NOTRE DAME, Ind. – One way or another, Mike Brey will know next week.
With three lopsided wins in the bank, the latest a 83-48 blowout of Loyola-Maryland at Purcell Pavilion on Friday night, Notre Dame (3-0) will next take a step up at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y., site of last year’s NCAA Tournament wins over Michigan and S.F. Austin.
The Irish will fly to the East Coast on Saturday, face Colorado on Monday night, then get Texas or Northwestern a day later. By the time Brey returns home for Thanksgiving, he should have a handle if Notre Dame can follow back-to-back Elite 8 runs without most of the pieces that got the Irish there.
To date, he likes what he sees.
“We really know who we are,” Brey said. “Don’t get bored with it, because when it gets going it gets machine-like a little bit. We’re defending, we’re passing, we’re moving. I’m amazed by our ball movement.”
None of that implies Notre Dame has it all figured out just yet. The Irish still need to figure out their frontcourt beyond Bonzie Colson, who scored 19 points to go with seven rebounds against Loyola.
That’s where 6-foot-10 junior forward Martinas Geben must fit, whether that’s as a starter or simply a reliable rebounder. Geben finished with a career-high 10 boards, played 15 minutes, scored four points (both dunks) and picked up four fouls.
And that’s fine by both player and coach. The Irish don’t need the next Zach Auguste as much as they need their only true big to answer the call when Brey makes it, which won’t be every night.
“He’s giving us a great presence early in the game with that big body, defensive rebounding,” Brey said. “Keeps it simple. He’s getting more and more confident and we just want to continue to help him with that, because we need him.”
If the Irish don’t have a set rotation – Brey played nine before turning to John Mooney and Elijah Burns late – they might already have a defensive identity. Notre Dame finished with 13 steals and made another opponent look inept offensively.
Loyola shot 16-of-54 from the field (29.6 percent).
V.J. Beachem finished with four steals and Steve Vasturia had three.
“Our guards were flying all over the place,” Brey said. “The speed defensively was amazing to watch. We do have great length. We’re long. We get in passing lanes. We get deflections.”
That defense helped Notre Dame put together a 23-5 run midway through the first half to seize control and make an 8-0 spurt before halftime to remove all doubt.
The Irish led 38-24 at the break and nearly pushed that margin further when Rex Pflueger’s three-quarters court shot rimmed out.
“We were able to defend well the first two games and to keep it going well again tonight was great,” Beachem said. “That’s gonna be huge for us, no just in Brooklyn but the rest of the way.”
There is, of course, more to Beachem’s game than defense.
There will be nights when he’s unplayable for opponents and this was one of them, with the potential all-ACC guard tossing in a game-high 21 points on 3-of-7 shooting from deep. The Irish knew how to take advantage of their best player too, even if that meant passing on contest layups.
Midway through the first half Austin Torres caught an outlet pass near the baseline and instead of forcing a contested layup pushed the ball back to the top of the key. Beachem didn’t wonder why Loyola lost him in transition. He simply drained another triple.
Beachem added four rebounds and a fast break assist to Pflueger. The Irish finished with 23 of those, another Brey goal met.
“Why can’t we get 20 (assists)? That should be ours,” Brey said. “It’s a high basketball IQ group, they love to pass it.”
Now Notre Dame returns to the site of one of its better Brey moments, the same Barclays Arena where Pflueger’s last-second putback sent the Irish to the Sweet 16. The stakes won’t be as high, but Notre Dame can create a new name for itself just the same.
“We’ve had a lot of fun out there,” Beachem said. “We’ve gotta try to keep it going.”