Happy To Be in Buffalo (Really!)

Funny how things work out. When he took the Notre Dame job, Mike Brey wanted nothing to do with the "two for one" deal with Canisius. But on the heels of an 8-1 start and a grueling stretch of final exams, the Irish can now refuel in Buffalo before a more stern holiday test in New Orleans. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli reports on how good it is to have basketball back!

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™

December 4, 2001

Irish Glad to Be Back,
Even in Buffalo

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service

It’s nice to hear bouncing basketballs in the Joyce Center again. It’s good to have something positive to write about.

Notre Dame men’s basketball, after a two-week break for exams, is back. The 8-1 Irish, off to their best start in 20 years, resume play Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. Eastern) at Buffalo’s HSBC Arena against 1-4 Canisius.

It’s not the sternest of tests for Mike Brey’s club. The Golden Griffs are 308th in the RPI and have not won a game since November 16, a 17-point home triumph over Cornell. However, the Griffs did play potent St. Joseph’s tough on the road (losing 82-76) and this is their one marquee game of the season, with the bright lights on at the off-campus arena that houses the Buffalo Sabres.

"You bet that this could be a trap for us," Brey told IrishEyes Thursday morning, hours before his team departed for cold, but relatively snowless, Buffalo. "I have not focused on their record, instead I told our guys about how they played against St. Joseph’s."

Why are the Irish in Buffalo three days before Christmas? It’s not Brey’s choice. Matt Doherty scheduled a "two-for-one" with Canisius to reward his top assistant, Buffalo-raised Bob McKinnon. If it was his call alone, Brey would have broken this contract.

But now the Irish have a chance to re-establish a bond on the road after enduring the special pressure of final exams at the University of Notre Dame. This trip seems well-timed.

"We’re just getting out of the fog, we’re glad we can just be basketball players the next three weeks," said Brey, who told IrishEyes his team handled exams well.

"(Academic Services liaison) Pat Holmes felt we took care of business," said Brey. "We were a 3.0 team GPA last Fall (2000) semester. I don’t think we’re going to be a 3.0, but Pat feels good about a 2.8. That’s pretty darn good.

"I’m not worried about any of these guys being in bad shape academically, they got through it, now I just want them to get a good night’s sleep."

The Irish also are apparently at 100-percent health for the Canisius trip. Power forward Ryan Humphrey is expected to start after playing 40 minutes on Dec. 8 at Miami (Ohio) with a "stress reaction" in his lower left leg.

"I told Ryan ‘You don’t have that many college practices left’," Brey said. "It’s up to him to cherish every day. On game days when adrenaline is flowing, he doesn’t feel a thing. If he has a problem he can tell me."

Brey is looking for two things against Canisius: Better defensive intensity out of the gate, and more offensive production and perimeter smarts primarily from David Graves and Matt Carroll.

"We started Indiana and Miami trying to feel them out," Brey said. "We need to have a better (defensive) identity, and we need to address that before we play them. The last two games, when you’re down, you’re not as confident in going with the bench. I want to use some other guys and not see the starters don’t put us in a hole."

Brey noted the perimeter play of Carroll and Graves when IrishEyes asked Brey if he was happy with the way point guard Chris Thomas distributed the ball in the first-half (zero assists) of the Indiana loss.

"Don’t put that all on Chris," Brey advised IrishEyes, "I would put that on our group. We made some bad decisions as a group on the perimeter with some quick shots. When we took a quick shot, they usually made us pay for it with a quick bucket.

"I thought our first possession was a great one," Brey continued, "then if you look back at the tape, the next three or four possessions were one pass and up. I don’t fault Chris for that when you had three seniors and a junior out there. I think that was group responsibility."

Notre Dame currently has an RPI of 104, nine of out 14 teams in the Big East. A victory over Canisius won’t help there much, but it will put the Irish in a good frame of mind for a major test on Thursday in New Orleans against a ranked Alabama squad.

The Irish will scatter all over the country to visit their families following the Canisius clash and then are due back on campus Christmas night for a practice at the JACC to prepare for the Tide.

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at aatandsonspr@aol.com)


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