Notre Dame Fighting Irish Mike Brey reacts to call as they play Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Big East NCAA men's basketball tournament game in New York

Notre Dame rounding into form with Big East semis looming


Notre Dame has never made it past the Big East tournament’s semifinals, but as they erased an early 17-4 deficit to knock off Marquette 73-65 on Thursday night, the Irish look like they may be able to make some noise in the tournament after all.

The biggest reason why? They are starting to get contributions from up-and-down their lineup.

Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley have struggled through two games in New York. Jerian Grant has played better, but even his 17 points, six boards, six assists, three steals and two blocks on Thursday was tainted with a 4-15 shooting performance.

That’s Mike Brey’s Big Three struggling, and yet here the Irish are, with a grudge match set with Louisville for the right to play for the Big East title.

Much of the credit has to fall on the shoulders of Patrick Connaughton, whose averaging 19.5 points while shooting 12-18 from three and seemingly making every big shot through two games. He’s been aided by big performances from Tom Knight (19 points, nine boards vs. Rutgers) and Garrick Sherman (16 points vs. Marquette).

Put it all together, and the Irish are weaseling their way back to looking like one of the Big East’s best.

That’s praise that doesn’t come easy for a team that has built a reputation for being great in the regular season and awful in March. Whether or not that changes this year is still to be determined, but if the past two days are any indication, the Irish aren’t going to need Herculean performances out of their three stars every night this month.

There is balance on the roster, and that’s big. Why? Because Atkins and Grant played 40 minutes tonight after combining for 72 minutes on Wednesday. And to rest their legs tomorrow, they’ll get to matchup with Louisville’s back court.

Taking some of the responsibility off of those two will take some of the load that they have to bear.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.