Men’s Basketball: Last hurrah at the Big East tournament
Mike Monaco | Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Late Sunday night, the Irish checked into the Dumont Hotel in New York City, as they always do for the Big East tournament. But with Tuesday’s announcement that the Irish will join the ACC next season, Notre Dame will need to find a new hotel a year from now – in Greensboro, N.C.
“We’ve all stayed together in this hotel for about 10 years,” Irish coach Mike Brey said Sunday. “The guy takes care of us there and I have to tell him at check-in, ‘This is it, who’s getting our hotel?'”
With Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse joining the ACC for the 2013-2014 season and the Catholic 7 disbanding from the current conference, this week’s tournament at Madison Square Garden will be a league-wide swan song.
“I thought at the beginning of the year [conference realignment] wouldn’t make a difference, but every game, especially this last one [against Louisville], had such intensity to it since it’s the last part, it’s the last part of this league,” Irish senior forward Jack Cooley said. “I think everyone is going to take it to a higher level.
“I think it’s going to be officiated really tight. There’s going to be a lot of people in the stands. Every game is going to be packed so every game is going to be a big, great atmosphere.”
Junior guard Eric Atkins said there will be added intensity buzzing inside the Garden, as 14 teams vie for the final championship in the traditional Big East.
“I think it’s going to be a little bit more amped up,” Atkins said. “It’s the last time the Big East is really going to the be the ‘Big East’ so I think everybody is going to come into it with a little more energy to try to get the last Big East championship.”
Notre Dame has made it to the conference semifinals, typically held Friday, in each of the past three seasons. But the Irish fell short of reaching Saturday’s title game on all three occasions and haven’t played in the championship game since joining the Big East for the 1995-1996 season.
“We’d love to [make it to Saturday],” senior forward Tom Knight said. “It’s something we’ve never done before. Playing on a Friday is pretty exciting, but I guarantee you Saturday is better.”
The Irish are penciled in as the No. 6 seed and await the winner of Tuesday’s matchup between DePaul and Rutgers. The winner will play Notre Dame on Wednesday at 9 p.m.
Junior guard Jerian Grant said the loss to Louisville is already in the rearview mirror and the Irish are feeling confident heading into the Garden.
“We’re confident. After the [Louisville] game everybody said the regular season is over, time to move on and Coach Brey said he’s still confident in us and he has a lot of confidence going into March,” Grant said.
That confidence stems from what Brey sees as a battle-tested nucleus. With four upperclassmen in the starting lineup as well as a two-year starter in sophomore guard/forward Pat Connaughton, experience has bred confidence.
“We’re very dangerous in March,” Brey said. “This is a group that is pretty darn confident about themselves. We’ve had great success in New York. We’re the only team that’s been to three [semifinals] in a row so you almost feel maybe there is a year to break through this thing.”
In order to reach Saturday, Brey said the Irish need to be completely focused in order to challenge the likes of Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
“One of the things I talked about after the [Louisville] game is our ability to concentrate and focus,” Brey said. “Can it be at its all-time high, now? They’re sharp guys and they’ve been pretty good all year, or we wouldn’t be where we’re at. But can we ratchet that kind of focus up to a whole other level?”
The Irish tip off with the winner of Tuesday’s DePaul-Rutgers matchup Wednesday night at 9 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.
Contact Mike Monaco at [email protected]