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Familiar to Brey, Irish
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service
(IE) – Mike Brey understands how humbling Big East play can be, particularly in January.
His once-beaten, fifth-ranked Fighting Irish swaggered into the sparkling new
"The last time I checked, we were still picked to finish fourth in the (Big East) pre-season poll," Brey said in a somewhat subdued conference call with reporters Thursday morning, "And the West Division sure looks good. Picking the teams one-through-five, who knows?
"We're just trying to get to 1-1 in league play now."
Five days of emotional and physical preparation are a welcome tonic for the 12-2 Irish. Even more refreshing will be a return to the Joyce Center on Sunday for a noon tip-off with early West Division cellar-dweller Seton Hall (5-6 overall, 0-2 Big East). The Irish are 8-0 on the friendly floorboards with an average margin of victory of 27.6 points per game.
But one familiar refrain that Brey has been preaching to his team this week is that the rules of basketball change in January. Conference play is more of a passion play, with the spotlight hotter, the play faster and the stakes higher.
"We have to come to the realization," Brey said, "that the 90 point blitzes are not going to happen in league play. We have to come to grips with that."
There will be an adjustment period. In Brey's first year under the Dome, the Irish averaged 87.3 points per contest in November and December then dropped to 73.5 in Big East and post-season play. Last year, it was 85.2 points in November and December, 75.2 once the calendar turned. This season, Brey's gang pumped in 84.8 points per through the Dec. 30 Vanderbilt clash, nearly 30 points per game higher than the 55 per contest to date in 2003. The adjustment has sometimes been rocky, with unexpected January stumbles. Brey is 10-8 (.555) in January at ND, 44-15 (.745) all other months.
"We've had a fabulous run thus far and we just have to keep our head's
up now," said Brey. "Let's face
it, when you are sent to
Notre Dame recovered beautifully in 2001 and 2002, making the NCAA Tournament both years. The Irish will be on a track to the post-season again, according to Brey, if they successfully address the following three issues:
Miller has to rebound," Brey said. The
"Chris Thomas is a young man that takes too much responsibility personally," said Brey. "I try to diffuse it. We're working on that this week." Thomas, undeniably pre-season the Irish MVP and a Big East Player of the Year candidate, is five-for-26 in his 2003 field goal attempts. Brey knows his prize pupil still needs patient nurturing. "You forget sometimes this guy is a sophomore."
"We need to feed Torin Francis as an entry," Brey noted, "much like we did with
Brey sees all three as easily correctable measures and also is thrilled with the
stunning early-season performance of Matt Carroll,
who has catapulted himself into the All-Big East race with a 31-point effort at
"I'm so happy for him, to really bring it on a national TV game like that,"
said Brey. The coach has a special fondness
(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes Magazine and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For subscription information on IrishEyes Magazine please visit www.irisheyes.com or call 888-501-5752)