Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com
November 28, 2001
Now the Real Challenges
Begin for Unbeaten Irish
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service
You ever get the feeling there are too many teams in Division 1 college basketball?
Notre Dame is now 6-0 for the first time since 1979-80 we might add and three of the triumphs have been by 37 points (one over a Division 2 team). Another was by 42. The average margin of victory in the six triumphs has been 33. The only time there was less competition was before Ma Bell was broken up
But no-one in Notre Dame Nation is complaining right now. Tonights 86-49 victory over the United States Military Academy at West Point (Army) at the Joyce Center was satisfying because the Irish took the game so seriously, particularly in the second-half. Mike Breys team is not looking past any opponent, a very admirable quality.
The Irish, in fact, were rather hard on themselves. After winning the Hawaii Pacific Tournament in Honolulu on Sunday, they flew 5,000 miles and walked in bleary-eyed to class on Tuesday morning. With one day to prepare against an Army team that really sticks it to you defensively, the Irish were understandably flat in the first half and led only 40-28 at the break.
If you were in the Notre Dame locker-room during the 15-minute rest, you would have through the Irish were down 12 at the break.
"I said a few things, and then I just sort of just put it on them to settle it," said Brey, who wasnt pleased with intensity.
The coach left the locker-room and sophomore Chris Markwood stood up and said the Irish were not "grimy enough" in the first-half. "And that sparked us," said Ryan Humphrey.
The spark took hold immediately. Less than three minutes into the second-half, the Irish put together a 19-0 run that finished the Cadets. Humphrey had 14 of his game-high 27 points in the burst, including a three-pointer.
"Army played tough, we have the utmost respect for a program like that," said David Graves, who turned in another solid, 20-point effort. "But we didnt come with the fire needed in the first-half and we took it personally."
Army is now 3-1, its victories coming over Coast Guard, Quinnipiac and New York Maritime. The Cadets are well coached by Pat Harris but the fact is that they are perennial cellar-dwellers in the worst Division 1 conference in the country, the Patriot League.
Translation: Dont go too ga-ga over this start, especially when the most impressive victory was over Tennessee-Chattanooga. Judge the Irish instead on how they perform Dec. 1-8.
"We might have a different look when we return to this building," said Brey, whose team doesnt return to the Joyce Center until Dec. 30, after five straight road contests.
Indeed, if the Irish are Top 25 quality, they need to make hay in the next three games at DePaul (Saturday), at Indiana (Tuesday) and at Miami (O) on December 8.
"This schedule has worked out the way we wanted it to," said Brey. "This has given us confidence, but now we have to see how we are going to handle this next week. Lets face it, last year we didnt handle it too well."
Notre Dame, 4-0 and ranked No. 10 last December, was spanked at home by Indiana and Miami. This time, Brey has a different game plan.
"We got to think really poor," Brey said. "We need to go to Chicago this weekend and act as if were really poor. After all, look at us, we just have a few votes in the rankings and I even think we dropped a few votes this week after winning in Hawaii.
"Last year we were ranked too high. Then, in hindsight, we probably shouldnt have played Troy Murphy with his ankle against Indiana, then we sat him down for the start against Miami and he wasnt ready psychologically to play the rest of the game. This time, our seniors are really going to have to lead."
With a little help from a freshman. Chris Thomas continues his outstanding rookie season at the point, collecting 13 points with nine assists in this one.
"We have really established the low post well," said Thomas. "Our posts are real quick and Ryan has been outstanding."
THE NOTEBOOK: Brey noted that Notre Dames best player in the first-half was Torrian Jones. "Torrian sort of shamed the rest of the guys to get on the floor in the second half," Brey said. "Im very pleased with our defensive intensity, and even more so when Torrian is on the floor." .The Irish held Army to 29-percent shooter, great by even Breys demanding standards. The coach sets a benchmark of below 40-percent for opposition FGs each game .Center Harold Swanagan had six points and seven rebounds and earned this praise from his fellow Kentuckian, Graves: "Harold is the glue to this team. We have people who do a lot of different things with different skills, but Harold is the one who holds everything together. He does all the dirty work." .Brey said after that this was "the game of the year" for Army. He isnt kidding. The rest of the way, the Cadets do not face a team, besides Holy Cross, that finished in the Top 140 of the RPI last season On Saturday, the Irish have a chance to match the 1979-80 team that won seven straight to begin the season. That Rich Branning/Billy Hanzlik captained squad lost in game eight at No. 2 Kentucky and finished 22-6. ..Remember when the Notre Dame-DePaul rivalry was really it? Saturday will be the first time the teams have met since the Irish joined the Big East and thats a shame. The Digger Phelps-Ray Meyer rivalry was such a study in contrasts, Digger all carnations and flash while Meyer played the role of gentle, elder statesman. It will be a little sad on Saturday to see a half-empty United Center for the contest, but its just good to have this game back on the schedule. Memo to Mike Brey and Kevin White. Now do something about getting Marquette back on the schedule, at least on a semi-regular basis. Well talk about UCLA later.
(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at email@example.com.)