Irish Aim For Championship

The Notre Dame basketball team, coaches and staff had to be at the Joyce Center this morning before 5 a.m., well before the rooster even thought about waking anyone else. The team flight left for the Virgin Islands before 7 a.m., where the Irish will play three games in four days at the Paradise Jam Tournament, beginning Friday night against Monmouth.

This afternoon, the Irish (1-0) will get over to the gym on the University of Virgin Islands campus in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, and shake off some jet lag and begin preparing for Monmouth's (0-2) Princeton-style attack. But before Friday's game, there will also be a little beach time.

"There's going to be a balance," coach Mike Brey said after Notre Dame's season-opening 82-50 victory over Long Island on Monday. "We're going to get them out a little bit. We just have to be smart about when we prepare and focus.

"I'm really not worried about this group understanding why they're there," Brey continued. "This group's M.O. has been they're going to go after it. Part of keeping them loose is letting them have a little beach time. All of a sudden you shoot it better if you're out on the beach a little bit more and play freely, right, that's part of the therapy.

"Maybe even for the coach to."

Brey's boys shot it just fine in the win over Long Island, connecting on 35-of-68 shots (51.5 percent), including 7-of-17 behind the arc. Rob Kurz led the way with 19 points, Luke Harangody added 15, and Luke Zeller came off the bench with 12. Tory Jackson had eight assists.

If the ball is going in the bucket like that, the Irish should be able to accomplish their goal of winning a championship. Following the game against Monmouth, the Irish will play the winner of the Baylor-Wichita State game on Sunday evening. Monday's opponent could be Charlotte, Georgia Tech, Illinois-Chicago, or Winthrop, the program that ended Notre Dame's season a year ago in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This tournament also has a losers bracket and guarantees every team the three games.

"I said three steps to try and win a championship," Brey said to his team after Monday's win. "We said this week could be a great growth experience for us. I like how we started and now we get into new territory down there. And it will be neat seeing other teams and that atmosphere will be good to be around."

Brey quickly pointed out to his team that though Monmouth is 0-2, they should've beat fellow Big East program Seton Hall last Sunday night. The Hawks fell on the road 89-81 in overtime, after being down 14 at the half. They were up 72-70 with less than 10 seconds to play before a pair of Seton Hall free throws sent the game into overtime.

"They had a Big East team beat and let them off the hook the other day," Brey said.

Monmouth runs an offense similar to the one Notre Dame sees in practice regularly. Spread the floor with a lot of cutting. Friday's game will also give the Irish a taste of what Big East power Georgetown likes to run.

"Preparation, real challenge for our half-court defense guarding some Princeton stuff that moves differently," Brey explained. "Can we be in position for long possessions against a team that is going to spread us out? That's one of the themes we hit."

Notre Dame is the only team in the tournament that received votes in the Associated Press's latest top-25.

"We have the opportunity to play for a championship," Kurz said. "It will be a great test for us as we have the opportunity to play some great teams. We are really excited."


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