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Mike Brey Discusses New 3-Point Line Impact On Notre Dame

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All-ACC candidate John Mooney made 34 of his 91 three-point attempts last year for a strong .374 percentage. (Fighting irish Media)

NOTE: This is Part II of a four-part series in our one-on-on interview with Mike Brey.

Since the inception of the three-point line in men’s college basketball for the 1986-87 season, the arc will be moved back for the second time to begin this year’s 2019-20 Division I campaign.

From 1986 through 2008, the three-point line was 19 feet, 9 inches. Starting in 2008-09, the NCAA moved it back a full foot to 20 feet, nine inches, and that season three-point conversions saw a decline from a conversion rate of 35.2 percent to 34.4 percent.

It went back up to 35.2 percent again by the start of the 2017-18 season — so this time the Men’s Basketball Rules Committee has moved the arc back to the international basketball distance of 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches, or nearly 17 inches longer than what it was for more than a decade.

In 20 seasons as Notre Dame’s head coach, Mike Brey’s teams have made efficient use of the three-point line overall. The past season’s 14-19 was an exception with a .315 shooting percentage, easily its worst.

The previous six seasons Notre Dame shot an aggregate and exceptional .372 percentage from three-point range. The Elite Eight team converted a remarkable .509 from the field and .390 from three-point range, while the Elite Eight unit the following season was still a robust .476 overall and .374 beyond the arc. Anything beyond the .360 level would be considered lethal. The track record of players under Brey making gradual to significant improvement from their freshmen to senior years is promising, which is why he has no objection to moving back the three-point arc.

Despite last season’s woeful campaign, ball movement and protection remained strong for the Irish. Believe it or not, they finished third in the 15-team ACC with a 1.39 assist-to-turnover ratio, behind only national champ Virginia’s 1.59 and traditional superpower North Carolina’s 1.44. This past year, though, the shots just did not fall for Notre Dame the way they had in the past.

“Our assists to turnovers we were still pretty good, even though we didn’t make threes like we used to,” Brey said. “In the big picture, it was time to move the three-point line out, no question about it because it was probably being used a little much — even by some average shooters. The guys who can really shoot it, I don’t think it’s that big a difference.”

What intrigues Brey is whether the spacing on offense will truly improve with the longer distance.

“At the old arc maybe there were four guys you were really closing out on, worrying about making threes,” he said. “With the new arc, is it just two you’re worried about? And it can also be anti-spacing, people playing in a little bit more and jamming out. I think there are a lot of people that are thinking defensively like, ‘I’m not going to get stretched out as much now.’ Four and maybe five are making it at the old arc. Can they make it there with the new one? I’m thinking on defense, do we jam it even more? Do we not close out on guys as much?”

Brey also sees the employment of more zone defenses with the rule change.

“Maybe this new arc is not the weapon at a further distance as it was at the old distance,” Brey noted. “So can you play more zone — and if you can, your guys can rest a little bit when it comes to playing offense. It’s the Syracuse philosophy. The great thing about their (2-3) zone is yes it’s hard to attack, but their offensive guys are never chasing ball screens and they are never chasing stagger screens. Carmelo Anthony’s legs were always fresh on the offensive end. We’ve taken a page from that. Steve Vasturia and Pat Connaughton and others didn’t need to be chasing guys 30 or 40 minutes.”

The 2018 and 2019 NIT already used the new three-point line as an experiment. The teams in the field this past year averaged 23.1 three-point field-goal attempts per game compared to 22.8 during the regular season. The three-point shooting in the tournament was .330 compared to the .352 regular season average.

Another new rule for 2019-20 that was approved was resetting the shot clock at 20 seconds after a field-goal attempt hits the rim and the team on offense rebounds it in the front court. It was decided a full 30-second shot clock is not needed because the team on offense already is in the front court following the rebound. Brey is all for increasing the tempo, even though the “burn offense” has been kind to him over the years.

“Last year just to stop overthinking and turning down shots, we practiced the last three weeks with a 20-second shot clock,” Brey revealed. “All of a sudden [freshman point guard Prentiss] Hubb is different. I almost wonder if that’s how we play all summer and work on it. We’re kind of swinging back the other way.

"This is probably three or four years away because coaches won’t agree to it, but we need to go to the 24-second shot clock. I think the college game … kids want to play quicker. That may be the most important rule change down the road. It won’t get a lot of support for about five years, but when we went to that 20-second shot clock in practice and I saw how the kids played … let’s go.”

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