“I told the guys the Princeton offense is all through college basketball and the NBA,” Brey told reporters Sunday. “We finally get to guard the Princeton offense run by Princeton.”
If any team is prepared for the deliberate, almost error-free synchronized offense that Princeton used en route to a 19-game winning streak, it’s Notre Dame. The Irish bring experience and intelligence to the court on defense and they have an offense that can counter Princeton: efficient, rarely turning the ball over and converting free-throw opportunities.
West Region No. 5 seed Notre Dame plays No. 12 Princeton in the NCAA Tournament’s opening game at 12:15 p.m. Thursday in Buffalo. The game will be broadcast on CBS.
Brey said the Irish even sprinkle in a bit of the Princeton style to their game, so it won’t look completely unfamiliar.
“You’re guarding spacing, but we guard spacing every day when we guard ourselves,” Brey said. “We guard shooters on the perimeter. That’s who we have. They’re famous for a lot of back-cutting. We are Princeton-ish without the predictable movement.”
Princeton relies on three-point shooting for 41.7 percent of its offense, so the Irish perimeter players, including Matt Farrell, V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia and Rex Pflueger, will have to be on top of their game.
Princeton, coached by former Culver Academy standout Mitch Henderson, is led in scoring by Devin Cannady and Steven Cook, both averaging 13.7 points per game. Myles Stephens averages 12.6 points per game and Spencer Weisz averages 10.4 points per game. Cannady played at Mishawaka Marian High School and was a teammate of former Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson. Cannady is well known to Brey because of his local ties.
“Cannady is in the midst of a great career, and they’re winning,” Brey said. “Last year, they were in the NIT, this year in the NCAA tournament. They’ll really be ready for us.”
Princeton has four players who have taken at least 83 three-pointers this season: Cannady is 79 of 188 (.420), Weisz is 58 of 166 (.349), Cook is 49 of 116 (.422) and Stephens is 34 of 83 (.410). Princeton is 290 of 758
“Our defensive intelligence can really help us against a group like this, and it has all year, even in the non-league stuff,” Brey said. “We digest opponents’ tendencies. Our main guys are good about talking and switching and we can prepare well for this. They have a little pride about sitting down and defending people.”
Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament success in reaching the Elite Eight the last two seasons should also be an advantage. The Irish enter as a confident team, having advanced to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final, losing a tight game to Duke.
The Irish have four players averaging in double figures scoring (Bonzie Colson 17.5, Beachem 15.0, Farrell 14.2 and Vasturia 13.3) and Brey’s rotation can run nine deep.
“You have to be ready to go and be locked in no matter who you’re playing against,” Beachem told reporters Sunday. “We’re a very confident team. Although we can draw on (past) experiences, that doesn’t separate us from anybody else. We have to lace them up and go play.”