PITTSBURGH – When the Irish get things rolling offensively, it’s artistry in motion. Few teams can space the court and pass the basketball with the dexterity of No. 8-ranked, No. 3-seeded Notre Dame.
The Irish also rely upon the solid scouting reports drawn up by assistant coaches Anthony Solomon, Rod Balanis and Martin Ingelsby, who then turn it over to head coach Mike Brey to develop the specific game plan.
A combination of the two aspects is the plan of attack this weekend in Pittsburgh where the Irish will try to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament when they take on No. 14 seed Northeastern Thursday with the hope of advancing to Saturday’s action against the winner of No. 6 seed Butler-No. 11 seed Texas.
It’s the 10th NCAA tournament appearance under Brey, fifth in the last six seasons, and 34th in school history. Northeastern, under head coach Bill Coen, will be making the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1991 and eighth in school history.
“We have a lot of respect for Northeastern,” said Brey, moments before the Irish took to the CONSOL Energy Center floor for a 30-minute shoot-around Wednesday afternoon.
“I can remember watching and preparing for Florida State (in December). We watched Northeastern beat Florida State in Tallahassee. I remember saying to our guys, ‘Glad we didn’t draw them.’ Well, come to find out we did draw ‘em.”
There’s much more at stake this time around. Fresh from an impressive three-game sweep in the ACC tournament over Miami and Tobacco Road powerhouses Duke and North Carolina, the Irish are peaking at the right time.
So, too, are the Huskies, who enter Thursday’s NCAA tournament lid-lifter (12:15 p.m. ET) on a four-game winning streak, including their own conference tournament championship with victories over No. 6 seed Delaware, No. 2 seed North Carolina-Wilmington and No. 1 seed William & Mary. (Northeastern was the No. 3 seed in the CAA tournament.)
No one will confuse one set of opponents for the other, but the fact is Coen’s team comes into the NCAA tournament confident that their veteran nature. The Huskies have four players who have played at least 95 college games, which doesn’t even include leading scorer Scott Eatherton.
“We’ve got to dig into them,” said Brey of Northeastern. “Our guys don’t know them and haven’t watched them play like our ACC opponents.”
Handling main scouting report duties for the Irish against Northeastern is Balanis. If the Irish defeat Northeastern and play Butler, Ingelsby will have scouting duties for the Bulldogs. Solomon is responsible for Texas should the Irish and Longhorns both win Thursday. (Note: Ingelsby, by random draw, handled all three scouting reports in the ACC tournament.)
The Irish executed their defensive game plan to near-perfection in the ACC tournament, limiting their three opponents to a combined 15-of-61 (24.5 percent) from three-point range -- Miami 5-of-20, Duke 3-of-17 and North Carolina 7-of-24.
If Notre Dame takes care of its own business, the name of the opponent lessens in importance.
“It’s definitely a little bit of both,” said Jerian Grant, the MVP of the ACC tournament last week in Greensboro. “The reason we played so well in the ACC tournament was because we focused on our opponent. We really took our scouting report seriously.
“Obviously, we want to play our game, play good defense, and outlet and run. But we definitely need to know the tendencies of the opponent we’re playing against.”
Irish captain Pat Connaughton cited the importance of zeroing in on the opponent’s tendencies while adhering to a strict scouting report. But the Irish also know they control their own destiny, first by being aware of what the opponent does well, and then by making sure Notre Dame plays Notre Dame basketball, which is a blueprint for success that was on full display in the ACC tournament.
“We are a team that has a high basketball IQ and can retain that type of information,” Connaughton said. “But at the end of the day, what you saw in the ACC tournament was this team playing with some of the most energy, the most passion and the most togetherness that we have had all season.
“This team is able to play with the togetherness, which is the word that we use. Trusting each other and the willingness to play for each other makes a difference.”