Notre Dame to host UMass Lowell
Alex Carson | Thursday, November 19, 2015
Heading into No. 18 Notre Dame’s matchup with UMass Lowell on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion, Irish head coach Mike Brey is a little concerned — not because of his team’s play, but of recent results across the country.
“I get nervous when I look around and see all the upsets in college basketball already,” Brey said. “We’re not even a week in, and power-five conference teams such as ourselves, many of them have taken bullets and have lost.”
No. 6 Virginia, who lost at Brey’s alma mater, George Washington, on Monday headlines a list of four ACC teams to have dropped an opening-week contest to a mid-major squad, with many other top-tier schools having been upset already.
The Irish (2-0) are coming off a tight, 86-78 win over Milwaukee on Tuesday night — a game Brey called “interesting” — and could face more matchup issues Saturday against the River Hawks (1-1).
“They’re small, and they’re fast, so they can create some matchup problems for us,” Brey said. “ … They play really fast, and they play really small, so what are our matchups going to be? And who are our big guys going to guard? [Those] are my concerns.”
After starting each half Tuesday with both sophomore forward Bonzie Colson and senior forward Zach Auguste on the floor, Brey made the call to “downshift” about five minutes into each half, keeping one of Colson and Auguste on the bench the rest of the way — something Brey said had a bit to do with Milwaukee’s size.
“I love our starting group, and we continue to keep getting them accustomed to playing together,” Brey said. “But I think, when you’re playing a smaller team, when you have a smaller lineup on the floor, you’re able to match up with shooters when there are so many shooters, and Milwaukee posed that.”
Though it’s not just a reactionary move for the Irish to bring sophomore guard Matt Farrell or freshman forward Matt Ryan onto the floor for Colson or Auguste.
“It gives us a different look offensively,” Brey said. “We put another shooter on the floor, and we spread it out.”
Brey said the Irish are still looking to find the right balance in their rotations and that they’re still looking to gather more data for their analytics-based approach.
“What we’re trying to find, what I’m trying to find is what’s the balance point of when the two big guys play together — or two big guys play together, [sophomore forward Martinas] Geben, [junior forward Austin] Torres, any combination of them — and when do you put a Ryan or a Farrell in there and you stretch it out a little bit?” Brey said. “That’s something we really study.
“We’ve got analytics on it; our points per possession with one lineup versus another, but we don’t have enough data in a game yet to really say, ‘Man, that’s definitive.’”
Early in the year, Ryan has emerged as the seventh man in Notre Dame’s rotation, edging out Torres, Geben and senior forward Austin Burgett, but Brey said there’s more to the freshman’s game than simply his shot.
“There’s certainly that ability to shoot the basketball and shoot it from deep, to be fearless like that, it’s just such a weapon that we love,” Brey said. “What I’ve been impressed with — you can’t play him 17 minutes in a game just because he’s a great shooter. He’s gotta be able to do some things on the defensive end and rebound a little bit, and I’ve been impressed with how he’s improved defensively, gotten more attention to detail and that he can rebound some.”
Against Milwaukee on Tuesday, junior forward V.J. Beachem tied a career high with 19 points, something the Fort Wayne, Indiana, native said was a product of the way he approached the game.
“I just wanted to be more aggressive, you know, try to play my complete game, more than just shooting jump shots,” Beachem said.
Saturday’s contest will the the last for Notre Dame before heading south to Walt Disney World, where the Irish will compete in the Advocare Invitational. Despite the warm weather and a potential Sweet 16 rematch with No. 9 Wichita State, Brey said he isn’t concerned about his team looking past UMass Lowell on Saturday.
“I think this group has been really mature about setting their goals,” Brey said. “ … I think when they look around the country and see teams getting beat by mid-majors, it gets their attention, so I really don’t think they’ll get ahead of ourselves.“
Beachem supported Brey’s faith in his squad to not get ahead of itself this weekend.
“Just knowing that we’ve got to take it one game at a time [keeps us focused],” Beachem said. “You can’t overlook anybody; every game we’ve got to be ready to play, no matter when it is, no matter who it’s against.”
Notre Dame and UMass Lowell tip off Saturday at 2 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.