Notebook: Butler unlikely on future ND hoops schedules

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

PITTSBURGH – Barely 150 miles apart, Notre Dame and Butler needed to travel well over twice that distance and two states away to meet on the college basketball court for the first time in nine seasons.

Saturday’s third-round NCAA tournament game between No. 3 seed Notre Dame and No. 6 Butler at CONSOL Energy Center was the first time the teams have played since the 2006 preseason National Invitation Tournament.

Saturday was the first time the schools met outside Indiana.

Back before conference affiliation dictated the bulk of non-conference college basketball scheduling, the teams would find a way to meet every year. And sometimes twice each season. As far as future matchups, that’s unlikely.

Irish coach Mike Brey admitted Friday that with two Big Ten teams already annually on the Notre Dame schedule — Purdue and Indiana alternating years in the annual Crossroads Classic and another Big Ten team as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge — there’s no room for a third Midwest team.

“If we’re going to play a Big East team, I think I’d like to get back to some of those Catholic schools in the East,” Brey said. “But never say never. There’s nothing on the immediate horizon.”

There’s also nothing on the immediate horizon — next year — as far as getting back to play former Big East colleagues Georgetown or St. John’s or Villanova.

Brey wouldn’t close the door on a future matchup, especially if it meant a trip down new U.S. 31 to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.

“I’ve never coached there,” he said. “Who knows down the road?”

Team guy

Whenever the Irish dream season ends, it will close the curtain on the collegiate careers of senior leaders Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant. It also will mark the end of junior Eric Katenda’s time at Notre Dame.

Battling an assortment of injuries that limited his ability to contribute on the court, Katenda is on schedule to graduate in the summer and will look to play his final year of college elsewhere. It was a decision he and Brey reached earlier in the year.

“I’m frustrated that I can’t compete like I know I can,” said the 6-foot-9 Katenda. “But winning with these group of guys makes it special. The fact that we’re doing it together, with my brothers, I’m just enjoying the process.”

Katenda played in 15 games and scored 13 points with seven rebounds, all career-best numbers. Able to stay healthy for an entire year for the first time in his career, his biggest contribution came in practice.

“I realize at the end of the day, it’s not about the individual,” Katenda said. “The guys that aren’t playing much, we realize we’re all going to get our chance, whether it’s at Notre Dame or somewhere else.

“Just knowing that we made these guys who will play (Saturday) better, you take pride in that.”

No sleep lost

Saturday’s game took Notre Dame to the brink of advancing to its first Sweet 16 in 12 years, a drought that a lot of people want to point to as reason 1A that Notre Dame needs to be better in postseason.

Brey doesn't share the same opinion.

For everything he’s accomplished in his 15-year tenure in South Bend, which includes three Big East and one national Coach of the Year honor, Brey doesn’t believe it should be defined by NCAA tournament success.

“It’s the one thing that drives me is to make a run in this tournament,” Brey said. “We’ve done everything else. Our program is amazingly respected all over the place.

“But I don’t lose a whole lot of sleep on it, because I know what our program stands for.”

On Friday, Brey talked of getting to the Sweet 16 not for himself, but for the core of this team that decided to be better after last season’s 15-17 showing.

“It would be another great feather in the cap of a team that’s had a great year,” Brey said. “It would be really good.”

Tourney tidbits

• Notre Dame had plenty of Atlantic Coast Conference success company in the second round. The ACC went 6-0 over the tournament’s first two days and advanced six teams into the third round for the first time in league history.

• The ACC also boasted three teams with at least 30 wins — Duke, Notre Dame and Virginia all won its 30th game in the second round — for the first time in league history.

• Saturday’s third-round game featured nine players from Indiana. Hoosier natives on Butler included Steven Bennett, Kellen Dunham, Indiana transfer Austin Etherington and Tyler Wideman. Notre Dame’s five Hoosiers are V.J. Beachem, Austin Burgett, Matt Gregory, Demetrius Jackson and Austin Torres.

• The Irish entered Saturday’s game having been outrebounded in each of the last seven games and 13 of their last 14. The only time Notre Dame won the rebounding battle, dating back to late January, was when it finished with a (+9) rebounding advantage during a mid-February road win against Boston College.

• Saturday marked the 103rd time that Butler and Notre Dame have played. Only five Indiana schools — Ball State, DePauw, Evansville, Indiana State and Wabash — have played the Bulldogs more than the Irish.

• Butler entered Saturday’s game 5-3 against ranked teams. Included in that run was a victory over Providence, which handed Notre Dame its first loss of the season, in late November.

• Notre Dame entered third-round play averaging 78.8 points per game. Butler allowed at least 78 points only once this season. Indiana scored 82 in a nine-point victory in late December at the Crossroads Classic.

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Butler's 56-48 win over Texas in the NCAA Tourney put the Bulldgos on a collision course with Notre Dame. (AP Photo/GENE J. PUSKAR)