Whether it was his intention or not, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey stirred things up and generated quite a bit of discussion with his comments at Thursday's press conference ahead of Saturday's game against Indiana.
A reporter started his question to Brey by saying, "People in this state are enamored with IU."
"They should be enamored with us, quite frankly," Brey said. "We're the most consistent program in this state. It ain't even close."
He may be right, but it's certainly a lot closer than Brey believes it is. Both Indiana and Notre Dame have 101 wins since the Crossroads Classic began, and the Hoosiers have four NCAA Tournament wins to Notre Dame's three.
Tom Crean didn't seem amused by Brey's comments, but he declined to react to them.
"We just wanna win the game tomorrow," Crean said when asked. "They're a really good team. We just wanna win tomorrow."
Whether Crean admits it or not, Brey's comments add a little extra incentive to a game that already means a whole heck of a lot to both teams. For Notre Dame, a program often forgotten in the basketball-loving state, it's another opportunity in front of an Indianapolis crowd to show that it is truly a force to be reckoned with and respected.
"The buzz is gonna be through the roof," Brey said.
For Indiana, it's the last chance to secure a high quality win in the non conference, and their only game against a top 25 team until February. A first round Maui loss to Wake Forest weakened what figured to be a strong non-conference schedule, and defeats against UNLV and Duke have left the Hoosiers with fewer opportunities for resume-boosting wins.
Notre Dame would certainly qualify, though. The Fighting Irish (7-2) also lost two games at a neutral site event (Monmouth and Alabama), but they also own wins over Iowa and at Illinois in the early season. Notre Dame returns several of its key pieces from last year's team that pushed then-undefeated Kentucky to the brink in the Elite Eight.
Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste make the Irish go, and they've quickly become one of the best duos in the country. Jackson is averaging 17.8 points per game on 55 percent shooting and 43 percent shooting from beyond the arc with 5.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals per contest.
"He's certainly the voice and the quarterback of this team," Brey said. "His play, on both ends of the floor, ignites us."
Added Indiana coach Tom Crean: "He's strong. He shoots it. He's gonna try to attack you, he passes the ball. He's a great pick-and-roll passer. He's always in the play. Whether he has the ball or not, he's always in the play."
Auguste is averaging a double-double at 14.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Steve Vasturia (13.0 ppg) and V.J. Beachem (12.0 ppg) also average in double figures for the Irish.
"They can get you at their pace and tempo, and I think that's a big, big part of their game," Crean said. "We've got to make sure that we can play at our pace."
Indiana and Notre Dame play very similar styles, although Indiana likes to play a little bit faster than the Irish. Notre Dame ranks 2nd nationally in offensive efficiency, and Indiana is 4th. Both teams also struggle on defense, with Indiana ranking 111th in defensive efficiency and Notre Dame, 129th.
"I think it's going to be a fun game to watch because both teams can score the ball, they share it, they know how to play, they have skilled guys," Brey said. "It will come down to who can dig in more defensively to slow the other one down, but you're gonna have to score to win this one."