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Live Chat - Men's Basketball vs. DePaul

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Notre Dame continues BIG EAST Conference action this afternoon at Purcell Pavilion when it takes on DePaul at 12:00 p.m. (ET).

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

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Hear It From a Student - Shattering Expectations

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martindunk.jpg Things were looking rough with just over two minutes to go in the second half last night as the men's hoops squad struggled to get some momentum going on the road against a tough West Virginia team. Notre Dame was 2-for-18 from three-point range, and it seemed like a young Irish team was going to have a rough loss in Morgantown.

It could have been one of those difficult losses that conventional wisdom says every young team has to undergo as a "learning experience" when you play in a incredibly tough conference like the Big East.

Bang. Eric Atkins drains a three pointer.

Bang. Jerian Grant, who before was just 1-of-6 from three-point range, calmly strokes a trey with 25 seconds on the shot clock.

Bang. Scott Martin buries a three.

Suddenly, Notre Dame had a six-point lead with less than a minute remaining, and the team never looked back. The Irish defeated the Mountaineers, 55-49, and once again went against the script and shattered expectations.

This season's team is going on the road and beating tough teams at the end of games. That's something you expect from a team of veteran starters, guys who have been playing together for years. But this team is starting two sophomores and a freshman, and every member of the starting lineup could return next year.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Making it to the NCAA tournament seemed like a pipe dream. Now, the student body is debating how high we should be ranked in next week's top 25.

What could have been a down year has turned into a showcase for Mike Brey's ability to reload and retool his team. The Irish have grown as a team, using Brey's burn offense to slow down the clock and make big plays with little time left on the shot clock. They've dictated the pace and tempo of games, and managed to hang with the best in the Big East.

Somehow, Notre Dame is 8-3 in the Big East. Somehow, this team seems like a safe bet to make it to the NCAA tournament. Somehow, Brey has done it again.

A team that wasn't supposed to come together and be good until next year or the year after that (by the way, imagine how good this team will be with more time to develop) is ready to compete - and not just to compete, but to win - right now.

As a fan, I can't believe what I'm watching. This mixture of defense, chemistry, and clutch shooting has been absolutely unbelievable.

I am loving every second of this season, and I am going to follow these players as far as they can take us. The way this team has been playing lately, I wouldn't be surprised if this ride lasts all the way into March Madness.

And once you make it there, anything can happen, right?

- Tom McGuire ('14)

Journeys With Jack

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5975546.jpeg UND.com's Jack Nolan takes Irish fans inside the men's basketball program ...

I first started announcing Notre Dame men's basketball games in 1982. During the past 30 years I have had the pleasure of describing to Irish fans the exploits of many outstanding Notre Dame teams, but no Irish team during the past three decades has consistently exceeded my expectations more than this year's squad.

When the team walked off the floor after losing at Gonzaga by 20 points in November, no one - and I mean no one - could have expected them to go on to beat five ranked teams by the first weekend in February. But that is exactly what has happened. (And as I write this, Notre Dame and Ohio State are the only teams in the nation to beat five ranked teams this season. The Buckeyes are ranked third in both of this week's polls. The Irish are still not ranked in either polls!)

This is probably just fine with a Notre Dame team that likes to "stay under the radar." However, attention is starting to be paid to the team's efforts as Mike Brey's squad did receive enough votes to rank 26th in both polls this week.

An argument can be made that Brey is turning in the best coaching job of his career with a team that lost a John Wooden Award candidate in Tim Abromaitis the day after Thanksgiving. That says a lot when you consider that Brey is the reigning National Coach of the Year (the only Notre Dame men's basketball coach to win the award) and also picked up his third BIG EAST Coach of Year Award last season - an award voted on by the coaches he competes against every night in conference play.

This year's team is winning by controlling the tempo on both ends of the floor and by imposing its will on the opposition. It is not an easy way to win. Brey's constant focus on pushing his players to get better every day, to always deliver a complete effort while also making sure the players remain confident on both ends of the floor makes winning this way possible. His ability to know what buttons to push and when to push those buttons has been extremely impressive.

A few examples: In the days leading up to the BIG EAST opener against No. 22 Pittsburgh, Brey added a catch-and-shoot three-point drill to practice. Against the Panthers, Alex Dragicevich scored a career-high 22 points including a career-high four three-pointers in the second half when the Irish broke open a close game to build a 17-point lead before cruising to a 72-59 win.

