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Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Observer

Men's Basketball: Confident Irish aim to avoid fate of years past

Notre Dame senior forward Jack Cooley and the rest of the No. 23 Irish did not meet any unwelcome surprises on Selection Sunday. For the fourth season in a row and the sixth time in seven years, the Irish will play in the NCAA tournament.

Notre Dame (25-9, 11-7 Big East) will begin play as a No. 7 seed in the West region Friday against No. 10 seed Iowa State (22-11, 11-7 Big 12) in Dayton, Ohio.

Cooley, a veteran who has played in the NCAA tournament every season in his Irish career, said his squad enters this year's tournament relaxed and ready to compete.

"It was the fourth time that's happened and it was just business as usual, really.  For some reason I got nervous and I thought ... we're not doing anything right now, why am I nervous right now?" Cooley said. "And everyone calmed down. It was a great mentality to have. I was happy with how everyone handled it. No one got excited. I was impressed with, initially after [in] the locker room, everyone was focused on Iowa State, that's what you have to have."

In the Cyclones, the Irish will face an experienced team in the mold of squads that have tormented them in recent tournaments. The Irish fell to No. 10 seeds in 2012 and 2011 and bowed out to a No. 11 seed in 2010. Notre Dame last reached the Sweet 16 in 2003. Irish coach Mike Brey said Notre Dame will need experience to overcome its recent history of early tournament failure.

"One thing you don't want to do right now is over-coach or over-practice.  You want guys fresh and you want to be injury free and frame of mind is good," Brey said. "You're right the one thing about last year in the first round, we were playing darn well, but we couldn't finish that thing.  

"And I know our backcourt would like another shot at that. They know they played young last year in the first round.  They're a lot older now and experienced and I expect them to play like the mature, older guards that they are right now."

Coached by former NBA guard and former Iowa State star Fred Hoiberg, the Cyclones bring a diverse roster of transfers, junior college players and traditional recruits to face the Irish in Dayton. Utah transfer Will Clyburn, junior college transfer Tyrus McGee and former Michigan State guard KorieLucious - an ex-teammate of Irish senior center Garrick Sherman - make up a trio of potent guards powering the nation's fourth leading offense, at 79.6 points per game. Brey said the Cyclones pose a stiff first-round challenge, especially for Notre Dame's defense.

"I compare them to Villanova, a Pittsburgh or a Marquette. They're a really good team," he said. "They shoot the 3 point shot so much I've made a little bit of a comparison, I'm thinking in my mind when we played Villanova they were coming off the wins against Louisville and Syracuse and they were shooting the heck out of the ball and we really had to defend the arc and we did and won a game.  I think you're going to have to be ready to guard the 3 point line against an explosive offensive team."

If Notre Dame can slow down the high-scoring Cyclones, it will face a daunting road onward in a strong South region. Beyond its opening game, Notre Dame could face a difficult third-round test against No. 2 seed Ohio State in the Buckeyes' home state. The top seed in the West is Gonzaga, ranked first in the latest polls. Rather than look ahead, Brey said his team's focus is on building on recent momentum heading into the tournament.

"I think you've got to remind them, you know, what has got us to this point and I think we need to spend some time over the next two days watching film of us in New York," he said. "I thought we maybe found a little different or another gear on the offensive end of the floor and I thought our body language and confidence was at an all time high. 

"I would like to kind of see if we could jump off the back of that a little bit through this week and take it to Dayton."

The Irish and the Cyclones will face off Friday night at 9:45 p.m. at University of Dayton Arena in Dayton, Ohio.

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