Irish set to take on Hurricanes in pivotal ACC game
Marek Mazurek | Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Armed with the return of junior guard Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame returns to action against No. 17 Miami on Wednesday night in Coral Gables, Florida.
After a roller-coaster series of games last week, the Irish (15-6, 6-3 ACC) are trying to stabilize the ship against the Hurricanes (16-4, 5-3).
The Irish entered last week on a four-game winning streak before Thursday when Syracuse defeated the Irish, 81-66, with Jackson on the bench due to an ankle injury. Jackson returned on Sunday, and Notre Dame in turn trampled Wake Forest off Jackson’s 14 points and eight assists.
Now, with the team facing two ranked opponents in a row and sitting tied for third in the ACC, Irish head coach Mike Brey emphasized the importance of staying even-keeled.
“Bounce back mode will truly be tested,” Brey said. “I think for us, we can’t get too high or too low after great wins or tough losses, keep plugging. The biggest thing I have to do is make sure I pace them physically. Especially this stretch we’re in right now, we just need to be fresh and ready to compete on game day and not over practice.”
The Hurricanes are also struggling to find consistency, as they stand in seventh place in the conference despite being ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press. Brey praised Miami’s athleticism and said his team must be prepared to defend come Wednesday night.
“[Miami is] older, athletic as heck,” Brey said. “I think they can contest us and deny us with their physicality. They have the ability to take you one on one. They have a lot of guys that can drive the ball at your throat and with the new rule, it’s hard to guard them without fouling.
“So you’ve got to move your feet, and I thought we did a good job [against Wake Forest] of moving our feet on some real physical drivers … ”
Who exactly will match up against the Hurricanes for the Irish will be a point of interest. Brey has shown his willingness to mix and match lineups as the season progresses. Freshmen forward Matt Ryan and guard Rex Pflueger and senior forward Austin Burgett have all made appearances in the recent Irish starting lineups. After the Wake Forest game Sunday, Brey said he plans to keep Burgett in the starting lineup against Miami. The Irish took down Wake Forest, 85-62.
Junior forward V.J. Beachem said the addition of Burgett to the starting lineup improves the team’s communication.
“One thing that we noticed right away, especially in practice, is our communication,” Beachem said. “I think we have better communication when all five veteran voices are out there talking. It really helps us out defensively and even offensively we had a better flow at the beginning of the game than we do some other nights.”
Junior guard Steve Vasturia echoed Beachem’s statements and said the wealth of options the team has can be difficult for opponents to handle.
“We’ve got weapons people might not have on the scouting report, they might not know much about,” Vasturia said. “And if they can make an impact on the game whether it’s scoring or defending, that’s going to really help us.”
Though Jackson and Burgett stole the headlines against the Demon Deacons, Brey credited Vasturia and his offensive contribution as a reason the team currently ranks third in the conference.
“He was a spot up shooter for the most part last year,” Brey said. “We do ball screen for him more so he is getting into the lane to make plays. One thing about Steve that you’re so impressed with is whatever new thing you give him to do, he is so gifted and so smart in a basketball sense, he picks it up so quickly … [Former Irish guard] Jerian [Grant] and Demetrius attacked last year off the ball screens. Steve gets to do it this year, and I think he’s really grown and gotten confident in that role.”
The Irish and Hurricanes are slated to tip-off at 7:10 p.m. at United Center. The game will be aired on ESPN2.