Irish Move To The Same Bench On Friday

The Notre Dame basketball team has been playing together for five months now, and somebody asked coach Mike Brey if he had a great feel for his depth this season. The seventh-year coach said he didn't know because his players haven't sat on the same bench yet.

On Friday night, Brey will be able to give a better answer. The Irish, fresh off their first trip to NCAA Tournament in three years, will finally get to halt practice and scrimmaging against each other, and lace the sneakers up and pull on the home jerseys for an exhibition game against NAIA Division II St. Ambrose (Iowa). Tip off is set for 9 p.m. following the football pep rally.

"We're going against each other pretty good, but to get a feel for it, I think when you substitute, does that keep you going, do you have an energy guy coming off the bench," Brey said before practice on Wednesday. "Those type of things."

Junior guard Kyle McAlarney makes his return to the Irish lineup, and will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Tory Jackson. Forwards Rob Kurz, Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland round out the rest of the starting five. Sophomore forward Luke Harangody, who was sporting a cast over his right hand in practice on Wednesday, will not play because of the torn ligaments in his thumb. Brey considered starting Luke Zeller in his place, but the sophomore forward slightly twisted his ankle in the team's officiated scrimmage on Monday, and won't be full-go until Thursday.

"It's the first time you're on the same bench and you want to try and get a feel for your substitution patterns," Brey explained. "You hopefully when you substitute you can maintain your energy levels. That's one of the things we'll talk about today and tomorrow. You're kind of evaluating, just trying to take it all in. I'm more focused on the eight veterans than the four young guys, and seeing how those eight veterans, well seven of them, Harangody won't be available, will rotate through.

Brey said that at least for the first half, he'll be substituting like this is a Big East game. Zeller and sophomore guard Jonathan Peoples will be the first guys off the bench. From there, Brey has to figure out how he is going implement his four freshmen into the mix.

"None of the young guys have dislodged any of the older guys," he said. "But it's early, and of course we've had some injury situations too. Anyways right now, you can probably say Tyrone Nash is the eighth guy Friday night since Harangody is down. (Carleton) Scott probably comes in behind that, and then Ty Proffitt and Tim Abromaitis are kind of tied there in that other spot. The goal is you want to get them all in the game, but the focus is getting a feel for your veteran guys and rotating them together, subbing, trying to figure out a subbing pattern with this group."

Brey also said his team has been trying to play faster than they have been the past few years.

"I think we're doing a good job of that and buying into that," Brey stated.

"I think we've tried to do a little bit more with full-court defense. You're talking speed the game up, especially in these games early, in these exhibitions. So picking up, I still worry when we extend too much, are we going to be able to protect our paint and rebound, which is what helped us defensively last year.

"I guess overall on Friday, are we going to be able to score the ball in that setting like we have scored the ball? We've shown signs of that, but over a 40-minute segment, what is our offensive rhythm? Are we getting the right guys touches at the right time? That's probably still developing too. Who are our guys, who are our other guys at certain times?"

Following Friday's game, the next time the Irish return to the court is next Thursday against St. Edwards (Texas). The season opener is Nov. 12 at home against Long Island. From there, Notre Dame flies to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam tournament.

***The 6-foot-8, 251-pound Harangody hopes to have his cast off and playing by the time the Irish hit the road for the Virgin Islands, Nov. 16. Named to the Big East all-rookie team last season, Harangody averaged an impressive 11.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in just a shade over 20 minutes of action per game.

"I'm hoping for that," Brey said. "I'm holding out hope that he's going to be able to play in our first game Monday the 12th. I think we really take a good look at it next Tuesday when the cast comes off, and I'm hopeful there is a possibility we can play him on Monday before we go to the Virgin Islands."

***Brey brought the officials into practice on Monday for a scrimmage, and right at the end of practice, Zeller twisted his ankle.

"Just tweaked it a little bit," Brey said of the 6-foot-10 Washington Twp., Ind. product. "At this point in the season, with our trainer and I, Skip (Meyer) and I, our philosophy is to be very cautious with guys. Especially veteran guys who know our system, and also we already have one big guy down. He'll be full-speed tomorrow."

***Following the two exhibition games, Brey would like to make a decision about which one or two freshmen he'd like to have sit out the season, earning them an extra year of eligibility down the road. The decision could be postponed a little ways into the regular season, as long as the player doesn't play, but Brey wants to have a plan for his guys.

"I think we have to sit down and make some serious decisions like maybe before the 12th, based on where are we physically," Brey said. "Harangody I'm hoping is back. Are we whole in all the other areas and all of those things? I'm hoping we're in a position to do that with one guy."

***Who is St. Ambrose? Brey said he thought their mascot was the Bees.

"Last year they had DePaul in a close one with about 10 minutes to go," Brey said. "It was a one possession game. They actually play Bradley (Thursday) night and then come over to us. Fast, playing fast, they don't really break but really trying to play fast. Which is good, it will test our transition defense, it will test us thinking when the game is quick. I like that."

Brey doesn't know anything about St. Ambrose's personnel, but thinks he'll get something on Thursday.

***Notre Dame was selected to finish ninth by the league coaches in the preseason Big East poll. Not one player was selected to the all-conference team. Georgetown and Louisville are the co-favorites to win the conference title.

"I don't even think they pay attention so much anymore," Brey said. The Irish were tabbed to finish 11th last season, before winning a program record 11 games en route to a fourth place finish. "We talk about it a little bit as a team. I said, I think we'll be eight to ten, with the loss of (Colin) Falls and (Russell) Carter, and with what's coming back in the league, I really thought that's where we'd go. I don't think our guys are sitting there going oh my god, big snub. We're kind of mature about that. That none of the guys were on the preseason team, that's probably a good thing for me. But again this group has never been, I don't think they're losing sleep on that. They're just ready to play someone else, and quite frankly I just wish the game was tonight."

In the USA Today/ESPN poll that was released on Tuesday, the Hoyas are ranked five and Louisville is six. Marquette comes in at No. 12, Pittsburgh was slotted at No. 20 and Villanova was No. 25. Syracuse and Connecticut are right on the outside looking in, and Notre Dame received one vote.


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