Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey hinted after Monday's loss to Marquette that the starting lineup he used against the Golden Eagles would be the same five to start Saturday's game against Pittsburgh, but a couple of days later and Brey is not so sure.
"I really haven't completely decided yet," he said. "I kind of want to evaluate it over the next two days and see where we're at maybe by Friday afternoon."
Brey started Luke Zeller and Jonathan Peoples in place of Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers against Marquette and said afterward that it would ‘probably' be the way the Irish would start against the Panthers. But the coach did not commit to that during his conference call with the media on Thursday morning.
"I think you're always evaluating ‘How do you start a game? How do you get off to a good start? How do you get guys going that aren't going? How do you get them going?'" said Brey.
While Hillesland and Ayers have been struggling, Brey wanted to be clear that the changes were not punishment for the two seniors.
"I'm just looking for us to get into a rhythm. When we changed the lineup I wasn't demoting Ayers or Hillesland," said Brey. "I was trying to change the climate a little bit and see if we can change the rhythm. That was my whole thinking. It wasn't like, ‘You two guys are benched.'
"I don't look at it like, ‘He's not getting the job done, we'll sit his butt down.' That's not how I've coached. It's been, ‘What can we do to get this guy going?'"
The adjustment helped Zeller and Peoples, who scored eight points each against Marquette, but did nothing for Ayers and Hillesland, who did not score.
"Certainly we need more production out of them, but my feeling was that bringing them off the bench may be a way of jump-starting production," said Brey. "We've done that in the past and it's worked and it's been helpful."
Hillesland admitted that he needs to be more aggressive and his coach was happy to hear that the veteran has a grasp of what he needs to do.
"I think when you get to be a senior and certainly a guy like Zach who is a very intelligent guy, he can pinpoint the areas where he needs to concentrate better or to put his energy to get himself going," Brey said.
"I think he can do that better than me sitting down with him. He and I have talked a little bit about different things, but I think a lot now at this point with seniors is they know who they are and they know what they've done to be successful in the past in our program, he certainly has."
Meanwhile for Ayers, who is a combined 1-for-17 in the last two games, he has no choice but to stay aggressive if he wants to keep playing. Brey said that he will not find out if Ayers has regained his shooting touch until after noon on Saturday, but wants to find out shortly thereafter.
"I don't think you ever really know until the game starts," Brey said. "I want Ryan loose and every open shot he's got, he better take them or I'm going to be on him. I don't want him turning stuff down."
While Brey is unsure how a game out of the starting lineup will affect Ayers' shooting, he has seen both Ayers and Hillesland motivated by not being in the top five.
"I love how he and Zach have responded," said Brey. "As a matter of fact when they're on the blue team, they're going after the white team."
At one point during Tuesday afternoon's practice, the two were hesitant to rejoin the starters.
"We played a four-minute period and the white shirts beat the blue shirts and Zach wanted to run it back, but I wanted to switch Zach and Ryan over to the white shirts to play the second four-minute period," recalled Brey. "They reluctantly came over."
"That's all good stuff, there's all good competitiveness there and that's what you need when you're in a situation like us."