Discovery Period

7-2 Notre Dame enters tonight's contest as just an eight-point favorite over the North Dakota State Bison (6-3). The relatively close point spread isn't due solely to the presence of a veteran, underrated foe.

A too-close for comfort game, but eventual 11-point win over Bryant Monday. A five-point survival vs. a quality Delaware team two days earlier. A loss at top 25 Iowa. A rare November home defeat at the hands of Indiana State.

College basketball teams don't have to evolve in November or December.

But they can't forfeit the right to play later than mid-March as they search for an eventual identity, either.

Notre Dame's margin for non-conference error no longer exists, the aforementioned loss to the Sycamores the first of head coach Mike Brey's 14 Novembers in South Bend.

Tonight's contest vs. a veteran North Dakota State squad is one the Irish should win, but the experts -- those that set point spreads for a living -- have staked the Irish to an unusually low eight-point margin over the Bisons, a Summit League contender and potential Bracket Buster next March.

Blame Notre Dame's lack of identity as much as NDSU's recent efforts.

"We're going to have to rely on a low-post scorer. Right now it happens to be Sherm," said Brey of Garrick Sherman. "(5th-year senior) Tom Knight coming a bit. And you know what, before it's over, Zach Auguste will be back through the flow. It's just kind of who we are right now."

Auguste did not play vs. the Bulldogs Monday and earned just two minutes vs. Delaware two days prior. He averaged nearly 15 minutes in three previous outings including a 98-93 loss at Iowa.

"I think I always have an open mind," said Brey of playing time battles. "Tom Knight was a DNP in Iowa City and now he's on his way back up. Zach Auguste could be back in the flow, doing things. I felt tonight that Sherman had to be out there. He's become the guy. I wanted to give Tom Knight a lot because he saved our butts last year. He's been in big games. It could be Zach, it could be (sophomore) Austin Burgett again. (Burgett played 11 minutes Monday.)

"Let's see what happens."

An unfinished product, Notre Dame's ensuing two games will draw national attention. The Irish travel to Indianapolis to take on Indiana in the third annual Crossroads Classic Saturday. One week later, Notre Dame goes back to Madison Square Garden to take on No. 3 Ohio State, the marquee game in the ongoing Gotham Blackrock Classic, of which tonight's is the third of four appearances for the Irish.

"We're playing three teams very similar, can win their league," said Brey of previous Blackrock battles with Delaware and Bryant with tonight's against North Dakota State. "I think the team we play Wednesday is the best of the three. They're big. They run a lot of that 'Wisconsin' everybody posts. They jam it in defensively and like these previous two teams, they're older and they've won together.

"I'm very worried about Wednesday because I think they're the best of the three. But that's great for us. These have been hard games for us but I think that's great for our development."

Asked if he was worried about his team's inability to pull away at home, a hallmark of Brey-coached teams -- both in an out of conference over the last six seasons -- the veteran coach noted, "I think we've played good teams. I give them credit. I tip my hat to them because they're pretty experienced.

"I love the fact that we had game pressure on us both Saturday and Monday and had to kind of get out of our gym alive. That's more like league play. That's why this week could be good. Unless we lose one, then it's not good."

Survive, advance, and as important, improve.


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