basketball

Notre Dame Hoops Positioned Well For Stretch Run

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V.J. Beachem and the Irish have a week off before playing their final three regular season games.
Associated Press

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Notre Dame does not play again until Sunday, and by the time the Irish tip-off against Georgia Tech, their position in the Atlantic Coast Conference could be even better than it is now.

If the season ended today, Notre Dame would be the No. 4 seed in the ACC Tournament, meaning a double-bye. At 21-7 overall and 10-5 in the league, the Irish are fending off Florida State, Miami and Virginia for the fourth seed.

“I like where we’re at,” head coach Mike Brey said Monday on the ACC coaches teleconference. “I told our guys Friday night before the (NC) State game, we get to 10 league wins, we get to 10-5, we get to sit back for a week and watch everybody beat each other up.

“By the time we play next Sunday, our position could be even better than it is right now today.”

Notre Dame has received the double-bye each of the past two seasons. Two years ago the Irish won the league tournament, while last season they lost in the semifinals to North Carolina.

“It’s really a key,” Brey said of the double-bye. “We had the double bye last year too. In ’15 when we won it it was very much a key to play three games to win it. …The double bye is key and that’s something we’ve always talked about.”

The bye week in the schedule comes at a good time for the Irish from a rest standpoint. Here’s a look at the usage of Notre Dame’s top-four players:

Matt Farrell (Jr., G): 34.3 minutes per game, 14.2 points, 5.6 assists
Steve Vasturia (Sr., G): 34.1 mpg, 14.0 ppg, 3.9 rebounds per game
V.J. Beachem (Sr., W): 34.0 mpg, 15.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Bonzie Colson (Jr., F): 31.4 mpg, 16.7 ppg, 10.5 rpg

According to KenPom, Notre Dame’s minutes off the bench percentage (23.7) ranks 334th out of 351 Division I teams. That’s fourth-lowest among Power 5 teams, trailing Arizona State (16.7), Pittsburgh (21.8) and UCLA (22.3). That’s nothing new for Brey. The Irish ranked 344th last year and 349th in 2014-15.

“We can rest a little bit,” Brey said. “We need to get our energy back. Our four main guys play a lot of minutes, and the timing of this bye week is good for us.”

Getting fresh and keeping the team’s current offensive rhythm are the goals for the Irish during the week off. Notre Dame is ranked 14th in offensive efficiency by KenPom with three games remaining.

A big part of Notre Dame recent offensive success — scoring 80-plus points in the past four games — has been because of a starting lineup tweak. The Irish have gone with a four-guard limit almost exclusively since a four-game losing streak against Virginia, Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina.

“We’ve also made an adjustment where we’ve played smaller longer and we’ve started the game that way with really four true perimeter players around Bonzie,” Brey said. “It’s opened up the floor and it’s spaced the floor more and it’s helped our offensive efficiency.”

Notre Dame entered its bye week last year having won eight of 10 games. The Irish then went on the road and lost by one point to Georgia Tech. In 2015, Notre Dame won three of its last four games before the bye, then won at Louisville.

Brey said he’ll use the next several days to go on the road recruiting. The team will scrimmage Tuesday and have a light day Wednesday before getting into Georgia Tech preparations on Thursday and Friday.

Here’s Notre Dame’s remaining schedule:

• Feb. 26: vs. Georgia Tech (6:30 p.m., ESPNU)
• March 1: vs. Boston College (8 p.m., ACC Network)
• March 4: at Louisville (2 p.m., CBS)

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