Cavalier defense brings new challenge to Irish
Alex Carson | Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Irish head coach Mike Brey’s Notre Dame teams have been known lately for their offensive efficiency, and this year is no different for the No. 14 Irish. But on Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame faces a team known for something different: its defensive efficiency.
As has become customary under head coach Tony Bennett, No. 12 Virginia is again amongst the nation’s leaders in defense — Ken Pomeroy’s prominent adjusted defensive efficiency statistic has the Cavaliers (15-3, 5-2 ACC) ranked sixth — and Brey thinks it’ll be a key for his Irish (17-3, 6-1 ACC) to get out in transition against Virginia.
“I’m gonna talk a lot about our defense again, just like I did before the Syracuse game and see if we can keep them to one-and-done,” Brey said. “Because then we can get it to [junior guard Matt Farrell] and we can run and get some easy buckets and you don’t have to play against that set defense.”
Tuesday’s matchup comes just days after the Irish blew past another team known for its unique defensive style in Syracuse, whose patented 2-3 zone has given Notre Dame problems in the past. While the schemes are different, Brey said some of the things needed to break each one down are the same.
“Like a zone, though, they jam the lane up, they protect the paint,” Brey said. “We had to make some shots over the top of that zone to be successful and you have to make some shots over the top of their defense to be successful. So there are some similarities there.”
A player that could help hit shots over that defense is senior forward and captain V.J. Beachem, who posted a career-high 30 points against Syracuse and has hit 10 of his last 15 3-point field goal attempts.
“[I’d] love to keep that dude going,” Brey said. “He’ll get looks ’cause they jam it in.”
After Saturday’s win over Syracuse, there’s just one team left in the ACC the Irish haven’t defeated since joining the league in 2013: Virginia.
“They knew they didn’t have much success against Syracuse since we’ve been in the ACC,” Brey said. “I think the older guys wanted to change that and I think they talk the same way about this one [Tuesday] night.”
According to Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo statistics, the Cavaliers play at the slowest pace in Division I — and Brey said that will pose challenges for the Irish on both ends of the court, especially the defensive one.
“It’s long possessions on both ends, and being patient offensively to move them around enough where you can get an opening because you’re not going quick against their defense,” Brey said. “ … Your defensive patience is tested; you’re gonna be in a stance for 25 seconds every time and we’ve done some stuff [Sunday and Monday] about playing defense all the way through the shot clock.”
Notre Dame currently sits in a three-way tie with No. 6 Florida State and No. 9 North Carolina atop the ACC, with the Cavaliers the only two-loss team left in the conference. That’s created some separation, making Tuesday’s game even more important in the chase for the top seed in the ACC tournament.
“Regular-season championship — I’ve mentioned [it] in the last week and our guys, I think, certainly dream about that and talk about that and want to work for that,” Brey said. “ … And then the other thing is the double bye [in the ACC tournament]. That’s always on my mind, too.”
Senior guard London Perrantes leads the Cavaliers with 11.9 points per game this season while junior forward Isaiah Wilkins is his team’s leading rebounder with 5.6 boards per game.
The Irish and Cavaliers will tip at 8 p.m. Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion.