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Men’s Basketball: Irish shoot for tournament title

Mike Monaco | Friday, November 16, 2012

Just two games into the season, the No. 20 Irish already have their sights set on a championship.

After a pair of victories in the opening round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, Notre Dame (2-0) will head to Brooklyn, N.Y., to battle Saint Joseph’s in the semifinals of the Classic at the brand-new Barclays Center.

Irish coach Mike Brey said there is value in winning a tournament title early in the season. Two seasons ago, Notre Dame defeated Georgia, California and Wisconsin and claimed the Old Spice Classic championship. That team went on to a 27-7 season and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

“I made a comparison to the group that won [the Old Spice Classic] and what it meant to them to play for a championship and the confidence it gave them early in the season,” Brey said. “And boy that confidence maintained all the way through.

“So I’ve drawn parallels there and this group has set some expectations for themselves, which I love. I started talking about that before this [Classic] got started, what a great opportunity to maybe cut a net down in Brooklyn.”

In order to break out the scissors, Notre Dame will first have to get past the Hawks (1-0). Saint Joseph’s, which returns every player from a team that went 20-14 and earned a bid to the NIT last season, commenced its new campaign with a 61-35 win against Yale on Monday.

“I’m very impressed with them,” Brey said of the Hawks. ‘When you have that many veterans back off a team that won together and are really pointing this year to going back to the NCAA tournament, this is a Big East high-level game for us against veteran guys.”

Saint Joseph’s junior guard Langston Galloway, a member of the preseason Atlantic-10 all-conference second team, poured in a game-high 20 points in the season-opener.

“He will be one of the better shooters we will play against all season and we play a heck of a schedule after Saint [Joseph's],” Brey said. “You know what’s great about him? He doesn’t force anything. He just lets the game come to him. He’s got a great feel for the game and we have to have a team awareness of him or he will bury you.”

As for his own guards, Brey said the Irish need strong performances from junior guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant if they are to win a title in Brooklyn. Through two games, Atkins and Grant are averaging eight and six points per game, respectively, and have combined for nine turnovers and 3-for-10 shooting from three-point range.

“We need them,” Brey said. “I mean we need them to be really good for us to win any games in New York.”

Should the Irish down Saint Joseph’s, they will play the winner of Florida State vs. BYU on Saturday. Though Brey said the Irish are not looking past the Hawks, Notre Dame knows winning both games will be a tall order.

“It’s hard for me to think past Saint [Joseph's],” Brey said. “I’d jinx myself. Whoever you play on that other side [will be difficult]. You’ve got Florida State, who beat the heck out of us two years ago [in the NCAA tournament] and can really defend. And you’ve got BYU, that is just amazingly consistent every year. They’re a little bit like our program.”

Regardless of the matchups, Brey said he is looking to see how his team responds to a primetime matchup against NCAA tournament-caliber opponents. Specifically, Brey said he will be watching how newcomers such as senior center Garrick Sherman and freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid perform and improve during the first legitimate test of the year.

“I just think this is our first big challenge in a big-time setting and how will this group react?” Brey said. “How will we react to it? Can we focus? Can we stay in character? I expect those five starters to do that because they’ve done it a bunch but we have got some other guys coming off the bench. What are they going to be like in this atmosphere?