Current crunch of games may tell plenty about Notre Dame men's hoops

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Flush it and focus.

Fast.

Notre Dame did plenty well Wednesday in a 43-point victory over Seattle in its second game of the season. Six players scored double figures. The Irish hit 15 3-pointers and had 23 assists on 32 baskets. Defensively, they were just as locked in, limiting an overmatched opponent to 29.1 percent shooting, 30 percent from 3 and forcing 21 turnovers with 12 steals.

All that good was good and gone Thursday afternoon when the Irish convened for film study and a short workout in advance of Friday’s home game against Loyola (Md.).

When the games are coming as quickly as they are in this stretch, the standard 24-hour rule to savor success also gets tossed. The Irish barely had 24 minutes before moving on to the next challenge with four games in a condensed and intense seven-day window.

“You’ve got to understand that (Wednesday’s) over and done with,” said senior captain V.J. Beachem. “We got a win, but now it’s time to move on from it.”

Having waited so long to get started, nobody seems to mind any potential for an overloaded workload.

“I’m excited about it, man,” said sophomore guard Rex Pflueger, who continues to expand his game as the team’s sixth man with each passing one. “We used to play four games in a day in AAU. This is nothing.

“I’m ready to start playing. College basketball is back.”

The short turnaround challenge is more mental than physical. It’s way too early for tired legs and minds. What Notre Dame (2-0) needs to guard against is feeling too satisfied over a game that was over Wednesday not long after it started. For as well as the Irish worked and as good as they were, they need to be even better in every area.

They can’t just flip a switch and expect to be good. It takes work.

Irish guard Matt Farrell noticed that mindset in the locker room during intermission of the Seattle game. Notre Dame already led by 31 in a game it eventually would lead by 46, but the numbers on the arena scoreboard might have well burned zero and zero.

“At halftime, guys were talking (that) it’s not about the score, it’s about us,” Farrell said. “We’ve got to keep getting better and practicing good habits.

“Just the mental aspect of it is huge. It was a good win, but it’s a whole different team, whole different mindset you have to have for Friday.”

Yes, and no. Different team, different set of challenges, but Irish coach Mike Brey has preached to his team since this week started following Sunday’s mandatory off day that there are no days off until the day before Thanksgiving.

Regardless of the opponent or the venue – Notre Dame hits the road for two games in Brooklyn, N.Y. following Friday’s home game – this segment offers this group a chance to take a big step toward the national stage. The Irish aren’t on many radars right now – something this group totally gets and doesn’t really mind. But play well Friday, go back into New York and be even better on consecutive nights and that just might change.

Brey compares this current run to the one last February when skepticism surfaced about Notre Dame and its postseason possibilities. Maybe this was an NCAA tournament team. Maybe it wasn’t. The Irish hadn’t played one way or the other to really know.

Any debate then ended during an eight-day run when Notre Dame beat North Carolina at home, went to South Carolina and clipped Clemson, then returned home and locked up Louisville.

Like that, they went from an NCAA tournament maybe to a lock.

Beating Seattle to end this week, then Colorado and either Northwestern or Texas early next week assures Notre Dame nothing where March is concerned. What it would do would reinforce this team’s belief that it is on the right road to being something special.

“We could really make a move and make a statement early in the season if we keep handling our business,” Brey said.

It’s the way the Irish have handled their business that gives an indication they’re ready to do more. They’ve been all business. No baggage. At one point Wednesday, one of the three-man officiating crew, which does most of its work in the Big Ten, sidled up to Brey and commented about his club.

“He said, ‘You know, you’ve got a great vibe; your guys really like playing together,’” Brey said. “That’s quite a compliment. You can imagine how many different teams and vibes he’s been around in heated atmospheres.

“It’s a heck of a group; they kind of know who they are.”

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

@tnoieNDI

WHO: Notre Dame (2-0) vs. Loyola (Md.). (1-2)

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Friday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Plenty available.

TV: None.

INTERNET: ACC Network Extra.

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM); Audio also available at WatchND.

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.

NOTING: Andre Walker scored 21 points with six rebounds and James Fives added 13 points with five rebounds in a 65-61 loss Wednesday at Long Island-Brooklyn. … Loyola shot 31.4 percent from the field, 17.6 percent from 3 and were outrebounded 38-32. … The Greyhounds’ win is a 13-point victory over Division II Millersville (Pa.). … Loyola returns three starters off last year’s team that lost six of their final seven to finish 9-21 overall, 8-10 and eighth place in the 10-team Patriot League. … The Greyhounds ranked seventh in the league in scoring (69.7) and field goal percentage (43.0) and ninth for points allowed (75.3), steals (5.4) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (37.2). … The Greyhounds are coached by G.G. Smith, the son of Memphis coach Tubby Smith. … Loyola was picked to finish seventh in the Patriot League. Walker was a first team all-league selection. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 4-0. This is Loyola’s first visit since Dec. 21, 1996. ... The Irish return to action Monday with their first game away from home – against Colorado – in the semifinals of the Legends Classic at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

QUOTING: “It’s really a mature group. There’s no drama, man. They come in and work and do their thing. It’s the kind of group you feel good about taking through the next five months.”

• Irish coach Mike Brey