Brey and his staff, a staff he often praises, have come up with some great game plans this season. After a tough loss at Cincinnati during a five-day road trip after the Pitt win, the team regrouped and worked on a game plan to control No. 10 Louisville's attacking transition offense, in particular point guard Peyton Siva. The Irish ended up winning in double overtime, handing Louisville what was only its fourth loss ever at the Yum Center. Even more, Siva was held to four points during regulation.

No. 1 Syracuse came to Notre Dame with the Irish on a two-game losing streak. During the days leading up to the game, Brey resurrected an old three-point shooting drill in which the team splits in two groups and competes against each other. The Irish shot 50% from three-point land against the Orange in the game, which included six three-pointers from four different players in the first half as Notre Dame built an 18-point lead on the way to beating the nation's top ranked team.

The following week on the road at Seton Hall, Brey sensed something was out of whack with the team's end of shoot-around free throw drill, so he changed it. Brey made the team march up and down the floor to each basket for four different repetitions of the shooting drill until the team made 80 percent of its free throws. That night the Irish hit 24 of 32 free throws on the way to handing the Pirates their first home loss of the season.

It is just a coincidence that the three drills cited have involved offense, because this year's Notre Dame team has raised the most eyebrows by winning with defense. Brey's Notre Dame's teams have always had an offensive identity, and that has led some observers to assume Brey does not spend a whole lot of time working with his team on the defensive end of the floor.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hear It From a Student - The Sixth Man

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If there is anything these last two men's hoops home games may prove, there's a reason everyone is talking about the Irish home court advantage. When the student section is filled, the lights go out, and the intro video starts playing, I always get full body chills.

But as magnificent as the sixth man has been in the last two weeks, these games have proven even more than home court advantage.

I have confessed before that I am extremely partial to Notre Dame basketball. More so - blasphemously - than I am to Notre Dame football. There is hope for the underdog of basketball in a way that there is none for the underdog of football.

This year's basketball team was the definition of the underdog - young and inexperienced with a heavy weight on Tim Abromaitis, who was supposed to put up 20 points per game. When Abro fell to a season-ending ACL injury, it seemed like the final blow to an already shaky Irish team.

Yet here we are, in February, looking at a group of young and inexperienced boys who are playing like men. They have a chemistry that is something to behold. They have a drive and a passion that is fun to watch. That is the thing about college basketball: a season can take a turn for the better. Starting out a football season 0-2 is a death sentence. A basketball team can take a stumble in the beginning and then take down the nation's No. 1 team.

This team always had my love, but now they have earned my respect. It deserves a full student section, it deserves a spot in the polls, it deserves the March Madness that is now looming. And as that sixth man, we absolutely need to be behind it 100 percent for every game for the rest of the season.

- Lauren Chval ('13)
WVU Coliseum.jpg

On Wednesday, the Notre Dame men's basketball team will look to add to its growing NCAA Tournament resume. Head coach Mike Brey's squad will try for its fifth consecutive win and third straight victory away from the Purcell Pavilion when it travels 437 miles east to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers. As many others have learned however, leaving Morgantown, W. Va. with a 'W' is no easy task.

The Mountaineers' home arena, the WVU Coliseum opened in 1970 (two years after the Joyce Center) and has developed a reputation as one of the toughest venues in college basketball. The raucous environment is due in part to the dedicated and passionate West Virginia fans, who made headlines in Feb. 2010, when the profanity and foul chants from the university's student section were loud enough to be heard on television.

Later that month, in a game against rival Pittsburgh, the students threw "T-shirts, plastic bottles and other debris onto the court."

Since the start of the 2006-07 season, the Mountaineers' men's basketball team has compiled a 78-11 record on its home floor (.876 winning percentage). Meanwhile, Notre Dame leads the all-time series 25-12, but has lost its last three trips to the WVU Coliseum. The Irish last won at West Virginia in 2005, when Colin Falls ('07) had five three-pointers and 19 points, lifting Notre Dame to a 70-57 victory.

With a 9 pm ET start, the fans in Morgantown will have plenty of time to get rowdy for the nationally televised game (ESPNU). Notre Dame is 15-8 overall and 7-3 in the BIG EAST (4th place), while West Virginia is 16-8 this season and 6-5 in the conference (8th place). That being said, it's a pivotal game for both teams as they gear up for the home stretch of the regular season and make their statement for a ticket to the Big Dance in March.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Live Chat - Men's Basketball vs. Marquette

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Notre Dame continues BIG EAST Conference action this afternoon at Purcell Pavilion when it takes on #15 Marquette at 1:00 p.m. (ET).

