PHILADELPHIA – Torrian Jones, a 6-foot-4, 195-pound guard out of Morrisville, Pa., was one of the first players recruited by Mike Brey as he began to structure his recruiting efforts along the I-95 corridor that he likes to refer to when discussing how he’s built the Notre Dame teams during his 16 seasons as head coach of the Fighting Irish.
“The great thing about I-95 is it’s a great Notre Dame corridor,” Brey said. “It always has been. Our lifeblood for our roster has come from that corridor.
“We’ve talked about (having) an ‘I-95 edge.’ Kids (along) I-95 having that edge. It’s been an attractive trait that we’ve looked for in recruiting.”
Jones, who captained the 2003-04 squad with Chris Thomas, Jordan Cornette and Tom Timmermans, was part of four teams that all finished above .500 (40-24 total) in Big East play, including Brey’s third squad when the Irish advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament during Jones’ junior season.
Jones averaged 9.3 points and 7.0 rebounds in Big East competition during his senior year. The Morrisville, Pa., product was a glue guy for Brey, often times drawing the most difficult defensive assignment.
After graduating from Notre Dame and spending time with Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Philadelphia, Jones returned to his alma mater, where he serves as one of the university’s academic counselors as well as basketball analyst for Notre Dame radio broadcasts with play-by-play man Jack Nolan.
Jones, who was excited about returning to the Philadelphia area for Notre Dame’s Sweet 16 game against Wisconsin Friday night, offered his insights into the Irish vs. the Badgers.
“The one thing we know about Wisconsin teams is they’re disciplined. They’ll slow the game down a little bit and make you run your offense versus a set defense. They’re going to make Demetrius (Jackson) and everyone else feel a body, no matter where they’re going. They’re not going to turn it over, you’re not going to get easy shot opportunities, and they’re going to make it a grinding game.
“Offensively, they have more weapons than what you would think. (Khalil) Iverson comes off the bench and brings great energy and athleticism. They have (Bronson) Koenig, who has already proven that even when he’s not shooting the ball well, he’s a guy that you have to always be aware of and can make a shot at any moment.
“They have Vitto Brown, who’s a big-time player, and they have Nigel Hayes, who hasn’t been playing well over the last two weeks and hasn’t been shooting the ball particularly well. But he’s a guy that’s capable of hurting you if you’re not paying attention to detail when you’re defending him. Nathan Happ, a freshman, is a load, and I like what Zak Showalter adds to the equation.
“So it’s going to be a much slower-paced game than what we’ve seen from the Irish so far. Notre Dame can beat you in so many ways. They can lock you down if they have to. They can obviously put up big points. They can do it in the open court and they can do it in the half-court.
“What makes this Notre Dame team good is they’re a jack-of-all-trades. Coach Brey has the confidence to not over-coach these guys and allows them to feel out the game and understand what’s needed and how the pace needs to change.
“Sometimes that can lead to a lack of flow because they’re not running sets every time. But it also makes them almost impossible to scout, and come tournament time, that’s a luxury. To be a team full of playmakers, not guys that run plays…That can pay dividends for this team, and I feel very confident in this matchup.
“Notre Dame has been there before and it shows. We have a core group that won a championship in the ACC and has experienced a lot of success, so it’s no coincidence that they’ve able to make the big plays late.
“Wisconsin is the same way. They’ve seen great success. Bo Ryan is not at the helm anymore, but Greg Gard has done a nice job, and it’s a core group of guys that have been around that are confident and believe. They also can beat you multiple ways.
“They have frontcourt depth and can overwhelm the Irish on the offensive backboard, kind of how Georgia Tech did at their place. They have a lot of weapons and they’re playing their best ball of the year at the right time, much like Notre Dame.
“This is going to be a clash of the titans in terms of two teams on an upward trajectory and a crash course. It’s going to be a battle of wills and who is going to want it more.
“I’m a firm believer that it always starts with effort and intensity. Shooting, turnovers, rebounding…all that stuff will be important.
“But at the end of the day, when you get this high up, basketball becomes very simple. Sometimes the deciding factor is the team that wants it more by showing energy and effort, and at the same time, staying poised in battle.
“I’ve got my money riding on the Irish by what I’ve been able to see first-hand and what they’ve shown the last couple weeks.”