Irish talk rivalry, matchup ahead of tournament opener
Alex Carson | Friday, March 18, 2016
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — When Notre Dame and Michigan suspended their football series following the 2014 meeting, a 31-0 Irish win, many lamented the loss of the rivalry.
For those longing for the return of the game, Friday night’s NCAA tournament showdown will have to do.
“I think it’s exciting for both fan bases,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said Thursday in New York. “There’s no question the Notre Dame–Michigan thing runs deep. I think it’s got both fan bases, and our players feel that. They feel that.”
Irish senior forward Zach Auguste said while the squad knows the relevance of the rivalry, they’re not focused on it heading into Friday’s 9:40 p.m. tip.
“I know it’s a great tradition, especially it’s fun for the fans to get involved as well with the tradition of this rivalry,” Auguste said. “But at the same time, we’re just focused on this. Just going out there and playing another game.”
No. 6-seeded Notre Dame’s experience watching the No. 11-seeded Wolverines (23-12, 10-8 Big Ten) on Wednesday night was perhaps a little different: the Irish (21-11, 11-7 ACC) kept it loose despite getting a chance to watch their first-round opponent.
“So we started watching it at Dave and Buster’s,” junior guard Demetrius Jackson said. “So we were at Dave and Buster’s playing some games, having fun, watching the game. And then we kind of finished it in our hotel room.”
Auguste said the Wolverines are a team that rely on strong guard play to find success.
“Michigan has great movement,” Auguste said. “They like to do double ball screens. They like to move the ball a lot among the guards. It’s more of guards play with Michigan.”
The last time Michigan lost, in the Big Ten tournament semifinal to Purdue, the Boilermakers rattled off 44 points in the paint. But Auguste said he isn’t approaching Friday’s game with an individual view.
“I look at it more from a team standpoint to a chance where we get to go out and play our basketball versus a great program under some bright lights,” Auguste said. “But definitely it’s going to be a great battle in the paint and a great battle with the guards as well. So just looking at it from the team aspect is what’s most important.”
Sophomore forward Bonzie Colson echoed Auguste’s thoughts on Michigan’s guard play and said the Irish frontcourt needs to have a strong performance on the glass Friday.
“They’re a solid team,” Colson said. “They have guards who can really shoot the ball, so we’ve gotta be able to guard that. And Zach and I, whoever the bigs are, gotta be able to dominate the boards.”
A storyline entering the week was Notre Dame’s recent turnover problems — but junior guard Steve Vasturia said the team isn’t concerned heading into Friday’s game at the Barclays Center.
“I think we’re gonna be a lot better with the ball,” Vasturia said. “It’s nice to have a couple days of practice. It’s something that we’ve been really good at all year so for the most part, we’re not really worried about it. We’re just gonna play our game.”
Friday’s game marks the first time Brey will coach against Wolverines head coach John Beilein since 2007, when Beilein coached West Virginia. But while it’s been nine years, Brey still expects the two to be familiar with each other’s game plan.
“There’s a lot of familiarity with the system,” Brey said. “We played against them a lot at West Virginia: the open floor, the reliance on 3-point shots. We actually go back into some of those practice plans that we had a while ago when John was at West Virginia and some of the breakdown drills and some of the things we emphasized against his system. And he’s got the same familiarity with us, too.”
Brey said he hopes the Irish veterans, who came within a shot of the Final Four last year, play an aggressive style Friday night.
“I think they come into this thing ready to attack, and I certainly don’t want to overcoach them, and I don’t want them playing looking over their shoulders. We need to play downhill,” Brey said.
“But there’s a group in that locker room that got accustomed to advance, and I hope they certainly remember how that feels.”