Notre Dame coach Mike Brey watches his team during practice Thursday.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey didn’t waste any time ingratiating himself to locals inside the gymnasium atop Atlantic Terminal Thursday afternoon. Shortly before rush hour, he offered a salute to his university’s Subway Alums.
“I just hope they make curfew tonight on St. Patrick’s Day, but I doubt that will happen,” Brey said.
Brey knows about moving past a hangover. Last March, the Irish reached the Elite Eight and pushed top-seeded Kentucky, then 37-0, to the final possession in Cleveland. Jerian Grant, now a Knick, could not hit the last shot, and Notre Dame lost, 68-66. The Irish’s two stars — Grant and Pat Connaughton — departed for the professional ranks in the months afterward, but the current Irish have carried on. Brey maintained that the memories from last year’s run only sharpened his team’s desire.
“I think it’s made this group hungry to be back in this tournament,” Brey said. “This nucleus was a big part of that run in the NCAA Tournament. And certainly was right there to be so close to a Final Four berth. I think they come into this thing ready to attack.”
Brey’s onward march will commence against a football rival. No. 11 Michigan (23-12) defeated Tulsa in the First Four Wednesday and will face No. 6 Notre Dame (21-11) at 9:30 p.m. Friday in Brooklyn. Notre Dame’s players watched Michigan’s game from Dave & Buster’s before retiring to their hotel rooms. Brey, who is making his eighth NCAA appearance in the last decade, allowed that previous matchups with Michigan coach John Beilein’s squads at West Virginia afforded him an early scouting report on the Wolverines’ pop-a-shot approach.
“There’s a lot of familiarity with the system,” Brey said. “We played against them a lot at West Virginia – the open floor, the reliance on three-point shots. We actually go back into some of those practice plans that we had a while ago.”
Before knowing about the matchup with Michigan, the Irish focused on the Irish. Forward Zach Auguste and point guard Demetrius Jackson are the key components of Brey’s unit. Auguste tore through Kentucky last season, and collected 22 rebounds last week in Notre Dame’s ACC tournament quarterfinal win over Duke.
Jackson is considered a top-10 pick in the coming NBA Draft, and enters the tournament averaging 15.5 points and 4.8 assists per game.
There is work to be done before departing, though. Brey did not believe that much needed to be said to his charges with the bracket laying out their road ahead.
“There’s a group in that locker room that got accustomed to advance, and I hope they certainly remember how that feels,” he said.