• Game 5: Iowa (3-1) vs. Notre Dame (3-1)
• Date: Nov. 27, 2015
• What: Advocare Invitational
• Place: HP Field House; Orlando, Fla.
• Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN2
• Opponent Nickname: Hawkeyes
• Head coach: Fran McCaffery (6th year; 99-76)
• Conference: Big Ten
• Location: Iowa City, Iowa
• 2014-15 record: 22-12 (12-6 in Big Ten)
Mike Brey has been criticized in the past for not playing an ambitious pre-conference schedule, but that doesn’t apply this year with Notre Dame’s participation in the Advocare Invitational in Orlando.
In addition to opening the tournament on Thanksgiving with Monmouth – a leading candidate to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and winners at UCLA a couple of weeks ago – the Irish must now take on Iowa, which lost 82-77 to Dayton late-Thursday night.
The Hawkeyes (3-1) are a veteran basketball team that came out of the gate with victories over Southeast Missouri State (84-53), Alabama (80-48) and William & Mary (69-66) before falling to the Flyers.
Although the Hawkeyes lost Aaron White (16.4 ppg., 7.3 rpg.) and Gabriel Olaseni (8.1 ppg., 4.8 rpg.) from last year’s squad, it’s still a deep and talented team with four starters returning from a team that lost by 19 to Gonzaga in the Round of 32. Iowa won its final six Big Ten games last year to finish 12-6 in league play.
The Hawkeyes are led by 6-foot-9, 210-pound senior Jarrod Uthoff -- generally considered a star in the making -- guards Mike Gesell, Peter Jok, and Anthony Clemmons, and 7-foot-1 Adam Woodbury.
Waiting on the other side of the bracket in the Advocare Invitational is 2015 Sweet 16 opponent Wichita State, which also lost its quarterfinal game to USC to fall into the loser’s bracket with the Irish.
“I think this field is as good a field as any of the early-season tournaments,” Brey said. “It’s an unbelievable test. You’ll find out where you are. It’s kind of a win-win (situation) in that you have a chance to grab some resume wins if you can win some games down there. But if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world, either.
“So it’s kind of a bonus. All I know if we’ve got our hands full.”
BRIGHT LIGHT NIGHTS
Jerian Grant is no longer around to make the big shot. Pat Connaughton and his relentless will on the backboards is a thing of the past. Now it’s up to Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste, and Steve Vasturia to lead the way for a bunch of other players who have not been center stage on the collegiate level.
“How do we play when the lights are bright?” Brey reflected. “We have a lot of guys back from a group that really performed when the lights were bright. But how does this group do it? This is the first time we’ve got some bright lights on us.
“Jackson, Vasturia, Auguste and (Bonzie) Colson knew how to dance when it was really high stakes. I’m hoping they’re really ready to do that again and they drag those younger, inexperienced guys along and tell them, ‘This is what we do when the stakes are higher.’”
NARROWING THE GAP
During the pre-season, Brey declared Notre Dame’s defense ahead of its offense. The difference between the two now, says Brey, is negligible.
“I think our offense has closed the gap a little bit,” said Brey earlier this week. “Our starting group is learning how to play together on the offensive end and getting more efficient. We’re learning how to put them in position in the midst of our motion. We’re getting a better feel of where to get Bonzie and Zach so our spacing is good.
“Certainly when we substitute and downshift as we call it, then we’re really pure when we’re stretching it with Matt (Farrell) or Matt (Ryan). Those two guys continue to be very important to us.”
Brey’s concerns over his squad’s offensive efficiency came to fruition in Notre Dame’s 70-68 loss to Monmouth Thanksgiving night. The Irish shot just 42.6 percent from the field (26-of-61) while converting just 2-of-8 from three-point range in the second half.
“We’re still a work in progress (offensively),” Brey said. “But we really embrace guarding people, and when you have that starting group out there, the length that V.J. (Beachem) and Bonzie give you and the chance for deflections is something we’ve really valued.”
If there’s been an area of Notre Dame’s game that’s been concerning to Brey through the early portion of the schedule – besides a more consistent flow of the offense -- it’s defending the three-point shot. The first three opponents converted 30-of-64 three-pointers (46.8 percent), including Milwaukee’s 14-of-21.
Monmouth made 6-of-15 three-pointers (40.0 percent) against the Irish.
“We’ve had more breakdowns than I would like,” Brey said. “That’s an area of concern and an area to teach and emphasize and clean up.
“Milwaukee made some tough, deep ones. They shoot it well. But that’s something that we have to really be aware of because that line can beat you. If a team makes a lot of threes, you put a lot of pressure on your offensive efficiency. We were very efficient offensively (against Milwaukee), but you can’t always rely on that.”