Irish UNDerground will have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

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Memorable Against Marquette

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Buzzer Beater 3's Never Get Old

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breyarmshome.jpg

Yahoo.com - When Notre Dame upset top-ranked Syracuse earlier this month, coach Mike Brey admits he still wasn't certain the Irish had enough firepower to overcome the season-ending injury star Tim Abromaitis suffered in late November.

Only after Notre Dame followed that performance up by winning at then-surging Seton Hall was Brey truly impressed.

"I told our guys before that game, 'A normal team would lose on Wednesday and everyone would give you a free pass,'" Brey said. "I said, 'If you're starting to show signs of maybe being special, that's one you get. Because you're not supposed to get that one.' I was really proud of them afterward. They really delivered there."

Notre Dame continued to make its coach proud on Sunday, winning 50-48 at Connecticut to improve to 6-3 in the Big East. That's quite an accomplishment for a team left for dead entering conference play after suffering non-league losses to Georgia, Maryland and Indiana among others.

Thanks to a stingy defense, a slow-paced but efficient offense and the development of first-time starters Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Jack Cooley, Notre Dame has emerged as the Big East's most pleasant surprise and a legitmate NCAA tournament hopeful. I spoke with Brey on Monday about how he explains his team's improvement, what role Abromaitis has played in the surge and whether he thinks this is his best coaching job.

Considering how the team struggled after Abromaitis got hurt, are even you a little surprised to be 6-3 in the Big East?

MB: If you would have told me we'd eventually be 6-3 in the league in the locker room after the Gonzaga game (a 73-53 loss), I'd have fallen off the stool into the shower, believe me. I really got on the guys that day about their mental and physical toughness and told them, 'If Ben Hansbrough was in this locker room, he'd strangle all of you.' But it's what's so neat about our sport. It's a long season and teams have a chance to get better.

When did you start to see signs of improvement from this group?

MB: For us, once we got to exam week in mid-December, we had obviously digested we don't have Abro. We also had a lot of other guys miss games for sickness, illness, or they were nicked up, but by then we finally had a nucleus that could practice together, play together and get reps. Even though we didn't play great against Indiana in the game coming off exams, we looked more like we'd been together a little bit. I think it's a great example of a group getting to play together and younger guys getting repititons, you get better. And then when you can get a few wins against Pittsburgh and Louisville, we started feeling like we had a shot.

Your recent surge reminds me a bit of how well your team played two years ago after it lost Luke Harangody to injury. Do you see similarities there too?

MB: This current group could really relate to that since many of them were on the team. So I used that one right away two days after Abromaitis. I told them, 'We are so far off the radar because we've had our butts kicked and we don't have Abro. We are done in everybody's mind.' I said, 'That's a great climate to develop in because we have nothing to lose.' I want them to continue to play that way even though we've put some things in the bank right now.

You guys have won by slowing down the tempo, scoring at the end of the shot clock and relying on your defense. Would you have done that no matter what this season, or did your plans change when Abromaitis went down?

MB: We were going to play quicker. We did last year, obviously, except at Pittsburgh when we used the "burn" the whole game. Last year's team could score and we just attacked all the time. We felt the same way with Abro, but like when 'Gody went down, which is when we first started using "burning" as our offensive philosophy, we thought for us to survive, we really have to control the tempo, not have as many possessions and become a good half-court team. What's really helped us is like two years ago when we had Ben (Hansbrough) and Tory Jackson who could come off a ball screen and make a play at the end of the shot clock, we have (Eric) Atkins and (Jerian) Grant who can do the same thing.

Did having a pair of guards who can create off the dribble like that make you more confident you could succeed slowing down the tempo?

MB: Yes. We haven't had a pair of guards like this in the history of our program. The speed and quickness and ability to defend and get their hands on the ball. I was so excited when we got them. I didn't know we'd be turning the keys of the car over to them this soon. With Abro down, we turned it over to them at times before Christmas, but I did feel like two years ago we had two guys who could make plays at the end of the clock. So I felt confident we could run that clock down and we've gotten very confident in making plays with single digits on the clock. Our guys really believe in it and they've gotten very good at it.

It seems like the development of Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley has been a huge key to your success this season. Did you expect them to improve like this?

