Notre Dame Basketball Hopes Coach Mike Brey’s Defensive ‘Wake-Up Call’ In Practice Sparks A Surge
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Notre Dame Hopes Defensive ‘Wake-Up Call’ In Practice Sparks A Surge

Based on the descriptions of this week’s practices, a week devoid of games for Notre Dame basketball was a week off on the schedule only.

Notre Dame didn’t play its game at Howard scheduled for Jan. 18 due to the Bison’s COVID-19 issues, instead taking the week to address a season-long problem area and trying to instill belief that a softer schedule the rest of the way can actually lead to a few wins.

The Irish opened ACC play with five straight losses, all to KenPom top-50 opponents. Only once in that stretch, a 66-65 loss at North Carolina on Jan. 2, did they truly threaten to win. Even after defeating Boston College 80-70 on Jan. 26 for their first conference win, they remain last in the ACC in adjusted defensive efficiency during league play.

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball junior guard Prentiss Hubb
Junior guard Prentiss Hubb and Notre Dame will try and win a second straight ACC game Sunday at Miami (ACC)

Head coach Mike Brey seized the eight-day span between games to try and find something, anything, that would lead to more engaged, energetic defense. Speaking with reporters via Zoom Friday morning, he detailed Notre Dame’s “compete drill” and scrimmages that took up most of practice the prior two days. The goal was to deliver a square boot in the rear and a competitive setting with personal pride at stake.

As point guard Prentiss Hubb describes it: “It’s a drill, but it’s more of a wake-up call that we need to lock in on defense. It helps us be more aggressive and play with more passion on defense.”

The compete drill is one-on-one work, with guards on the perimeter and big men in the paint. It’s isolation with a playground pickup ball feel. If a defensive player gives up a basket, he stays in. When he gets a stop, he can come out. At one point in a recent practice, Brey said one defender had to stay in for eight straight reps – a humbling moment that ought to raise anyone’s competitive juices.

“We needed to try and remind our guys that we do have an edge,” Brey said. “Nobody gets to this level of college basketball without being a competitor and having an edge. When you get thumped a bit by really good teams, you’re back on your heels. Human nature kicks in. I thought we had to taste it every day in practice.”

Notre Dame will find out Sunday night at Miami (6 p.m. ET) how much difference it made. This game is a favorable setup to start an upswing. The Hurricanes (6-7, 2-6 ACC) are a beatable, injury-plagued team that has played all their games without at least one of point guard Chris Lykes (15.5 ppg, 5.5 apg), wing Kam McGusty (10.0 ppg) and wing Earl Timberlake (9.3 ppg, No. 32 overall player in 2020). The trio has a combined 15 appearances.

Lykes, who led Miami in scoring (15.4 ppg), assists (2.4 apg) and three-point shooting (38.1 percent) last season, has played in two games this year due to an ankle injury.

Without any consistency of personnel and efficiency problems galore, the Hurricanes have been one of the ACC’s more unpredictable teams. Their two most recent losses were non-competitive road games at Syracuse and Boston College. Their most recent home game was a 78-72 win over then No.16 Louisville, played without any of Lykes, McGusty or Timberlake. All told, Miami is last in the ACC conference-game adjusted offensive efficiency.

What’s clear to Brey, though, is Notre Dame better be able to guard the dribble. Amid all the chaos around him, sophomore guard Isaiah Wong has emerged as one of the ACC’s better scorers. He’s averaging a team-best 17.5 points, shooting 57.4 percent on two-pointers and averages more than five three throw attempts per game. Miami puts him in plenty of ball screens to set him up to attack.

“An athletic group that is going to drive at our heart and our lane, be up on the backboard,” Brey said of the Hurricanes. “That’s a great challenge for us. If we could put a two-game win streak together in this league given where we are, that’d be a heck of a thing.

“That’ll be the rubber hitting the road for us. Can we handle it?”

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Notre Dame (4-8, 1-5 ACC) at Miami (6-7, 2-6)

When: Sunday, Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. ET

TV: ACC Network

Radio: Notre Dame basketball radio network

Series history: Tied 12-12

Last meeting: Notre Dame won 87-71 at home on Feb. 23, 2020

KenPom prediction: Miami 72, Notre Dame 71

Other notes

• Miami isn’t overly reliant on three-pointers, but is one of the country’s least accurate teams when shooting them. The Hurricanes are 335th nationally in three-point percentage, at 26.9 percent. Freshman wing Matt Cross is the only healthy player shooting over 30 percent on threes, at 43.5 percent (20 of 46).

• Junior forward Nate Laszewski continues to lead all qualified Division I players in effective field goal percentage, at 76.7 percent. That’s largely boosted by his 55.3 mark on three-pointers, which is fourth nationally among qualified players. He leads Notre Dame in scoring, at 16.7 points per game. Hubb is second, at 13.7.

• In conference games, Hubb ranks second in the ACC in assist rate and is shooting 60 percent on two-pointers. He has made just six of his 34 three-point attempts (17.6 percent), though.

• Notre Dame was 14 of 31 on three-pointers last time out against Boston College, but is still shooting only 34 percent from beyond the arc in ACC play.

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