NCAA notebook: Irish better be better with the basketball

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

NEW YORK – It’s coming.

Even before they leave their Times Square hotel early Sunday afternoon for the bus ride south into the next borough, before the bus gets on the state-of-the-art elevator and deposits them in the Barclays Center basement, they know it’s coming.

Pressure defense. A lot of pressure defense. Traps. Switches. Tough man defense. Suffocating pressure that creates havoc and a ton of turnovers.

With a chance Sunday to get to a second straight Sweet 16, No. 6 seed Notre Dame (22-11) has to be good with the ball. But against No. 14 Stephen F. Austin (28-5), the heat will be constant.

The Lumberjacks lead the nation in turnovers forced at 18.7 per game. On Friday, they forced West Virginia into 22 miscues and flipped those failures into a staggering 29 points.

“They press a lot,” said Irish senior power forward Zach Auguste. “We’re going to be poised and really be smart with the ball. They’re going to try and force us to make some turnovers and that’s something we can’t afford to do.”

But they still do. Notre Dame knew heading into NCAA Tournament play that ball security was paramount. The Irish then committed 16 turnovers – 10 in the first half – in Friday’s first-round win over Michigan. They have a whopping 51 turnovers the last three games. Compare that to a six-game Atlantic Coast Conference stretch late in the season when Notre Dame committed a combined 49 turnovers.

“If we don’t take care of the ball, we’re in trouble,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.

Name game

Why does someone named Stephen F. Austin have a school playing Division college basketball named for him?

A native of southern Virginia who was born in 1793, Austin is credited as the man who founded Texas around 1821. Thus, the reason for the name of the state’s capital city.

Stephen F. Austin the school was originally known as Teacher’s College. It has an enrollment of around 11,000 and is located in Nacogdoches, Texas in the far-eastern section of the state about 180 miles from Dallas.

Notable SFA alumni include Eagles founder Don Henley, former NFL kicker Mark Moseley and former NFL Pro Bowl running back Larry Centers.

Common bond

Notre Dame and Stephen F. Austin have never met, but its head coaches need no introductions thanks to an all-important, four-letter word in college — gear.

Both schools are outfitted by UnderArmour, which is based in Baltimore. That’s how Brey and Lumberjacks coach Brad Underwood came to spend time together at the Preakness horse race last spring courtesy of UnderArmour founder Kevin Plank.

Underwood used the time normally reserved for pondering picking the No. 4 horse in the seventh race to plant a few basketball seeds with Brey, but the Irish coach wasn’t biting.

“He was working me at the Preakness at an UnderArmour event about playing him,” Brey said. “I said, there’s no way we’re playing you.”

That’s no longer the case after what the Lumberjacks did Friday.

“Now I have no choice,” Brey said. “I’m impressed with their toughness. They’re a tough, tough group. Tough dudes, man.”

Memory Lane

While his program gets its first look at Stephen F. Austin, Brey’s no stranger to the school. When the brackets were announced last week and there was a chance the teams could meet in the second round, Brey’s mind raced back to one winter night in 1979 during his days as an OK point guard for Northwestern (La.) State.

During a regular-season game against SFA, Brey scored a career-high 22 points on 7-of-12 from the field and 8-of-9 from the foul line in a 63-60 victory over the Lumberjacks.

“I was unguardable,” Brey said. “You always remember your career high.”

Brey would eventually transfer close to his Rockville, Md., home and finish his collegiate career at George Washington.

Barclays bits

• With 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds Friday, Auguste has 24 career double-doubles for points and rebounds. He has 20 this season, including six of the last seven games.

• Digging out of deficits continues to be a Notre Dame concern. After tumbling into an eventual hole Friday of 13 points, the Irish have trailed by double digits in each of their last three games and five of the last six. Notre Dame won two of those three — Duke and Michigan.

• Sophomore guard Matt Farrell is expected to remain in the starting lineup. Farrell had five points, four assists and three turnovers in 22 minutes in his first career start Friday. Brey likes having another ball handler/shot maker on the floor.

• Saturday is the second time in as many years and third time in school history that Notre Dame faces a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It opened March Madness last March in Pittsburgh with a 69-65 victory over Northeastern. It also lost to Arkansas-Little Rock in the opening round in 1986.

• First-round losses by Arizona, Seton Hall and Texas mean that Notre Dame is the lone No. 6 seed remaining.

• Tickets on to Sunday’s session, which also includes No. 3 Villanova against No. 7 Iowa in the first game, could be had Saturday morning anywhere between $78 and $925.

• Underwood is 89-13 in three years as head coach at SFA. A win Sunday would tie Underwood for most wins by a Division I coach in his first three years. That record currently is held by former Butler coach Brad Stevens.

(574) 235-6153

Twitter: @tnoieNDI

Clide Geffrard, Jr. and Stephen F. Austin turned 22 turnovers into 29 points in Friday's NCAA Tournament first-round win over No. 3 seed West Virginia at Barclays Center.AP Photo/FRANK FRANKLIN II