Notre Dame prepares for first exhibition game
Manuel De Jesus | Friday, October 30, 2015
With the final seconds on the clock winding down, former Irish guard Jerian Grant’s 3-point attempt flew over the rim, and Kentucky erupted in celebration while Notre Dame walked off the court in disbelief as its chances at a Final Four went down the drain.
As successful as last season was —Notre Dame finished 32-6 last season, defeated both Duke and North Carolina in route to the program’s first ACC championship and made it to the program’s first regional final appearance since 1979 — Irish head coach Mike Brey said his team wants more. The Irish embark on that mission tonight as Notre Dame takes on St. Francis (Illinois) in their first exhibition matchup of the 2015-2016 season.
Looking at expectations this season, Brey doesn’t think having a less impressive record this season indicates regression.
“I don’t know if I’d put 32 wins on it,” Brey said at Wednesday’s ACC Media Day. “You know, the current group is highly motivated and has tasted a lot of good stuff, so they’d like to play further, and that’s nothing that I laid out for them, which is great. [Junior guard Demetrius] Jackson set that tone. [Senior forward Zach] Auguste has set that tone.”
With the loss of Grant and guard/forward Pat Connaughton, the Irish will have to figure out a way to make up for the combined 29 points per game those two provided. Auguste said he is not concerned about offense being an issue for the Irish this season despite the major losses.
“You know, we play efficient basketball, and we play together, so I think it’s going to be something that we handle as a team,” Auguste said at ACC Media Day. “Even though me and Demetrius, we take that role where we understand we’ve got to start putting more balls in the hoops. I think if we just continue to do that, I think we’ll be fine.”
Brey said this season’s team will be significantly different because of the changing personnel. Notre Dame successfully played with a smaller lineup last season, which included Grant, Connaughton, Auguste, Jackson and junior guard Steve Vasturia. This time around, Brey said the spacing on the court will match the changed lineup.
“I think when you play [sophomore forward Bonzie] Colson and Auguste together, your spacing is a little different than Auguste and Connaughton together, and I still think we have to work to figure that out because when we spread the floor we’re really at our best,” Brey said. “But there really is that culture of moving the ball and making the extra pass. We’re a little bit bigger. When you have a [junior forward V.J.] Beachem and a Colson on the floor, those are two seven-foot wing spans that are on the floor together, so defensively we end up getting our hands on a few more things. And I think Jackson and Vasturia are two of the better defensive guards in the country.”
Tonight, Brey will test his new lineup against the Fighting Saints, who finished 23-10 last season and tied for the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season title. St. Francis returns both its leading scorers this year in juniors Ilya Ilyalev (17.2 points per game) and Edvinas Presniakovas (13.2). In addition to claiming a piece of their conference championship, the Fighting Saints made it to the NAIA tournament for the first time in 20 years.
The last time the Irish lost an exhibition game was in 1999, when Marathon beat Notre Dame 105-81.
Brey said he will look to give some of the younger players experience as the Irish are still trying to determine what their rotation off the bench will look like. Colson and Beachem, who both contributed from the bench last season, will be expected to fill Grant and Connaughton’s spots in the starting lineup.
“I think ultimately [the rotation is] up to [Brey], but at the same time I think we have guys who can play,” Jackson said. “We have a really deep team. We have a lot of hard workers. We have a lot of talented players. So if [Brey] decides to do that, I think guys will step in, and we really have developed that next-man-up mentality, so guys will step in and fill the void and be ready to go.”
Brey named senior forward Austin Burgett, along with Jackson and Auguste, captain for this season, which could indicate an increased role this season. Junior forward Austin Torres, who contributed in 27 of last season’s games, could also see an increase in minutes. The Irish will also welcome three four-star freshmen recruits to the court this season: forwards Elijah Burns and Matt Ryan and guard Rex Pflueger.
The opportunity to play in another Elite Eight is several months away, but the road starts Friday for the Irish against St. Francis. Notre Dame will tip off against the Fighting Saints at 7 p.m in Purcell Pavilion.