Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey has not been hesitant to mix in the 2-3 zone during the team’s 5-0 start to Atlantic Coast Conference play.
“We’re good in it because we’re a good defensive team,” Brey said, “so it doesn’t matter what we play. Our instincts of talking and helping each other, this group is much improved in that area than my other teams.
The Irish played zone in the second half of wins over Miami and Virginia Tech last week. The Hurricanes shot 33.3 percent from three-point range against Notre Dame, while the Hokies shot just 27.8 percent from three.
Brey said the decision to play zone is lineup generated. With 6-10 forward Martinas Geben in the middle of the zone, it gives the Irish a big body to anchor the defense. But with Geben on the bench and versatile 6-6 guard Rex Pflueger on the floor, Brey feels the Irish are more athletic in the zone and can create deflections.
“It gives a team maybe a little bit different look,” Brey said of his zone with the smaller lineup. “The one thing about playing against zone is you have to handle the ball and maybe think a little more as a team offensively.
“Against man-to-man you can ball screen and drive downhill. You’ve got to be a pretty good basketball players, and that’s one of the reasons Syracuse takes advantage of 60 possessions of having to be focused and good with the ball against that.”
Playing the zone gives his intelligent guards like junior Matt Farrell, seniors V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, as well as Pflueger and freshman T.J. Gibbs, an opportunity to play aggressively and get steals.
“That’s why we’re stealing the ball at a rate we never really have,” Brey said. “When you put guys in an open stance, now they’re more like those free safeties and they can anticipate and get deflections.”
Notre Dame is averaging 7.4 steals per game, which ranks 67th nationally. Last season, Notre Dame finished 246th in steals (5.5 per game).
Brey also sees the zone having a positive impact on his team’s transition game.
“It’s one of the reasons we used it and been good at it,” Brey said. “We’ve always been able to run out of it on misses. You’re able to kind of explode out of those set positions than in man.”