MB: I really expected them to step forward because they came off the bench on a great team last year. They were a big part of 27 wins. I think Eric has found how to score and run the team. He's really got a feel for the balance of that. That was a work in progress in November and December. Jack was a role guy off the bench and did a great job the last two years, but I thought we could get more out of him starting. He's very underrated because he doesn't look smooth when he moves. His feet and hands around the basket are excellent and I don't think there's another player in the country who can put a chest on another physical post player the way he does. He has gotten very confident. At times he can't believe what he's doing, and I want him never to come down to earth.

Has Tim been able to take a leadership role with this team even while he's not playing?

MB: Very much a leadership role. He has been big brother to a lot of young guys. He knows how to talk to a Pat Connaughton and a Alex Dragicevich who are playing his position. He knows when to grab Eric Atkins. There's things I don't even know he's done. And I check in with him every day in practice. He comes in from his rehab while the guys are getting loose and warming up, and I'll sit down with him and get a state of the union. We had a tough practice the other day and I came up to him and said, 'Anybody quit?' He was like, 'Nope, coach, they're all good.' So I said, 'OK, keep me posted.' So he's been great. I know it's tough on him, but he never shows any woe-is-me. He's just enjoying the run as best he can.

Where is Tim in his process of deciding whether to apply for a sixth year at Notre Dame next season?

MB: I think in the next couple weeks, we need to talk about that. We put the paperwork in for Scott Martin to apply for a sixth year back in November, and that's running its course. We hope to have an answer before the end of the season. Tim's is a separate case. What I told him was, 'You need to get through your surgery, get into your rehab and let the smoke clear a little bit.' If he wants to come back, we certainly want to put in the paperwork for that and see how that goes. But I think it has to be his decision. He's been here five years and he has two degrees. Maybe we put him in law school.

I know every coach has a different philosophy on this. Do you allow yourself to try to figure out how many wins you'll need to feel secure about making the NCAA tournament?

MB: I do. I've been in this league long enough that I try to figure out what would 9-9 do if it's the right 9-9? Right now, we've got a lot of right ones in that left column. I think 9-9 would certainly have us in the discussion, especially if you look at the strength of our repeat opponents. We have Connecticut twice, West Virginia twice and Rutgers twice. But my feeling is if we win 10 league games, I think we're a very strong candidate.

It's probably hard to self-evaluate, but do you think this is one of your better coaching jobs since coming to Notre Dame?

MB: I'm having a lot of fun. One of the things I mentioned to our team when we came back from Louisville was we have the assistant coaches in the country. I really believe the rhythm that our staff has been in the last two seasons, I am so pleased with. We really have great teachers and this is a team that needs teaching. We said that especially when Abro went down. It's what I like to do, it's how I've been trained. So I'm enjoying the journey. I'm not fighting for my job. I'm just enjoying the challenge and journey with this group, and that probably helps me be a more confident teacher.

Better be careful, or your going to lose an assistant coach talking like that.

MB: All three of them are ready to be head coaches, and I wouldn't be shocked if I lose one or two to a head coaching job this spring. I'm already thinking, 'How do I replace them?'

Andy Katz's Team of the Week

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ESPN.com - Mike Brey is putting together the best coaching job of his career, and that's saying quite a lot for a guy who's won three Big East Coach of the Year awards in the past five years.

Is No. 4 on the way? The Irish were gutted by graduation losses, a surprising early defection to the NBA and then a season-ending injury to their best player, Tim Abromaitis.

There were some humbling defeats early in the season to Missouri, Georgia and Gonzaga. But the season changed Jan. 7 at Louisville. Notre Dame stunned the Big East with a double-overtime win over the then-No. 10 Cardinals. That was followed up by an 11-point win over South Florida.

The Irish fell back to the pack with consecutive losses to UConn and Rutgers, but they had five days to prepare for top-ranked Syracuse and Notre Dame shocked the Fab Melo-less Orange with a nine-point win.

And then came this past week. Notre Dame swept a road swing through Seton Hall and Connecticut by clamping down on defense. Neither the Pirates nor the Huskies scored 50 points as the Irish beat the Pirates 55-42 (the Hall's lowest point total since 2005) and the Huskies 50-48. Notre Dame wasn't tearing it up offensively either, but controlling tempo and the clock worked.

Nine games into the Big East season, the Irish are tied for third with Georgetown and surprising South Florida. The 6-3 record can turn quickly with a game against Marquette and a pair of matchups with West Virginia to come. But the schedule is certainly laid out for Notre Dame to make a run at an NCAA bid. If that happens, you can book Brey for Big East coach of the year honors.

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