Brey confident ahead of opener
Brian Plamondon | Friday, November 13, 2015
After making its first Elite Eight appearance in 36 years and losing senior leaders Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton to graduation, Notre Dame will open its 2015-2016 regular season Friday when it hosts St. Francis (Pennsylvania).
Despite losing the leadership and production of Grant and Connaughton — the pair were both captains and together contributed more than 37 percent of Notre Dame’s offense — the Irish still have high preseason expectations, ranked No. 19 in the AP poll and picked by ACC media to finish fourth in the conference.
None of the noise seems to affect Irish head coach Mike Brey, who said he is busy figuring out lineup combinations and who will see the floor for Notre Dame, at least early on in the season.
“We’re always looking at how do we help ourselves offensively sometimes, substituting-wise where we get another shooter-scorer on the floor that then stretches the floor, spaces the floor?,” Brey said Wednesday during his National Signing Day press conference. “Even though [sophomore forward] Bonzie [Colson] continues to make progress spacing it as a four man, I don’t want to lose sight of him playing inside the arc too, because he’s so good around the bucket.”
Colson has impressed in his one year on campus, serving as a much-needed spark off of the bench last season. Although he only averaged 5.6 points per game, Colson stepped up in big games, scoring 17 points against No. 2 Duke in the ACC semifinal in addition to double-digit performances in four other games. Brey said he is happy with Colson’s flexibility, but still trying to figure out what to do with his other players if Colson is playing inside.
“Then when you do that it puts a big logjam on your big guys,” Brey said. “Now your big guys are stacked on top of each other, and how do you get them minutes? How do you keep those engaged that maybe aren’t playing early in the year?”
For Brey and his Irish team, this season also poses a challenge in adapting to the new 30-second shot clock, down from 35-seconds a year ago.
“Thirty-second clocks is not a 20-second clock is what I try to tell them,” Brey said. “We almost got it up there a little quick. And to understand when you get into this half-court basketball mode that we do in practice, it’s a grind when we have to do it. I’ve got to have a good balance point of that because arguably our two best players [in junior guard Demetrius Jackson and senior forward Zach Auguste] thrive in transition.”
Throughout the preseason, Brey said he’d like his squad to be more adept at the half-court game. Still, Brey said he understands that his team is stronger in transition.
“As much as you have to learn to grind, we have to continue to talk about getting stops or getting made field goals in quick, which we’ve emphasized from day one,” Brey said. “… I think we felt between the 30-second clock and the personnel we have, let’s get it in and go, go, go down the floor so we’re not having to grind as much.”
The game may have a fast-paced feel, as St. Francis is guard-heavy this year. The Red Flash return their top two guards in junior Malik Harmon and senior Greg Brown. Harmon finished second on the team in scoring last season averaging 9.7 points per game while dishing out a team-high 2.7 assists per contest, while Brown averaged 8.2 points last season, connecting on 50.5 percent of his shots. The Irish, however, probably most remember senior forward Ronnie Drinnon (8.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG), who started for the Red Flash the last time they played the Irish.
“Their four man is a kid who started here as a freshman and banged against Jack Cooley — we were looking at that tape the other day,” Brey said.
Although Notre Dame is heavily favored in the game, Brey said he is anticipating a battle between the two teams. Although picked to finish eighth in the Northeast Conference, St. Francis has had some recent success. Last season, the Red Flash beat Rutgers and Duquesne on their way to finishing 16-16 overall and 9-9 in the Northeast Conference — a finish good enough to put them in their first postseason game in 24 years.
“Their program is feeling good about themselves,” Brey said. “One of my themes today is expect a hard game and embrace a hard game.
“… I think that’s a great matchup [at the guard position], those two guys against our two guys.”
Notre Dame’s 2015-2016 season will commence Friday when it welcomes St. Francis to Purcell Pavilion for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off.