NCAA notebook: Kelly Tripucka weighs in on Notre Dame

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

NEW YORK – Working the first round NCAA Tournament game between No. 6 seed Notre Dame and No. 11 Michigan late Friday, a certain color commentator for Westwood One radio network was expected to remain impartial.

Easier said than done for former Notre Dame standout Kelly Tripucka, who still gets his Irish basketball fix watching from his home in nearby New Jersey and whose admiration for coach Mike Brey runs as deep as this city is crowded.

“Every time you think this program is going to go down after Mike has a great year, he either stays the same or goes up,” Tripucka said Thursday from inside the Irish locker room at Barclays Center. “They lose (Pat) Connaughton; they lose (Jerian) Grant, maybe they’re going to be .500.

“He’s back (in the NCAA Tournament) again. He does it and he does it with ease. He doesn’t get enough credit for how good of a coach he really is.”

Ranked 12th in career scoring (1,719), 10th for field goals made (629), eighth in field goal percentage (.548) and eighth in free throws made (461), Tripucka is the second Irish legend in as many weeks to catch up with the alma mater. Last week in Washington, Adrian Dantley was honored as part of the Legends Class by the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. He scoffed at the recognition, reminding anyone nearby that Notre Dame was an independent when he was dominating the game.

Same goes for Tripucka, who wondered where he might have ended up coming out of high school in 1977 had Notre Dame been part of a conference.

“My whole thing of why I went to Notre Dame was because they were an independent,” he said. “Back then, we thought about not wanting to be locked up into playing the same teams over and over. We played anybody, anywhere, anytime. That was the attractiveness.”

Tripucka understands that the college athletics landscape has changed. Football continues to drive the bus and to be on that bus, teams have to be affiliated in some way, shape or form with a conference. What better league to be in than the ACC, where Notre Dame has beaten Duke five of the last six times and North Carolina three of four.

“The fact that Notre Dame is competing with them and beating them, that says a lot about this program,” Tripucka said. “It’s crazy that they’re in the ACC.”

On the mend

No Irish played or scored more consistently during the team’s two-game ACC Tournament stay than junior V.J. Beachem, who averaged a team-best 15 points in the two games at Verizon Center.

Reward for the effort was a trip to the dentist late Sunday night and a root canal on his right front tooth.

Beachem was hit in the tooth twice with errant elbows during the ACC Tournament. Duke’s Brandon Ingram got him during the quarterfinal game before Justin Jackson popped him in the semifinal contest. That caused the tooth to become infected.

“It spread up into my face, so I had a lot of swelling,” Beachem said. “Luckily, we found it in time. I’m glad to put it behind me.”

Beachem also landed awkwardly on his right wrist late in the North Carolina game and got up wincing in obvious discomfort. He then missed two free throws following the fall, but the week off between games has helped that heal.

“The wrist is fine,” he said. “I’m good now.”

Bright lights, big city

Had it not been for basketball, Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson might still have yet to experience New York City.

This week is Jackson’s second trip to the self-described city that never sleeps – both times to play basketball. The first visit was one many Irish fans would like to forget – in December 2013 during his freshman season when Notre Dame let an eight-point lead slip away in the closing minute of a loss to Ohio State at Madison Square Garden.

“Indiana’s all I know, so when I go here, I try to enjoy it and have fun,” Jackson said.

For Jackson, that means letting guys like New York native Matt Ryan and New Jersey’s Matt Farrell act as the team tour guides when the Irish had a few hours to themselves Wednesday in Times Square.

“I just follow the East Coast guys around,” Jackson said. “They show me where to go and handle everything else.”

Barclays bits

• Each Irish player receives six game tickets to distribute.

• Friday was the sixth time this season that a Notre Dame game tipped off at 9 p.m. eastern time or later. The Irish won all of the previous five – Stony Brook, Illinois, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest.

• The last time Notre Dame had lost a late game (tipping at 9 or later) was Feb. 14, 2014 at Miami (Fla.), 71-64.

• Notre Dame entered NCAA Tournament play ranked sixth in the nation for fewest turnovers per game (9.7), but turned it over 35 times in its last two games.

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Firmer Notre Dame standout Kelly Tripucka is thoroughly impressed with the job Irish coach Mike Brey does year after year.AP Photo/FRANK FRANKLIN II