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Men’s Basketball: Freelance offense goes to work against EMU

Chris Hine and Chris Khorey | Friday, November 30, 2007

Notre Dame has scored 87 and 94 points in its last two games.

So Irish coach Mike Brey must be drawing up some impressive offensive schemes, right?

Wrong.

This season, and especially in the last week, Notre Dame (4-2) has played a mostly freelance offense, with only a few designed sets.

“The strength is that there’s no predictable movement,” Brey said. “This group understands what a good and bad shot is.”

Junior forward Zach Hillesland said that instead of installing a complex offense during fall practice, Brey gave the players a few tips on getting open and then let them play.

“It’s a fun way to play,” Hillesland said, “Being a basketball player making basketball plays is fun.”

The strategy has had mixed results. In their four wins this season, the Irish are averaging almost 85 points. But in Notre Dame’s two losses, to Baylor and Georgia Tech in the Paradise Jam tournament two weeks ago, it averaged only 67.5 points.

Still, senior forward Rob Kurz said the Irish are better than they were in the Virgin Islands.

“We’ve improved the past two games and we have to keep improving on the things that we didn’t do well in the Virgin Islands,” he said.

As the season goes on, Hillesland said, the Irish will continue to jell and the offense will get more consistent – especially late in close games, against stiffer competition.

“It’s a matter of getting experience as a group,” he said. “It’s a matter of finding what we’re looking for down the stretch and getting good shots.”

Notre Dame’s wide-open offense will get another test Saturday when Eastern Michigan (3-3) visits the Joyce Center at 7 p.m.

Like Youngstown State and Colgate, Notre Dame’s most recent opponents, the Eagles will probably concentrate on denying passes to the post, where Kurz and sophomore forward Luke Harangody lurk. The pair is averaging a combined 32.2 points per game.

If Eastern Michigan succeeds, the Irish will need to shoot well from the outside, something that didn’t happen in the Virgin Islands but has improved recently. After starting the season 6-of-20 from behind the arc, junior guard Kyle McAlarney has made 12 long-range jumpers in the past two games.

Forwards Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller have also been threats from outside, with both making more than half of their 3-pointers this season.

In Notre Dame’s free-form offense, a lot of the open looks for shooters come from passes out of the post. Harangody said he’s been working hard on finding the open man when he gets double-teamed.

“Last year, I was terrible at it,” he said. “But now I’m older and I’ve gotten better.”

On the other side of the floor, the Irish will have to defend Eagles guards Jesse Bunkley and Carlos Medlock, who are both averaging double figures this season.

Bunkley drains almost 45 percent of his 3-point shots, while Medlock is a slasher who likes to penetrate and distribute the ball to the tune of five assists per game.

The game against the Irish will be Eastern Michigan’s first of the season against a power conference opponent. The Eagles lost 72-68 Wednesday at home to Detroit.