ND looks to rebound in ACC-Big Ten Challenge
Alex Carson | Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Just a few days after suffering losses to Monmouth and Alabama at the AdvoCare Invitational in Florida last weekend, Notre Dame gets right back on the court Wednesday, traveling to Illinois as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Wednesday’s game gives the Irish (4-2), who fell out of the top 25 Monday, an immediate chance to bounce back against the Fighting Illini (3-4), and Irish head coach Mike Brey said he’s looking forward to having his team out on the court so quickly for another big game.
“I like the fact that we play, and we play in a big-time atmosphere on Wednesday,” Brey said.
The game will wrap up a stretch of four games in seven days for Notre Dame, and Brey said he’s looking forward to getting quality practice time in after Wednesday’s contest.
“I also like then that we have almost a week before we play again where we can get some practice reps,” Brey said. “We’ve gathered a lot of information starting Thanksgiving Day, and now we’ve gotta kind of work on some things and adjust some things.”
After topping 80 points in each of its three home contests to open the season, Notre Dame hit a high-water mark of just 73 points in three games in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, over break. However, Brey is more concerned with the defensive play his team has put forth — the Irish conceded 68.7 points per game at the AdvoCare Invitational.
“Offensively, we’ve been pretty efficient,” Brey said. “I’ve been disappointed in our defense. I thought we could be a little more consistent down there, and certainly [Sunday] we just could never get a key stop to get it to two possessions or to win a game. So I think that’s something we really have to talk about and address and hold guys accountable to. I think it’s key that we will have some reps to work on things after the Illinois game.”
Brey pointed to junior guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia, who often pressure opposing guards, as models for the rest of the Irish squad to look to on the defensive end.
“I think any time you have your captains and your leadership doing that, it’s a key,” Brey said. “The one key that really sets a great tone is Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia work so hard defensively. They set a great tone. I think we’ve gotta get the rest of our group in that kind of frame of mind for more possessions.”
In Florida last week, Notre Dame struggled from the foul line, shooting just 34-for-55 at the charity stripe, including an 8-for-17 performance in the two-point loss to Monmouth on Thanksgiving.
Brey said he’s taking a cautious approach to remedying the problem, however.
“I think with free throws some times, you don’t want to overcoach it,” Brey said. “It’s like talking about a guy’s golf swing over and over again. You know, one thing about our guys is when they haven’t shot it well from the foul line, they get in the gym on their own and do it instead of me overcoaching free throws.”
Wednesday’s contest marks Notre Dame’s third time in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge since leaving the Big East. The Irish are 1-1 in two games, falling at Iowa in 2013 before defeating Michigan State in overtime last year at Purcell Pavilion.
“I think it’s great. It’s an honor to be part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge,” Brey said. “You feel some responsibility to carry the flag for the league.”
The Illini will re-open the renovated State Farm Center for Wednesday’s game, and Brey said he’s looking forward to seeing how his team plays on the road against a blue-blood program.
“Illinois has a great basketball tradition, and we know with the opening of that building, the place will be rocking,” Brey said. “This will be our first road atmosphere, so how do we react there? It would be a huge win for this nucleus to win on the road coming off a Sunday disappointment against Alabama.”
With a long season ahead, Brey said he doesn’t think Wednesday’s game — or the next one against Stony Brook at Purcell Pavilion on Tuesday — is a “defining moment” of the Irish season, but he said it is important to get wins with the strong slate Notre Dame is facing in December.
“I don’t know if it’s a defining moment, but it’s a key moment,” Brey said. “You’ve gotta remember our season is so long, so many things happen, but the one thing about if you look at our strength of schedule, the teams that we are playing … we have some big challenges up. I love that for our group. Any win you get here for the most part before Christmas is gonna be a quality win.
“ … It would certainly grow our confidence here to have some success in this next stretch.”