Notre Dame basketball: Brey makes pitch to students to start 'practicing'

South Bend Tribune

Two home victories by an average of 21.5 points to start the season seldom challenged the No. 21 Notre Dame men’s basketball team.

That changes Sunday — for the Irish and their fans — when Indiana State comes calling.

A veteran team that has gone to the postseason each of the last three years, the Sycamores are picked to finish second in the always-competitive Missouri Valley Conference. Expected to win the league is Wichita State, the same Wichita State team that went to the Final Four last season, and the same Wichita State team that lost at home last year to Indiana State.

“They’re coming up here extremely confident,” Irish coach Mike Brey. “Our guys know how good they are.”

But does the Notre Dame fan base? A group that likely plans to spend Sunday watching football, doing yard work or getting an early start on holiday shopping has been encouraged to find their way to Purcell Pavilion for a couple hours and the noon tip-off.

Brey wants to see more fans in the stands, and that includes the Notre Dame student body, which has masqueraded as empty seats through four home games — two exhibitions, two regular season — this fall.

Attendance for the first two regular-season home games was announced at 7,783 (Miami) and 7,854 (Stetson), but that was based on tickets sold. Purcell Pavilion was barely half-full (capacity 9,149) for both.

Ten minutes before the tip of Sunday’s game against Stetson, there were no more than 10 students in the designated sections behind the west basket. That’s just not going to cut it against Indiana State.

Brey visited the dorms on campus this week with a message — there’s no reason to wait until the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule starts in January to get hyped for hoops.

“This is an ACC game,” Brey said. “We could use an ACC kind of crowd for this game. Let’s practice our ACC crowd and sixth man helping us because they’re very good and it’s going to be a tough game.

“It’s going to be a tough game and that’s why we scheduled it.”

Notre Dame has not lost a non-conference home game since Dec. 12, 2009 to Loyola Marymount. The Irish have won 30 straight non-league home games and are 119-9 at Purcell Pavilion over their last 128 home games. That win percentage (.930) ranks second only to Kansas (.961).

Future shock?

Notre Dame’s two additions Wednesday to the 2014 recruiting class — Bonzie Colson Jr. and Martin Geben — may step on campus come summer and join a team void of its entire current starting lineup.

Two starters — Eric Atkins and Garrick Sherman — graduate in the spring. A third, graduate student Tom Knight, also exhausts his eligibility. A fourth, senior guard Jerian Grant, might opt to try his luck in the NBA draft instead of return for his fifth year.

And a fifth starter, junior captain Pat Connaughton, may have a difficult decision come June. Also a pitcher on the Irish baseball team, Connaughton was selected in the 38th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball amateur draft by the San Diego Padres.

Having never signed with the Padres and under MLB draft rules, Connaughton is eligible to be selected again in June. He’s expected to be a high-round selection after going 4-2 with 29 strikeouts, 28 walks and a 1.71 earned-run average in 10 games last spring.

“If he has a great year (next spring in baseball) and somebody says, ‘Here’s a million (dollars); you can’t play hoops,’ I’m a big boy,” Brey said. “He’s got to do what he’s got to do. I would respect any decision he makes.”

But ...

“I know he wants to finish his basketball career,” Brey said. “He has been very strong about that. I think that’s what will happen, but you’ve always got your contingency plans just in case.”

The future of sophomore power forward Eric Katenda also remains in limbo. Having battled numerous injuries since he signed and having never appeared in a game, Katenda currently is recovering from microfracture knee surgery. He may or not be an active member of the Irish next summer.

“Can he help us?” Brey wondered. “I think we’re still trying to figure that out.”

Whistle roulette

College basketball’s new rules that dictate defenders have little or no contact while guarding has had little effect through Notre Dame first two games.

Miami (Ohio) and Notre Dame combined for 29 fouls and 34 free throws in the Nov. 8 opener. Two days later, Notre Dame and Stetson were whistled for 31 fouls and shot 19 free throws.

The other end of the officiating spectrum surfaced in Saturday’s game between Niagara and Seton Hall. Officials called 73 fouls after the teams combined for 102 free throws.

While some have complained that games take longer — well beyond the two-hour mark — the first two Irish contests were played in an hour and 44 minutes and an hour and 46 minutes.

Irish power forward Garrick Sherman fouled out of the Miami game in only 20 minutes. Against Stetson, he picked up four fouls in 23 minutes.

“I’m a hack now,” Sherman joked. “I think there were a couple questionable ones but I just need to be more careful.”

Sherman was whistled for three fouls in less than five minutes to start the second half against Stetson. Saddled with four the rest of the day, he never did pick up a fifth and final infraction.

“I had it in my mind,” Sherman said of possibly fouling out for a second-straight contest. “The new rules are so much more tight so you have to get used to it.”

With a week between games, Brey brought in officials Wednesday and had his team scrimmage, in part to have them play, but also help them understand even better the new rules.

“Every game is different,” Sherman said. “It will be like that for a little bit.”

Interested observer

Brey spent a slice of Tuesday watching ESPN’s 29-hour Hoops Marathon, which featured four future Atlantic Coast Conference opponents — Duke, North Carolina State, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Not long ago, he would have tuned in to the Virginia Tech game to scout West Virginia, a former Big East colleague. Same thing for North Carolina State’s game against Cincinnati. And instead of watching Duke-Kansas in the Champions Classic nightcap as a fan, Brey watched more with a critical coach’s eye now that No. 4 Duke is a conference colleague.

Brey made mental notes on and jotted down ideas about all but Virginia — he was busy with Irish basketball-related duties during the Cavaliers’ game against Virginia Commonwealth.

“I’ll be doing that a lot up until December,” he said. “We probably have to spend some time again as a staff during exam week looking at film of Boston College, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia.”

Those four are repeat league opponents for the Irish this season.

Early impressions

Watching Duke allowed Brey to get a long look at talented freshman forward Jabari Parker, who could be the first pick in June’s NBA draft. Playing in his hometown of Chicago, Parker scored 27 points with nine rebounds in a 94-83 loss to No. 5 Kansas.

“Oooo, he’s pretty good, isn’t he?” Brey said. “Parker’s a great talent.”

Brey also was able to get a feel for the Blue Devils after they lost three key guys — Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee — off last year’s team that finished 30-6.

“They’re still kind of feeling themselves out; they’ve got a lot of new faces,” Brey said. “They’re amazingly athletic. It’s an interesting matchup for us. How do you guard them, but how do they guard us?”

We’ll find out Jan. 4 when Notre Dame opens ACC play at home against Duke.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey reacts to his team's play during the second half of last month's game against Miami of Ohio.