Irish head to comfort of Barclays Center for ACC tournament
Marek Mazurek | Thursday, March 9, 2017
Ho hum. Another season, another top-four finish in the ACC for Notre Dame.
Though they lost to Louisville to close out the regular season, the Irish (23-8, 12-6 ACC) finished in double-bye territory for the third year in a row, clinching the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament.
But Irish head coach Mike Brey said he doesn’t like using the phrase “double bye” to describe what his team has accomplished.
“Not only me, but our staff and our veteran nucleus is really excited about this time of year,” Brey said. “You’re honored to finish in the top four in that league, that’s something we’re really proud of. I don’t like to keep saying double bye … it’s a top-four finish. It’s been six out of seven or six out of eight so that’s been really strong for our program. When we’ve gotten that double bye, we’ve gotten to the semis every time.”
Regardless of the terminology, not having to play until Thursday has helped Brey’s squads in the past. In 2015, the Irish won the tournament as a No. 3 seed and last year, Notre Dame reached the semifinals as a No. 4 seed.
Another positive for the Irish is the tournament’s location: Brooklyn, New York. Notre Dame has played in the Barclays Center and had considerable success. Last year, Notre Dame won two games in Brooklyn as the No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament to advance to the Sweet 16. Earlier this season, the Irish also took home two wins over Colorado and Northwestern in late November.
“We like Brooklyn, we know Brooklyn, we’ve done the Brooklyn dance before,” Brey said. “Hopefully there’s a lot of good karma left there for us.”
Irish junior guard Matt Farrell also said the team enjoys the familiar atmosphere of New York.
“Obviously we’ve had a lot of fun in Brooklyn, so we’re really excited to get back there,” Farrell said. “I think it’s just being comfortable playing there, being close to home and having a lot of people there and being comfortable and confident. We’ve had a lot of fun there in the past, so we’re excited to get back there and play.”
Awaiting the Irish Thursday night will be Virginia, who beat Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Notre Dame has never beaten Virginia (21-9, 11-7) in ACC play, and Brey said he hopes his team doesn’t put too much pressure on itself.
“For us, we had some great shots, clean looks, in the game here that we didn’t knock down,” Brey said. “I think you have to make some shots over the top of them because they jam it in so well. I think you have to be ready for the pace of the game, less possessions. … I think one of the reasons we didn’t play well versus Virginia here is we wanted it so bad. These guys, as much as they’ve accomplished, they haven’t beaten Virginia. So I’m going to have to keep them loose, if it’s Virginia.”
“In our league who the heck knows,” Brey said. “You really don’t do much in practice in preparation for a either group until your shootaround and you have plenty of time since you don’t play until [9 p.m.] at night.”
Brey’s top concern: getting the offense flowing again, after averaging just 73 points in its last two games, including a poor outing in the team’s final game of the regular season, a 71-64 road loss to Louisville.
“It would be great to get flowing again offensively,” Brey said. “I think we have to get reps with our big lineup, because that’s something that is going to be good for us at times and a change of gears. It puts two screeners on the floor, with two bigs as opposed to one to help some of those perimeter guys get open.”
However, Brey said he isn’t worried because his team knows how to play in March. With two straight Elite Eight runs, senior forward and captain V.J. Beachem said the team’s past experience will propel it forward as tournament time draws near.
“It’s just like a switch. We know what time it is, we know what’s at stake now, and the focus it requires and the things we want to do,” Beachem said. “But I think this group may be a little hungrier. The first time we did this, it was all new for us. Last year we felt like we wanted to live up to certain expectations. This year its’, ‘We’ve been to the Elite Eight, we want to take it further.’ We want to do something no one in the program’s done in a while.”