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Men’s Basketball: Paradise? More of a work trip for ND

Chris Khorey | Friday, November 16, 2007

Notre Dame is spending almost a full week in the Virgin Islands, but Irish head coach Mike Brey isn’t worried about his team losing focus.

“Part of keeping them loose is having a little beach time,” Brey said. “All of a sudden you shoot a little better when you’ve been on the beach.”

Notre Dame will compete in the Paradise Jam tournament, hosted by The University of the Virgin Islands today through Monday on the island of St. Thomas.

With three crucial games to play, Brey said, this trip is not a vacation.

“We have to be smart about when we prepare and focus,” he said.

The Irish flew to St. Thomas Wednesday. The six-hour plane trip was the longest Notre Dame is scheduled to take this season. But that didn’t both junior forward Luke Zeller, who played with a travel team in Australia over the summer.

“Some of the guys are worried about the long trip, but it won’t be nearly as bad as Australia,” he said. “My ankles won’t be swelled up like balloons when we land this time.”

Notre Dame (1-0) will open the tournament against Monmouth tonight. The Muhawks are 0-2, but both losses were close and on the road.

They lost 63-60 to Colgate on Nov. 9. Monmouth was down only one and had the ball with seven seconds left, but guard Jhamar Youngblood had a shot for the lead rim out.

Two days later, the Muhawks took on Big East member Seton Hall and had the Pirates on the ropes before losing 89-81 in overtime.

Monmouth uses a “Princeton-style” offense, which puts the center at the free throw line and relies on him to make crisp passes to cutters and three-point shooters. Junior Dutch Gaitley has been playing that role this season for the Muhawks.

The offense is hard to defend and can neutralize Notre Dame’s height advantage. But Brey said the Irish also run Princeton-style plays and defend against them every day in practice.

Playing the Muhawks, Brey said, will provide the Irish with experience against the offense before they face it later in the season.

“We’re going to see Georgetown run that stuff,” he said.

If the Irish get by Monmouth, they will play Sunday against the winner of Baylor and Wichita State. If Notre Dame loses, it will play Saturday against the loser of the Baylor-Wichita State matchup.

If the Irish can win both of those games, they will advance to the tournament championship game on Monday. The likely opponent in that game is Georgia Tech or Winthrop. The Eagles eliminated the Irish from last season’s NCAA Tournament.

Also participating in the tournament this weekend are Charlotte and Illinois-Chicago. The 49ers will take on the Yellow Jackets in the first round, while the Flames will take on Winthrop.

Notre Dame will play Monday regardless of its performance in the first two games of the tournament. Depending on how many games the Irish win, they will either play in the championship, third-place, fifth-place or seventh-place game