It is hard to believe that seventh-ranked Notre Dame has played the last two games without its best player as the Irish blew out Furman, 93-61, and South Dakota, 102-76, this week.
Reigning Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody may want to get back from his bout with pneumonia before Kyle McAlarney and Ryan Ayers replace him as the team's top offensive options. McAlarney and Ayers have combined for 113 points in two games without the big guy.
"I don't think so," McAlarney laughed when asked if there would be touches for Harangody when he gets back. "I think me and Ryan are really comfortable in this kind of environment."
While there is doubt that Mike Brey will run his offense through the 6-foot-8 junior when he returns, the coach acknowledged that there will be some benefits down the road from being forced to play without him.
"I hope we remember how to make a post-feed, we haven't had to do that much," Brey joked. "Certainly some other guys have to step forward."
Zach Hillesland understands the good things that can come from playing without Harangody, but does not think the Irish will have any problems working him back into the offense.
"Guys like Ryan have gotten more touches and attempts than they usually would. We're getting into a bit of a flow," said Hillesland. "When Luke comes back we'll try to incorporate this to take some of the pressure off him. Usually there's double and triple teams going against Luke, so this is good. We have to focus more on rebounding and defending the post when he's out of there."
Brey said that Harangody had a tough weekend and has lost 12 pounds since becoming ill, but he was back on the bench for Tuesday's game against South Dakota. Initially, Brey said that he would have been happy to have Harangody back for the Dec. 31 game at DePaul, but admitted that he started to become more optimistic.
"Two days ago I was thinking, ‘Let's be aggressive. We've got to get him back for Ohio State.' I've come back to Earth on that now and understand that there's a big picture here and a lot of big battles we need him in," said Brey. "I know you don't want a relapse of this dang thing because this is something that can hang around for awhile if you don't crush it. Now, we got it in the early stages, which was great."
Brey called Harangody day-to-day and is confident that he will be back by next Saturday's home game against Boston University and possibly by this Saturday's matchup with Ohio State at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
"You don't rule out anything, but I'm going to be really cautious," Brey said. "He is chomping at the bit and we're going to be really smart about this thing. We're not going to do anything crazy Saturday if it's not a healthy situation."
Harangody will need to be cleared by doctors, feel ready to play and show Brey that he can play before returning to his starting spot. Harangody will shoot at practice on Wednesday and could play against the Buckeyes if he is able to practice fully on Friday.
EXTRA PASSES COME EASY: The one thing that is most obvious when watching the Irish play is how much they like playing as a team and their willingness to pass up a shot for themselves for a better one from a teammate.
"I love our unselfishness. Love how this group passes the ball no matter what the score is, no matter who's playing. They really do pass the ball to each other and enjoy playing with each other," said Brey, who added that he should have paid for a ticket to the game against South Dakota.
"I don't think anyone in the country passes the ball like us, I really don't. I continually tell our guys that. Where one through 14 of guys can and will pass it. It's fun to watch."
Ayers said that the team feeds off of one another.
"It's very contagious because when you play the right way good things happen and I think that's what we do," he said. "We make the extra pass, we just do the right things in order to win, make winning plays."
"It's so contagious. It's fun for us to play in, it's fun to watch," he said. "You kind of want to make the right play if the guy makes the right play to you. It's just how we play, it's very unselfish."
Point guard Tory Jackson scored just two points against the Coyotes, but dished out 10 easy assists.
"To tell you the truth, it's them guys that make me look good. They knock down the shots, I just get them the ball, that's all I can do," he said. "I really didn't do nothing but get them the ball and help defensively. That's all you can do. When you've got a team shooting like that, you don't want to force anything and you just want to keep feeding it to the hot hand."
BREY'S BUSY FRIDAY: Brey will accompany his squad to Indianapolis, but will return north before heading back down to Indy for the Ohio State game. Brey's son Kyle is a sophomore tight end for the University of Buffalo and the coach will head to Michigan for the Bulls' MAC Championship Game against Ball State on Friday night.
"Our daily schedule works out great where we can get all of our prep in and I can shoot up to Ford Field and watch the game. I'll get back by 1 a.m. and we have a shootaround at 9:30," he said. "There's things you've got to do with your children as many of you know and I think our players know that. They were asking me all week, ‘Coach, you're going right? You're going up?' I said, ‘Yeah, I'm going to sneak out of the backdoor after practice fellas and watch that game.' So, I'm excited to go see that."
Kyle Brey has played in all 12 games for Buffalo, catching five passes for 31 yards and his dad has enjoyed his college football career's wild ride.
"It is an exciting week. To have the opportunity to go watch your son play in the MAC Championship Game," he said. "It's been an unbelievable story when he went to that program how down they were and here they are in the championship game and that he plays a role in it."
IT'S OFFICAL: MAC'S BACK: After making just two of 13 shots in the first two games, McAlarney regained his stroke in Maui and brought it back to the mainland with him. McAlarney is 46 of 85 (54.1%) in the Irish's last five games, including 37 of 68 (54.4%) from three-point range.
As a shooter, McAlarney said that he never lost confidence in his shot.
"I never feel like I left it. With me, I've developed a very small conscious, if I miss a shot I kind of forget about it right away," he said. "I've become really good at that and that's how a shooter should be. The first couple of games I struggled a little bit, but I'm getting into a little rhythm now and I'm figuring out how to get myself shots."
LOOSE BALLS: For the first time since 1991-92 season the Irish have had three different players score 30 points in the same season. Ayers joined Harangody and McAlarney as a 30-point scorer for Notre Dame this season. LaPhonso Ellis, Elmer Bennett and Daimon Sweet were the last trio to reach the 30-point marks in the same season… The 19 three-pointers that Notre Dame hit set school and Joyce Center records.