Better late than never — Notre Dame men's hoops has a schedule

Tom Noie | South Bend Tribune
ND Insider

It had to be Duke, didn’t it?

On Monday afternoon, Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey fired a flare about his team’s soon-to-be-released 2020-21 season schedule. Wait until you see those first two Atlantic Coast Conference games coupled with the non-league slate, he cautioned. Fans might think that the old coach finally has lost it.

Come Christmas, Brey might think the same.

On Tuesday morning, the ACC officially released its men’s basketball schedule about two months behind schedule. Thanks, global pandemic. The league schedule consists of 20 league games with six repeat opponents. One of those repeat opponents is the Notre Dame league opener Dec. 16 at Purcell Pavilion.

That opponent is No. 9 Duke, which leads the all-time series 26-7 and has won the last six meetings dating back to 2017. Prior to that swing, Notre Dame won three in a row and five of six.

Last season at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Irish again visit Feb. 9/10, Duke handed Brey the most lopsided loss in his tenure at Notre Dame, 94-60. It was seldom that close. This season marks the second time in Notre Dame’s eight ACC seasons that Duke is the league opener. On Jan. 4, 2014, in Notre Dame’s first ever ACC game, it beat Duke at Purcell Pavilion, 79-77.

Duke is one of two league games that Notre Dame plays before Christmas. On Dec. 22, Notre Dame visits Syracuse. On Dec. 29 or 30 (to be determined, sigh), it’s the first of two meetings with No. 4 Virginia. The rest of the league schedule begins again after the first of the year with a Jan. 2 visit to Pittsburgh. A handful of games still carry two possible play dates. Thanks again, global pandemic.

Outside of those either/or dates, there is little wiggle room to reschedule conference games that might get canceled. Teams usually have two bye weeks (seven days off between games). This year, teams have only one. The league tournament is scheduled to start three days after the regular season ends.

The Irish finished 10-10 and in a three-way tie for sixth place in the ACC last season. They’ve been picked everywhere from ninth to 15th (last) in various preseason conference polls. The league tournament, if there is one, is scheduled for Capital One Arena in downtown Washington.

Notre Dame plays six of its seven non-league games before Dec. 20. Of those six, four are against ranked opponents (No. 10 Kentucky, No. 12 Tennessee, No. 13 Michigan State and No. 23 Ohio State). The last time Notre Dame played four ranked non-league opponents before Christmas was 1990, coach Digger Phelps’ last season. It lost to No. 3 Arizona, No. 6 Duke, No. 8 UCLA and No. 10 Indiana, all before Dec. 9.

“You don’t throw these kind of games on the board non-league unless you think you’ve got a group that you can have some fun with,” Brey said.

Toss in the league game against Duke, the trip to Central New York and the yearly root canal that’s Virginia, and the Irish will be tested plenty before 2021.

“It’s an aggressive December schedule,” Brey said. “No one has ever had eight games like that to start the season.”

Pre-coronavirus, Notre Dame was scheduled to open the season Wednesday at home against Army. That game, and several other non-league Irish contests as well as a multi-team event (Legends Classic at Barclays Center), were wiped out by the pandemic. So Brey took a different approach to his scheduling madness. In a pandemic, nobody knows how the season will unfold. Will the Irish play a full schedule? A partial schedule? How many games will be scrapped because of positive coronavirus tests or contact tracing?

Nobody knows, so why not think big and schedule similarly?

“My feeling was to really go for it and schedule big, exciting games for our kids because I don’t know what’s going to happen the rest of the winter,” Brey said.

Notre Dame’s request for some scheduling assistance apparently fell on deaf ears in the league office. On Jan. 18 — Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — Notre Dame will play a unique road game at Howard University. That’s part of a home-and-home series with the Bison, who are coached by Kenny Blakeney, a player who Brey recruited and coached at Duke during his days as an assistant.

Brey and Blakeney are graduates of DeMatha (Md.) Catholic High School. Former Irish point guard and video coordinator Eric Atkins is in his second year as a Howard assistant.

Notre Dame preferred to piggy-back that trip to Washington (two days before Joe Biden is sworn in as president) with an ACC road game, say at Virginia or Virginia Tech. Instead, the league will send Notre Dame on a swing of two road games in four days in Virginia (Jan. 10 at Virginia Tech, Jan. 13 at Virginia) before a Jan. 16 home game against Boston College. Notre Dame then goes back out to play at Howard two days later.

Notre Dame closes with four of its last six at home.

No decision has been made in terms of fan or student attendance at Purcell Pavilion. There’s a good chance the season starts in empty arenas. The fall semester ends Thanksgiving Week while the first day of class for the spring semester isn’t until Feb. 3. The men’s basketball team will remain on campus for Thanksgiving and for Christmas.

Notre Dame’s 27-game schedule (see box) still needs tip times and specific TV broadcast designations. Those will be added at a later date. But not too late. The season starts Nov. 28 with a visit to No. 13 Michigan State. It marks the second straight season and third in the last four that the Irish open on the road. Last year, Notre Dame lost at North Carolina, 76-65, to start a 20-12 season.

This year will be the latest an Irish season has started since 1993.

Solo signee

Notre Dame will add one recruit when the early signing period begins Wednesday — small forward J.R. Konieczny from South Bend Saint Joseph is expected to sign his letter of intent Wednesday afternoon at the high school, which sits about a mile from the Notre Dame campus.

The 6-foot-6, 170-pound Konieczny averaged 23.5 points and was a first team All-Northern Indiana Conference pick his junior season. A four-star prospect, he committed to Notre Dame in August 2019.

He’ll be the first local basketball prospect to choose Notre Dame since Demetrius Jackson (Marian) and Austin Torres (Penn) signed in 2012.

The top remaining target this recruiting cycle for Notre Dame is another local product, Riley High School senior shooting guard Blake Wesley, who has Notre Dame among his final six schools. The 6-4, 170-pound and four-star Wesley, who averaged 26.0 points as a junior, is expected to announce his college choice in mid-December.

Mike Brey, right, won’t have to wait long this season to face his old boss, Mike Krzyzewski with Notre Dame opening Atlantic Coast Conference play against Duke on Dec. 16 in Purcell Pavilion.
Marian’s Jerry Bracey (5) and Saint Joseph’s J.R. Konieczny (20) fight for a loose ball during a March 6, 2020 sectional game at Jimtown High School. Konieczny is expected to sign his letter of intent with Notre Dame on Wednesday afternoon at the high school.


Home games in CAPS


Sat. 28 at Michigan State.


Wed. 2 WESTERN MICHIGAN; Fri. 4 TENNESSEE; Tues. 8 OHIO STATE (ACC/Big Ten Challenge); Sat. 12 at Kentucky; 16 DUKE; Sat. 19 Purdue (Crossroads Classic, Indianapolis); Tues. 22 at Syracuse; Tue. 29 or Wed. 30 VIRGINIA.


Sat. 2 at Pittsburgh; Tue/Wed. 5/6 Georgia Tech; Sun. 10 at Virginia Tech; Tue./Wed. 12/13 at Virginia; Sat. 16 BOSTON COLLEGE; Mon. 18 at Howard; Sun. 24 at Miami (Fla.); Tue./Wed. 26/27 Virginia Tech; Sat. 30 NORTH CAROLINA.


Tues./Wed. 2/3 Wake Forest; Sat. 6; at Georgia Tech; Tues./Wed. 9/10 at Duke; Sun. 14 MIAMI (Fla.); Tues./Wed. 16/17 CLEMSON; Tues./Wed. 23/24 at Louisville; Sat. 27 at Boston College.