Notre Dame will not only be Georgia Tech’s opponent on Sunday.
The Fighting Irish and coach Mike Brey are also a template for Tech coach Josh Pastner.
“I’m really hoping we can model ourselves with what coach Brey has done there at Notre Dame in terms of consistency for so long,” Pastner said. “They’ve just been so good for so long.”
After Pastner was hired at Tech in April, he studied the ACC and came away with respect for all of Tech’s opponents in the league, but developed a particular appreciation for what Brey has done. In his first 16 seasons at Notre Dame, the Irish have made the NCAA tournament 11 times, including six of the past seven seasons. They won the ACC championship in 2015 and have made back-to-back Elite Eight appearances.
Further, they’ve done it with an attractive and effective offensive style. In the past seven seasons, the Irish have ranked in the top 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency (KenPom) four times and are 15th this season.
“I think they’re tough, and they can flat out shoot the basketball,” Pastner said.
Pastner’s urgency to find shooters has only intensified this season. Despite being judicious in attempting 3-pointers — the Jackets went into Friday’s games ranked second to last in Division I in attempted 3-pointers per game (13 per game), according to teamrankings.com — they’re last in the conference in accuracy, at 34.8 percent.
Going into Friday’s games, Tech’s KenPom offensive efficiency ranking (257th) was lower than any season-ending ranking than for any of coach Brian Gregory’s five teams. In reviewing prospects to fill out the incoming freshman class, Pastner has emphasized with his staff that if a player can’t shoot, he’s not interested. Guard Curtis Haywood, a commit from Mustang, Okla., is one such player.
“We’ve got to get guys that can shoot the ball,” Pastner said. “We’ve got to really improve our shooting and that’s going to take some time, and they’re one of the better ones that do that.”
Notre Dame’s ability to evaluate players, particularly those not valued by competitors, and develop them on campus has also appealed to Pastner.
Irish forward Bonzie Colson did not attract high-level attention as a prospect in part because at 6-foot-5, he was short for a power forward. However, the Irish staff recognized that he could compensate with a long wingspan (6-11 1/2) and could score despite the disadvantage, according to a Fox Sports.com story published in November. ESPN rated him the No. 28 power forward in the 2014 class.
A junior, Colson ranks 11th in the ACC in scoring (16.7 points per game), first in rebounding (10.5 per game) and third in field-goal percentage (52.1 percent). Through Thursday’s games, the metrics website KenPom rates him as its tenth-ranked candidate for national player of the year.
Junior guard Matt Farrell played only 62 minutes as a freshman, but now averages 14.2 points per game, is tied for second in the ACC in assists (5.6 per game) and for third in 3-point field-goal percentage (43.3 percent) and is a candidate with Tech center Ben Lammers for most improved player in the ACC. Farrell was a two-star prospect (ESPN), ranked the No. 102 shooting guard in the 2014 class.
“You look at it, they maybe don’t get all the five-star guys,” Pastner said. “They get under-the-radar guys and develop them. They get old and stay old, is what they do. That’s the truth.”
Notre Dame has not had a one-and-one in Brey’s tenure, and only three players who have left early, and all were with one season of eligibility remaining.
The “get old, stay old” element of Notre Dame’s formula has clear appeal to Pastner. While Pastner won’t steer away from one-and-done prospects — the Jackets went hard after Pace Academy’s Wendell Carter, a likely one-and-done who signed with Duke — he recognizes the difficulty in building a consistent team with them.
“I love how he runs his program,” Pastner said. “It’s a great program, one of the best programs. So I’m hoping we can really build kind of like what he did.”