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Men’s Basketball: Irish await Big East tournament challenge

Andrew Gastelum | Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Immediately following a 73-57 loss to No. 8 Louisville on Saturday, Notre Dame knew exactly where it stood after missing out on a double-bye.

The No. 24 Irish learned two things then: They would avoid No. 5 Georgetown and No. 19 Syracuse until the championship and they learned what button not to push with Irish coach Mike Brey.

“I think it’s the most ridiculous line ever: “Man, you got a good draw.” Somebody said that on the bus [in Louisville] and I almost punched him,” Brey said Sunday. “I don’t want to hear anybody say you got a good draw in this tournament or Sunday at 6:30 [for the selection show] because you have no idea yet if you have a good draw.”

The loss to Louisville dropped Notre Dame (23-8, 11-7 Big East) to the No. 6 seed, awaiting the winner of tonight’s first-round matchup between DePaul and Rutgers at 9 p.m.

“We’re going to have to play teams that we have beaten before,” Brey said. “If it’s DePaul, we’ve stolen two from them. If it’s Rutgers, it’s three games we have escaped with. Three of our 11 league wins are over these teams and they were flat-out escapes. For us, we’re ready for a dog-fight whoever we play.”

Notre Dame scrambled toward a 69-66 win against Rutgers (14-15, 5-13) on Jan. 19 to stop a two-game skid. Senior forward Jack Cooley added to his double-double season total with 19 points and 10 rebounds while sophomore guard/forward Pat Connaughton knocked down four 3-pointers for 17 points. The game ended with a touch of controversy, as Rutgers sophomore guard Eli Carter was called for a charge with the Scarlet Knights trailing by one and the clock winding down.

Despite its last-place finish, DePaul took the Irish to overtime twice in 11 days in February. In their first meeting, all five Blue Demon starters scored in double figures, but it was not enough to fend off a 26-point, 16-rebound effort by Cooley.

For the return leg at Purcell Pavilion, the Irish blew a 14-point lead – just four days after a five-overtime win over Louisville – before squeaking out a 82-78 victory behind junior guard Jerian Grant’s 21 points. In the two games combined, DePaul junior forward Cleveland Melvin has totaled 36 points and 14 rebounds.

No matter the opponent, the Irish will have to wait until 9 p.m. for tipoff, the last time slot in a day that features four games at Madison Square Garden.

“We’re going to be ready to go, we will be anxious,” senior forward Tom Knight said. “When I found out we were going to play at nine, I thought that we would have to sit around New York City and wait with all the excitement until 10 o’clock. It’s never nine o’clock. There will probably be an overtime game to push it back even further.”

Brey said he was more concerned with his own team’s mindset than methodically scouting opponents, citing the familiarity teams have with each other within the Big East.

“My assistants will go and scout it, but I’ll watch back at the hotel,” Brey said. “What we usually do when we are in this late-night slot is we’ll meet with the team and talk. It’s a long-day gameday too when you don’t play. We are not going to tip until 9:40, but we’ve been in this slot before.”

The Irish will play the winner of No. 11 seed Rutgers and No. 14 seed DePaul on Wednesday at 9 p.m. in New York.

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu