Spartans looming for ND in Challenge
Brian Hartnett | Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Notre Dame is no stranger to Purcell Pavilion this season, since the Irish have played five of their seven games thus far on campus.
However, Irish coach Mike Brey said he is fully expecting the atmosphere at the arena to be quite different when No. 19 Michigan State visits Wednesday night for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, so much so that he has implemented practice measures typically only used before true road games.
“I actually piped in crowd noise before we went to Mohegan Sun [on Nov. 22-23],” Brey said in his Monday press conference. “Usually, you do it before you go on the road. We’re going to use it today and tomorrow because it will be a different atmosphere [Wednesday].”
Gone are the Chicago States and Coppin States that have filled the home slate for Notre Dame (6-1) over the last few weeks. In steps Michigan State (5-2), a team Notre Dame hasn’t faced since the Spartans had a point guard named Magic Johnson running the floor.“Wednesday is a heck of a test to guard a really explosive offensive team,” Brey said. “So I think that’s a great test for where we are defensively.”
The last meeting between the two teams came in 1979, when Michigan State defeated Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament Mideast Regional Final en route to a national championship. Since then, the Spartans have added another national championship and reached six Final Fours, all under head coach Tom Izzo.
“It’s a workmanlike program,” he said of Michigan State. “[Its philosophy is], ‘We’re going to defend. We’re going to rebound.’”
Brey, who started his head-coaching career the same year Izzo did, said Izzo has been successful by keeping his philosophy simple.
“He’s just a regular guy,” Brey said of Izzo. “He’s one of the good guys in the business who’s a fabulous coach. Certainly a Hall-of-Fame guy.”
History aside, this year’s Michigan State team has a different identity than Izzo-coached teams of the past, Brey said. The Spartans, who have a victory over Marquette and losses to current No. 4 Duke and No. 11 Kansas, are shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from 3-point range, making their offense not too different from that of the Irish, he added.
“The thing that strikes you is how they’re shooting,” Brey said. “They’re shooting the heck out of the basketball. Like us, they’re making nine [3-pointers] per game … so we’re a little similar offensively.”
Senior guard Travis Trice leads the Spartans in scoring with 16.4 points per game and assists with nearly six per game. Junior guard Denzel Valentine averages 14.4 points per game, while senior guard/forward Branden Dawson has added 10.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Brey said Notre Dame will have to get back in transition and successfully defend the 3-point line to slow down Michigan State’s offense.
“They really get down the floor on makes and misses,” Brey said of the Spartans. “Trice gets deep outlets, and they shoot a lot of their [3-pointers] in transition. They throw ahead and fire.
“Transition defense and guarding the arc, I think, are the two big defensive keys for us on Wednesday.”
Notre Dame will also try to counter with an aggressive defense that has forced 61 steals, second-most of any ACC program, on the season. Irish sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson has 14 of those steals, and Brey said Jackson’s defense has played a big role in Notre Dame’s early success.
“I think Demetrius Jackson’s ball pressure — that right there makes us a better team,” he said. “… I think it’s something that comes very natural with Demetrius. He is an athletic defender.
“… He knows how important his ball pressure is, and his teammates continually reinforce, ‘D, your ball pressure is really helping us.’”
Notre Dame and Michigan State will meet Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.