An eight-day layoff between games for the No. 22-ranked Notre Dame men’s basketball team has afforded head coach Mike Brey time to reflect on a 7-1 record, recruit for 2014 and re-evaluate how the 2013 class, which has already signed, will blend with current players.
Senior forward Tom Knight is one of the Irish reserves head coach Mike Brey believes can compete for more playing time
Of course, too much time to think can make a man crazy. The Fighting Irish knocked off No. 8 Kentucky, 64-50, on Nov. 29 at Purcell Pavilion in South Bend, and Notre Dame fans rushed the floor. Players such as sixth-year senior Scott Martin, who immediately vacated the court and was mildly disgusted, and junior Jerian Grant, who was obviously annoyed by the celebration, eventually got over what may have been an over-the-top reaction by supporters.
“They took it very matter of fact,” Brey said at Wednesday’s press conference. “They weren’t jumping around in there [with the crowd]. “… What I’ve loved about this group and maybe our program is, when the lights have been bright in this building, we’ve delivered. I’m really proud of that. This group is mature about that.”
As much as Brey appreciated his team’s businesslike approach, he had to explain why Notre Dame fans felt the need to go bonkers after a victory over the defending national champion.
“I did like that [they were embarrassed by the celebration]. … As I tried to explain to them, there was such good energy in the building that night, and there was a celebration of a lot of things going on there. I’ll be darned if any usher or me is going to stop Manti [Te’o] and the defensive line from charging the floor.
“Our guys were like, ‘[the fans] didn’t really need to do that.’ We expected to do well. But I tried to put it in the context of everything that’s going on athletically here and the football guys. Our students just wanted to celebrate, and I thought it was awesome. I know some people have been critical of it. I love it. It was great. … ‘Fellas, calm down, let the kids have fun, all right? Let the students have fun.’ They moved on quickly; they weren’t losing sleep over it. But they were a little shaking their heads. When you see our defensive line in their three-point stances as the clock’s ticking down, I’ll be darned if I’m getting anywhere close to those guys.”
Kentucky lost a couple nights later to Baylor, which was pummeled by Northwestern on Dec. 4.
“College basketball, man, anytime you try and figure this thing out … [University of Illinois-Chicago] beat Northwestern a couple days ago,” Brey said. “Need I go on? It’s crazy.
“I don’t know if that [Kentucky’s loss to Baylor] affected [the Irish] much or felt it diminished our win. I think we needed to do that in that atmosphere that night. Now we need the Wildcats to grow up and go on a heck of a streak in the SEC.”
Brey loves Zach Auguste's upside, but explained that the freshman forward has a long way to go
Notre Dame, which hosts Brown next on Dec. 8, is beginning to take shape. Brey said the last four days have been more about academics as the semester winds down, and figuring out his bench. The Irish have consistently rotated seven players, which is the norm for Brey’s squads, but he’s “open” to identifying an eighth man.
Starters Jack Cooley (29 minutes per game), Grant (36), Eric Atkins (36.8), Martin (30) and Pat Connaughton (31) have accounted for 418 of the team’s 580 points (72 percent). Senior center Garrick Sherman and freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid are both averaging over 17 minutes per contest and scoring 10.1 and eight points, respectively. After that, freshman forward Zach Auguste has registered eight minutes per outing, followed by senior forward Tom Knight (3.3). Knight appeared in 30 games last year (three starts) and averaged just less than three points per game.
“Is there an eighth?” Brey said. “And if there is an eighth, who the heck is it? We’ve got a veteran in Tom Knight that came off the bench last year and really helped us. That’s not lost on me. What Zach Auguste brings to the table is something different than any other big guy we have on our roster, but yet he’s young and makes mistakes. Where’s he going to be in the next couple weeks by Big East season?
“Austin Burgett (freshman) gives us that other step-back, spread-out four-man when Scott Martin’s down; he’s had some great practices for us. I think you’re always searching there. As I told the group the other day, where seven guys are getting a bite of the apple now, the way the season works out with things, everybody usually gets a shot before it’s over.”
Brey’s keeping the reserves engaged through three-on-three play before practice, which he said has kept them sharp.
“There’s an open mind there,” he explained. “I think every day I watch something in practice and go, ‘Maybe he’s eight if we go to eight.’ And then the next day it’s somebody different.”