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With change of bigs comes altered approach

V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia, Matt Farrell and T.J. Gibbs can slash to the basket. That will open up the long-range shooting, as will a steady diet of big-man screens.

The days of Zach Auguste posting up with his back to the basket are over.

The days of Mike Brey’s offense accentuating its shooting prowess first and foremost are back.

From the moment Brey arrived 16 seasons ago, the emphasis on shooting/the three-point shot has been great. The emergence of quality big men such as Luke Harangody, Jack Cooley and Auguste prompted adjustments along the way.

But from Troy Murphy to David Graves to Matt Carroll to Chris Thomas to Colin Falls to Kyle McAlarney to Ryan Ayers to Tim Abromaitis to Ben Hansbrough to Pat Connaughton to Jerian Grant, Brey’s squads have always been sharpshooters from distance.

The process of reverting back to a more perimeter-oriented team has begun.

“Now how we talk about the center spot is to be a great screener for V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia,” Brey said. “That’s not what Zach did as far as off-the-ball screening. He was a great on-the-ball screener and then rolling.

“It’s going to be get those two guys open, and then it’s get to the backboard and play post defense.”

Any talk of long-range shooting also calls into play Matt Ryan, a sharpshooting 6-foot-8 sophomore who has comparable long-range prowess to Beachem after Beachem turned into a lethal weapon during the 2016 post-season.

Any combination of Beachem-Vasturia-Ryan on the court at the same time means a point guard – either Matt Farrell or freshman T.J. Gibbs – and veteran but undersized power forward Bonzie Colson.

“We were better (last season) when we downshifted, put Bonzie into that spot and brought in a Matt Ryan or a Rex Pflueger or Matt Farrell,” Brey said. “That made us more efficient.

“When you bring a Beachem and a Ryan to the four, or the second big in the stretch spot, God, we’re really hard to guard and we’re efficient offensively. It also puts Bonzie in the post and (the opposition) can’t help (on Colson).”

If the Irish do have to get bigger up front, they’ll pair Colson with one of four big-man options – junior Martinas Geben, senior Austin Torres, red-shirt freshman Elijah Burns or freshman John Mooney.

Geben with Colson on the court, said Brey, can step out and hit a 16-foot jump shot, unlike Auguste.

“He’s physical, he’s an underrated athlete, and he plays hard,” said former Irish great and new big-man coach Ryan Humphrey of Geben. “He sets good screens and he’ll get us a lot of open shots.”

With Beachem, Farrell, Vasturia and Gibbs slashing to the basket, the Irish should have plenty of open looks this winter. If Colson can set a screen, pop out and hit a corner jumper, now the Irish will really be dangerous offensively.

“I’m trying to win games here,” said Colson, who is intent upon improving his 11.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game from his sophomore season. “As a unit, I’m trying to elevate our game to another level.

“I want to be able to have more of a voice. Be a leader on and off the floor. Get to loose balls. Rebound more, score a little more, and stretch my game to the three.”

With the sixth and final organized summer practice session in the books, the Irish will take the rest of the summer off as a whole and begin preparations for Brey’s 17th season at the helm when practice resumes in October.

Visions of a third straight Elite 8 appearance may look like a longshot from the outside looking in. The view from within the program is a bit loftier.

“Outside, the expectations will rotate back to like they were during Grant and Connaughton’s last year going into it,” Brey said. “People will think, ‘They’re rebuilding, maybe an NIT team,’ that type of thing.

“From within our group and our leadership, which is the most important part of it, these guys’ expectations are to just keep doing the same thing they’ve been doing.”

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