When Notre Dame’s offense is flowing, it’s like watching the brush-stroke-by-brush-stroke beauty of a masterpiece coming to life on a blank canvas.
It’s happened time after time in the Mike Brey era as his team’s offensive flow resembles a how-to video.
Then there are the inevitable lulls, which even the greatest of offensive basketball teams slips into during tough times.
The Fighting Irish are caught in one of those ruts spanning the better part of two weeks in which they’ve lost three out of four, averaged less than 60 points per game, and are shooting less than 40 percent from the field, including a chilly 30.3 percent from the three-point line.
“I have absolutely no freakin’ idea right now,” said Brey when asked about solutions moments after a 68-50 home loss to No. 7 Miami Wednesday night in which the Irish managed just 17 field goals and 34.0 percent shooting.
“We’re struggling right now on offense. I told our guys, ‘I’ve got to try to figure out how to help you.’”
Brey’s teams tend to be guard-driven, and his 2015-16 squad – which shot to 9-4 in ACC play with wins over North Carolina, at Clemson and Louisville three weeks ago – is no different.
For most of the season, juniors Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia have led the Irish in the backcourt while Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson have done the heavy lifting up front.
But the Irish backcourt stalled against the Hurricanes, shooting a combined 3-of-22 from the field and 1-of-10 from three-point range. Vasturia was a frigid 0-of-9 from the field, including all four three-point attempts.
Since suffering a hamstring injury on Jan. 23, Jackson has connected on just 40-of-96 field-goal attempts (.416) and 13-of-48 (.270) from three-point range, failing to convert more than half of his shots in nine straight games.
In the first six games of ACC play – before Jackson’s injury – he had converted 41-of-83 shots (.493) and 15-of-36 from three-point range (.416).
“We’ve been in a little funk offensively,” Jackson said. “We haven’t been as efficient. As a point guard, I’ve got to help our team and we’ve got to find our mojo.”
In the last four games, Vasturia is just 11-of-38 (.289) from the field and 3-of-14 (.214) from three-point range.
“When your guards can’t get going -- and I love my guards, our guards have been a key -- we won’t beat many teams,” Brey said. “Our guards have struggled. They’re really good and we really need them to be good. I’ve got to try to help them.”
Brey is much less concerned with the duo’s shooting numbers, which can go in cycles, and more focused on their ability to get others involved via clean looks at the rim.
“We have been a really good drive and kick team,” Brey said. “I don’t think our guards have found that guy. I don’t think we’ve been very clean on those passes. V.J. (Beachem) would get those. Matt Ryan would get those.
“We have some kicks for some clean shots, rhythm shots, and I don’t think we’ve made great decisions there. We get cleaner (looks) that way. We’ve been taking harder shots.”
One player who has excelled during the doldrums has been 6-foot-10 senior Zach Auguste, who is shooting 55 percent from the field the last four games while averaging 15.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per game.
Auguste scored 18 of Notre Dame’s 50 points against Miami while grabbing 11 of the team’s 26 rebounds.
But Notre Dame’s overall inefficiency offensively is a formula for disaster.
“We’ve been scoring in the 50s for a while, and when you’re scoring in the 50s, you lose a lot of those,” Brey said. “We’ve got to try to find a rhythm.”
The rut has Brey longing for the performances against North Carolina, Clemson and Louisville just a few short weeks ago when the Irish – for all practical purposes – landed an NCAA bid while raising their record in ACC play to 9-4.
“When we had that great week, our two big guys were pounding people in the paint with second shots, posting up, going at people’s throats,” Brey recalled. “Steve and Demetrius were driving it, we were getting fouled and we were effective from the free-throw line.
“We haven’t been able to do that lately. We need to work on our spacing offensively. Can we screen better for our guys? Can we get some easy buckets in transition?”
More questions than answers at a time when Brey’s Notre Dame teams normally are trending up.