He’ll use every second of the shot clock or he might prepare his team to play at a breakneck pace.
He’ll emphasize the three-point shot or turn his team into a pick-and-roll machine.
He’ll focus on his preferred four guards around one big man or he’ll choose a heftier lineup.
He’ll start the same unit for most of the season or he’ll tweak the starting lineup, which alters the chemistry of those coming off the bench in a positive way.
If Mike Brey has proven anything in his 16 seasons coaching Notre Dame basketball, it’s that you can’t keep an offensive mastermind down.
Brey is among the best in the business when it comes to manufacturing points. He did it again Saturday in Notre Dame’s 89-75 victory over N.C. State as the Irish scored just 17 points less than they did in the two previous games combined.
“Eighty-nine points sure looks good on that scoreboard,” said a relieved Brey after the Irish halted an uncharacteristic streak of four games in which the offense averaged less than 60 points per game.
Just three days earlier, the Irish had fallen to Miami in ugly fashion, scoring a mere 50 points on the heels of a 56-point effort at Florida State that resembled nothing about Brey’s normally efficient offense.
After sitting atop the nation in offensive efficiency throughout most of the season, Notre Dame was in a scoring rut.
“We’ve been scoring in the 50s for a while, and when you score in the 50s, you lose a lot of those,” said Brey following the Miami loss. “We’ve got to find a rhythm. I told them we’d figure it out because that’s what we usually do around here. We figure it out.”
This time it was a faster pace. Next time it might be a slower pace, or an extra guard, or one less guard, or a different rotation…
“Our tempo was key,” Brey said. “We played with a 20-second shot clock for two days in practice. On Thursday we played a five-minute period with an 18-second shot clock.
“We’re playing fast, baby, here we go. It really helps us. You’re playing downhill. You’re attacking.”
Playing fast was fine by Irish point guard Demetrius Jackson, who has been in a shooting slump, perhaps due in part to Notre Dame’s inability to get out on the fast break to score some easy buckets.
“Just flying around and shooting shots,” said Jackson of the practice sessions leading up to the N.C. State game.
And yet three days earlier, Brey said he was desperately searching for answers without any ready-made solutions.
“I have absolutely no freakin’ idea right now,” said Brey when asked for solutions to his team’s offensive doldrums. “But I’m going to spend a lot of time tonight and tomorrow. I told my guys, ‘I’ve got to try to figure out how to help you.’”
Brey considered the components of good offense. Better spacing. Transition baskets. Better passes by the guards after lane penetration to get the jump-shooters cleaner looks. Keep a surging Zach Auguste heavily involved. Play more players if the pace is accelerated.
When the Irish came back to practice the day after falling to Miami, Brey wasn’t going to let his team stand around talking about what they needed to do to ignite the offense.
“You really can’t find a rhythm in any kind of drills,” said Brey Thursday. “So today, we’re going to scrimmage a lot and see if we can get back in a rhythm. Today, we don’t need any breakdown drills. We have to play.”
Eighty-nine points later, Notre Dame’s offensive rhythm had returned. Yet Brey knew that in virtually every season, there is a lull. The key was being prepared for it when it hit.
After the Irish shot to 9-4 in ACC play with victories over North Carolina, Clemson and Louisville, Brey began to think about what he would do if the Irish offense bogged down during the dog days of February conference play.
“I didn’t think we would be this inefficient, but I expected us to come back to earth a little because it usually happens,” Brey said. “Even during the bye week, I thought, ‘When we come back to earth, what’s going to be your approach? What’s going to be your theme?’”
The theme, as it turns out, was to pick up the pace.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to play faster. We’ve got to get down the floor. I’m tired of watching us walk it up,’” Brey said.
Brey didn’t reinvent the wheel, but he did willingly give the keys to Jackson and Matt Farrell, demanding that they put the pedal to the metal.
“We’re flowing and we got our mojo back on offense,” Jackson said. “When we play the way we played today, we can do some great things.
“It just gets us in that attack mindset and downhill mindset. Guys shot a lot of shots today that maybe we had been passing up. Guys shot the ball more confidently.”
Brey has never been one to stifle his offense.
“The one thing I don’t want to do is over-coach our guys,” Brey said. “Let’s coach it, let’s drill it and let’s see if we can find a rhythm.
“Maybe we take some semi-bad shots…I don’t care. We were going for it. The running Irish are heading to D.C.”