Why Matt Farrell is a non-stop pick-and-roll machine for Notre Dame


This month, ACCSports.com is taking a look at some of the best point guards in the ACC in an effort to see if we can determine who will be the league’s top lead guard in 2017-18. Last week, we looked into the cases for Bryant Crawford and Bruce Brown. Today, we turn our attention to the Midwest portion of the ACC’s footprint: Matt Farrell of Notre Dame.

The ACC Analytics page worships at the alter of the spread pick-and-roll; it is the pillar holding up our little corner of the sports universe. And within the confines of the ACC, few — if any — are better at running this type of action than Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell.

Farrell was named to the All-ACC Honorable Mention team in March after a sterling junior season. Several of the guards named ahead of him, though, have moved on to the professional ranks: Donovan Mitchell, Dennis Smith Jr. and London Perrantes. Here’s why some may see Matt Farrell as the league’s top point guard next season.


Rock & Roll

There were only 39 players in Division I basketball this past season who ran at least 400 pick-and-rolls, according to Synergy Sports. Farrell, who ran 448 pick-and-rolls in 2016-17, was a passer in this type of action better than 57.4 percent of the time.

That’s a ton of pick-and-rolls.

Of this group, Farrell ranked No. 21 in offensive efficiency: 0.92 points per possession on nearly 42 percent shooting. (Note: this field-goal percentage accounts for attempts by Farrell and his teammates after he passed the ball to them.)

Farrell is the catalyst for Notre Dame’s pristine offense. He’s the only player in the ACC to run more than 400 pick-and-rolls; Miami’s Ja’Quan Newton was second with 397. Farrell turned the ball over on just 12 percent of these possessions, too, which is the best number of any ACC player with at least 300 pick-and-rolls.

PlayerTeamPossessionsPoints per possessionsTeam FG%TO%
Matt FarrellNotre Dame4480.9241.5%12.1%
Ja'Quan NewtonMiami3970.9043.7%17.4%
Dennis Smith Jr.NC State3650.8944.3%17%
Bryant CrawfordWake Forest3401.0144.1%12.9%
Justin RobinsonVirginia Tech3131.0649.3%17.3%

It should be noted, too, that Farrell assisted on nearly 30 percent of Notre Dame’s made field goals when he was on the floor. This, according to KenPom, was the 79th-best assist ration in Division I in 2016-17. Farrell was on the court a lot this season, too. He played nearly 86 percent of Notre Dame’s available minutes (34.4 per game).


You can’t have one without the other(s)

A big part of what makes Notre Dame’s pick-and-roll so potent is the talent of Farrell’s primary ballet partner — Bonzie Colson. The patron saint of college basketball advanced stat wonks, Colson is one of the best screen-roll players in America — period. Another critical aspect: the team’s ability to space the floor and attract defenders to the wings. In the recent past, this has been Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem; next year, that will be Rex Pflueger.

However, if you really want a pick-and-roll to sing sweet music, the ball-handler has to be able to stick jumpers off the bounce. That is where Farrell becomes especially dangerous. We can all check the box score and see that Farrell shot an impressive 42 percent on 5.4 three-point attempts per game. I mean, that’s really awesome, but it’s the way that he goes about doing this that makes it so impressive.

Check out this bomb he hits against Florida State. It’s incredibly difficult to hit again this defense, especially off the dribble.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes switches and stays with Colson as he rolls to the basket — that’s gravity. Jonathan Isaac doesn’t pick up on that read immediately, though. The freshman forward slides with Colson for an additional step, which means Farrell is alone at the top of the key, from where he loves to rip nets. Isaac’s wingspan is the size of your garage door, but Farrell’s shot release is so quick and explosive that the future top-10 pick is too late. Bottoms.

According to Synergy Sports, Farrell shot 38.1 percent from the field and scored 0.95 points per possession after he dribbled off of a pick in 2016-17. That’s the best offensive rating of any ACC player who used at least 80 offensive possessions by dribbling off a pick this season. He shot a higher percentage from the field on those attempts than Donovan Mitchell and Bryant Crawford.


A prime catch-and-shoot candidate

Notre Dame’s offense obviously utilizes the pick-and-roll a great deal, but player movement away from the ball is also critical. The Fighting Irish rotation is filled with three-point marksmen and deft cutters. Farrell deserves credit for being more than just the team’s lead guard; he was also its top spot-up player. Per Synergy, Farrell scored 1.28 points per possession on spot-ups, which ranks in the 96th percentile nationally.

He’s one of the best players in America at shooting off the catch. Farrell canned 43.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot jumpers and scored 1.3 points per possession (No. 4 in the ACC) — better than Luke Kennard, Joel Berry and Cameron Johnson.


You can participate, too: Rank the ACC’s best point guards for the 2017-18 season