Farrell, new faces look to mold retooled Irish
Brian Plamondon | Thursday, November 5, 2015
Notre Dame will host Caldwell on Thursday in its final tune-up before the regular season gets underway next Friday
As the Irish prepare for their last exhibition, Irish head coach Mike Brey said he is excited about building on last season’s 32-6 record, but cautioned about comparisons between this team and last season’s.
“The first exhibition game last year we kind of knew who we were,” Brey said. “We had the two seniors, guys were grown, we were almost close to a finished product. We had been to Italy and had reps. I think this group, we’re going to be able to get better throughout the year and learn more, not only about the starters but who we’re going to bring off the bench.”
Although the exhibition will benefit all players, Brey said he is most excited to learn about potential role players and how they operate in a game situation. He pinpointed sophomore guard Matt Farrell as someone who has taken a giant step this offseason.
“He’s come back stronger, he’s come back a better defender, he’s come back running the team and quarterbacking and being more vocal,” Brey said. “And he’s such an energy guy, and obviously a shot maker … [and] a big-time threat. I was really encouraged to see him come in and give us a lift, give us a chance to rest [junior guard] Demetrius [Jackson]. He gives us a chance, too, to move Demetrius off the ball when he’s in the game.”
Farrell will be one of a few new faces for Irish fans following the departure of senior leaders Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant, both of whom play in the NBA now. A trio of freshman — forwards Matt Ryan and Elijah Burns and guard Rex Pflueger — is also competing for playing time.
“I’ve been really pleased with them because they compete every day,” Brey said. “… Matt Ryan’s shooting ability is a weapon that we just always have to keep handy — there’s not a lot of guys that can stretch the floor like that.
“… Rex Pflueger, great defender, learning how to be better with the basketball, but an energy guy.=
“… And Elijah Burns, even though he was out a week with a concussion, he’s a big guy that knows how to play.”
After evaluating the Caldwell game, Brey said he and his staff will determine whether or not some or all of the team’s freshmen will be redshirted.
“We’ve done that strategically in the past, put guys on a five-year program,” Brey said. “That’s something we’ve really got to talk about and think about. Maybe at the end of the day nobody is redshirted.”
All three will see playing time against Caldwell, a team that was recently picked to finish fourth in the North Division of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference of Division II. Coming off of a 15-13 season, the Cougars return two of their top three scorers from last season in seniors guard Dawan Lighty and forward Billy McDonald. Both averaged more than 13 points a game last year, with McDonald shooting 49.1 percent from the field.
Against the Cougars, Brey said he is looking for his team to improve their offensive efficiency from their exhibition last week.
“It’s been one of the hallmarks of the program here, and last year it was off the charts,” Brey said. “… Right now our [defense] is ahead of our offense. And I love that, too — we’re longer, able to get deflections — but I think especially in the half court. When we get into a half court battle, can we be efficient and move it and keep our space consistent?”
The Irish will wrap up their exhibition schedule when they play host to Caldwell on Thursday at Purcell Pavilion, a game that is set to tip at 7 p.m.