Since the football squad is taking a well-deserved break in the action this week, we here at OFD decided to bring you a Cutting Through the Coach-Speak from the basketball program.
October is a magical time for basketball players and coaches. The promise of a new season kicking off and the transition from the loose and less-structured summer into fall practices starts to put the rhythm of the game into focus. Of course, as Mike Brey pointed out in his opener, you're also undefeated on media day.
There's a lot to pick apart in Brey's 28 minutes with the media, and I've included the video at the end of this post. My esteemed colleagues are going to be taking you through some great positional preview content this week, so let's use this post to break down some of the themes Brey explored in his media session.
The first thing that struck me about Brey's demeanor was his high energy level. He presents the appearance of a guy who's fired up to get his hands on this team. He and his staff are incredibly high on the talent returning to Purcell Pavilion (that's what the kids are calling the JACC now). Who can blame them? There's a lot of athleticism and experience on this Fighting Irish squad, and the team is led by "guys who have won a lot together" in the back court. Add in the energy of the newcomers with an improving front court, and you have a team that is arguably one of the more intriguing assemblies of talent in South Bend in the Brey era.
The other big reason for the bounce in this program's step is the transition to the ACC. If you're a fan of reading between the lines, check out when Brey says, "I never thought I'd be coaching in the ACC at Notre Dame." As Brey observed, Coach K is the only one still in the same seat since he left Duke's bench. It is a testament to Savvy Jack's great management at the AD position that Brey is still in South Bend.
Brey, however, had started to identify himself as a "Big East guy." He admitted to enjoying that status quo and not wanting that to change. Brey waxed nostalgic about the BET in MSG and shared that he, Jim Boeheim, and Jamie Dixon spent some of the ACC meetings trying to influence the ACC leadership in the value of holding "your tournament on Broadway." Brey's clearly hopeful the ACC brass will eventually see it his way and help get over his "biggest withdrawal." He went so far as to say, "We'll do the Greensboro thing for a while." That's a pretty strong hint that the ACC may be open to looking at MSG in the future, but I'm not sure that's very realistic. Being here in the heart of ACC country myself, I don't see it, but you never know.
Brey also made an interesting observation about one of the less-than-obvious transition issues. Winning at home has been a strength of his program, but he's putting even more emphasis on it now because he perceives winning on the road even more challenging in ND's new conference. Brey pointed out that all the ACC schools play in on-campus facilities, making the gameday atmosphere much more challenging as a road team. Whereas in the Big East, ND could count on a decent fan presence in games played in the Verizon Center or other NBA venues, ACC schools are going to be much more partisan and challenging - like coming to Notre Dame. Brey's on to something very interesting here -- despite being wrong about all being on campus, NC State frequently plays in the PNC Center -- what has been one of ND's key strengths in Big East play: a raucous home court advantage, will represent a bigger challenge on the road in the ACC.
Style of play in the ACC was also a source of discussion for Notre Dame's head coach. In the Big East, you face a lot of very athletic,
constantly fouling bruising, and physical play at the 4 position. In the ACC, Brey expects to see a 4 man that faces up more instead of a brute force pounder that might be less of a skilled basketball player you saw in the Big East. In fact, some of the ACC press have noted ND as being "really big." For those of us who've followed the entire Big East journey at ND, being perceived as "really big" is something entirely new.
Style of Play
Anyone who longs for the burn is likely to be sorely disappointed in this edition of Notre Dame basketball. Brey made it pretty clear that the 2013/2014 edition of the Fighting Irish will be getting up and down the floor. With such an athletic and aggressive backcourt, you're likely to see much more pressure on the basketball and guys up in passing lanes. With that pressure, you're also much more likely to see ND get out and run in transition. With the shooters available and 3 guys who can really push tempo in Atkins, Grant, and Jackson, this is going to be a team that pushes the ball in transition frequently.
Offensively, I think you're going to see a lot of the "horns" look in the half court. While this team lacks a guy at the 4 who can step out like a Rob Kurz, Brey expects them to be able to use high "roadblock" screens to free up perimeter guys and pull opposition big men out on to the floor. All 3 big men are going to be expected to set great screens and provide movement this year, and Brey's been thrilled with what he sees from guys like Grant and Jackson coming off the curl and wreaking havoc on opposing defenses.
Defensively, I think ball pressure will be a point of emphasis, and it'll be interesting to see how ND is officiated in league play. I've maintained that the overly physical play and poor officiating in the Big East hurt ND, particularly late in a season. Will ND be the "physical" team in the ACC, or will we settle in to a league more amenable to our style? This will be an interesting thing to watch as the year develops. One thing is for sure, Brey is concerned about the defensive boards. Losing Jack Cooley's rebounding is a big concern for this squad. Look for Brey to emphasize the importance of his perimeter guys contributing on the defensive boards.
I'm sure this will draw some discussion, because it is certainly up for debate, but Brey put it out there that he's a very flexible guy and is more than willing to make changes and adjustments to style of play as the season unfolded. This is one of the things I love about the guy. Say what you want about his short bench or befuddling use of time out's, he's been pretty darn good at finding a way to get the Irish in to a position to consistently win games and be among the top of the Big East for a number of years. He's clearly energized about the challenge of finding the same success in the ACC.
March disappointment was a also a theme in this presser, but I liked the way Brey took it head on and indicated it has been a source of motivation and "a chip on the shoulder" for the veterans, who felt their poor showing vs. Iowa State took away a lot from an otherwise very successful season. Like any good head coach in front of the mic, Brey had it both ways in this media session. He started out emphasizing that there wasn't a hangover from the early exit, but later he talked about it being a motivating force. Part of good coaching is using that paradox to your advantage, and it sounds like Brey is working his team over perfectly.
Interestingly, Brey seems to have his team's sights set on simply getting a bid this year. A few different times in his 28 minutes, he talked about just getting a bid in year one in the ACC. For a team picked between 2nd and 5th in the season previews, this seems like a bit of an unambitious goal. However, when you look at the challenging overall schedule ND will face in and out of the ACC this season, perhaps it is smart to be focused on that incredibly important goal - get a bid. With 3 interesting and challenging B10 games on the schedule, and the unknowns around the ACC transition, the coach is clearly looking at how to engineer an NCAA bid in his first year in the new league.
As for now, they're just as undefeated as anyone and getting ready to get in to the meat of their pre-season preparation with 2-a-day's through fall break. It is one thing to be fired up seeing your 1's beat up on your 2's in open gyms and early practices. It is a whole other thing to face live fire. As for me, I share Brey's enthusiasm and excitement for this year's ND basketball team. I think we've got one of the best rosters since the Digger era, we're in a much better league, and expectations are in the right place for this team to do something special. Whether or not that translates into a bid and a deeper run in March, we'll have to see, but it is hard not to be fired up for this team.