Building a Better Basketball Offense, Part 7: All of Our Friends

Notre Dame’s high-powered, electrifying offense now travels to Fairmont State for a new gig

If you’ve kept up with this series at all, you know of my love for the Mountain East Conference. By the time this is posted, I’ll have covered three of the Division II conference’s 12 teams, with a fourth team as an associate. (You’ll understand shortly.) It offered up five of Synergy’s 100 most efficient offenses in college basketball with a slew of offensive stars and several teams that could demolish you no matter how good you were defensively.

Of these, perhaps the least well-known is Notre Dame College. No, not the Notre Dame in South Bend – the Notre Dame College in Euclid, Ohio. Cleveland wasn’t home to a ton of successful basketball, but they played host to Tim Koenig and his Falcons. The Falcons’ offense placed in the top 10 of my offensive efficiency ratings, with a lot of thanks being due to a player named Will Vorhees:

Vorhees, a senior for the Falcons, helped lead Notre Dame to one of their best seasons ever: a MEC conference championship (first in school history), a D-II NCAA Tournament bid (also their first in school history), 23 wins, and the most points in school history. Vorhees merely dropped 28.8 points per game, an immense amount for a player who shot 29% from three. The guy who found him is named Tim Koenig, and Coach Koenig runs one of the most fun offenses in the nation:

“We want to do what makes sense and play to guys’ strengths,” says Koenig. It took six seasons for Koenig to take Notre Dame (OH) from D-II independent to MEC champion, and it was a struggle at times along the way. After a pair of solid years in 2015-16 and 2016-17, Koenig and Notre Dame started 2017-18 with high hopes. They immolated in the third game when Vorhees went down with a season-ending injury. Flash-forward to 2018-19, however, and Vorhees came back more dominant than ever before. By the way, he grabbed over 11 rebounds per game:

Koenig actually refrains from taking credit for getting Vorhees to play for the Falcons. “We were the only school that wanted him,” he says. “Tim Babb, our assistant, went to a game of his. I didn’t go the first time, but he called me and said “I just went down and talked to the coach and I offered Vorhees a full scholarship.” I said “that’s awesome, that’s amazing. He must be a stud!” Then I asked him to tell me about the game. Babb said “no, no, I just watched warm-ups.”” Whatever the case may be, Babb and Koenig were pretty thankful that those warm-ups were as impressive as they were circa 2019:

What Koenig runs is very unusual for even the most progressive of coaches. Whereas most motion offenses stop at a 4-out, 1-in look, Koenig takes it a step further: a 5-out offense with guards posting up and, if at all possible, no ball screens. Koenig calls it the Slot Offense. “There’s some 5-out motion, some triangle offense, some Princeton…we just have spots on the floor we tell guys to go to for spacing,” he says. Of Notre Dame’s main eight-man rotation, every player hit at least five threes, and all five starters made 20+. His best shooter, Drew Scarberry, only started half the games but was a terrifying threat every time he hit the floor:

“If anybody ever ball screened for Scarberry, oh, Lord, we’d whistle. It got to the point where we’d laugh. That’s not what he does,” laughs Koenig. One of the first things Koenig asked me when I told him I watched Notre Dame’s MEC title game against West Liberty was “did you see the big white guy shooting threes?” That was Scarberry, but again, he wasn’t the only shooter. Check out Larenz Thurman, the point guard who made 46.6% of his attempts from downtown:

We want to play with big guys on the perimeter and guards everywhere and in-between,” says Koenig. Because so much of what Notre Dame did filtered through Will Vorhees, it allowed a lot of other players to tweak their own games to their strengths. A guy like Bruce Hodges, a 6’2″ guard, benefited greatly by getting buckets at the rim:

Or Halil Parks getting open threes because of the great amount of attention placed on Vorhees’ post-ups:

Now, Notre Dame has to move on in two different ways. Vorhees has graduated and quietly got to work out with the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer. Meanwhile, Koenig’s overhaul of a program without much history earned him a treasured job: Fairmont State University’s head coaching gig. Just two years ago, the Falcons – yes, the same mascot – made it to the Division II final. It was a big deal for Notre Dame to make the Tournament; they were not expected to go any further, really. Now, Koenig has to deal with much greater expectations at a university with a ton of historical basketball success.

However, he’s clearly thrilled to bring his Slot Offense to a new place – and to live outside of the Cleveland area for the first time. “Ultimately, we want to just play really hard and smart, have good shot selection, take care of the ball, play good defense,” he says. Plus, it’s worth noting that he understands how high the expectations may be. “At Fairmont, leaving your mark is not just going to the NCAA Tournament. The standard at Fairmont is getting to the Elite Eight,” Koenig notes. Given that he’s already taken one basketball program to heights it hadn’t reached before, he certainly has the potential to do the same with his wild, fun offense at Fairmont State.

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