Notre Dame will have some expectations heading into the NCAA Tournament. Brey feels the experience in last week’s ACC Tournament will help his team manage those expectations.

“I think we got a little better up in New York,” said Brey. “We delivered under bright lights and played well, even though we couldn’t finish and get the championship game. We had our swagger. I told them Saturday night when the bracket shows up, we’re the only team that’s played in back-to-back Elite 8s. That’s a great advantage, and I think it’s a psychological advantage for this nucleus.”  

I told them Saturday night when the bracket shows up, we’re the only team that’s played in back-to-back Elite 8s. - Mike Brey
Brey saw his team rise to the challenge and knock of Virginia, but also the younger guys got to see how the veterans step up when the lights are the brightest.
“Everything was up a level,” Brey said. “They were excited to be in that building. To beat Virginia, we got some confidence and got rolling a little bit. There is a nucleus of guys now, and they’re pulling along some guys. I think we will do it in Buffalo.

“When the lights have been the brightest, we’ve been in a rhythm lately where we love it, embrace it and deliver. I think it’s gotten to be a tradition of the program, where it’s handed down to the younger guys, and they are dragged along by the older guys.”

Bench

One reason for Notre Dame’s success in Brooklyn was due to the bench play. While the quality of play might not always be reflected in the box score, Brey feels he has four solid guys that can give significant minutes.

“I feel good about nine guys,” explained Brey. “Some guys play more than minutes at some times. Matt Ryan gives us a great night against Florida State. I was waiting for him to bang one in on Saturday night.

“TJ didn’t play as much. I grabbed him on the plane and told him it wasn’t anything he wasn’t doing, but we were riding this group. We’re confident in the nine-man rotation.”

Brey is also quick to credit two players for sticking with him and the program when the minutes might not have been there at times during the regular season.  

“I give a lot of credit to Martin Geben and Matt Ryan,” stated Brey. “They were out of the loop and not playing major minutes, but to hang in there and stay with it, then be ready when they are called on. You have to be a solid and mature guy to do that. It’s hard when you’re only getting two or three minutes.”  

Keys

As Notre Dame heads into the NCAA Tournament, Brey wants his team to be themselves. It’s very clear there will be no pressure from the head coach, which is something Brey had to learn over his tenure.

“Keeping us loose and not playing with the weight of the world on your shoulders,” Brey said of the keys to success in March. “I think some of my earlier years, I was really uptight because you know it's one-and-done. I don’t think I helped our team and had them a little uptight.

“As I have gotten older, I have gotten looser with them. We smile and laugh. They are going to play hard. This group has prepared themselves. I just don’t want them tied up in knots.”  

Farrell

Six months ago, a very select few would have predicted Matt Farrell’s success this season. The junior point guard averaged 14.2 PPG and 5.5 APG this season, but the leadership and mentality he has brought to the team is priceless.

“He is so confident right now, and he adds so much to our group,” explained Brey. “There is a lot on him. He is making every decision off the ball-screen. I thought he was unbelievable in Brooklyn.

“We get the double-bye, the three-seed, and get to the championship with a chance to win it because of the unknown point guard became one of the best point guards in the country.”

The college basketball world might have been surprised to see Farrell’s rise, but the NBA was also surprised to see the New Jersey native’s success.  

“The NBA is really intrigued about him,” stated Brey. “There are a bunch of guys intrigued about him. He’s got all of their attention.  

“He’s come out of nowhere, and the next level is really intrigued by him just from talking to different scouts. They’ll thoroughly analyze him through is senior year.” 
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Brey Notebook: NCAA Tournament

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