March 20, 2015
-- More than an hour after the end of Thursday's game, several University of Notre Dame athletic and men's basketball staffers connect with former Irish guard and current Northeastern assistant coach Chris Markwood as he and his Northeastern team exit the Consol Energy Center down the same hallway past the Notre Dame locker room. Markwood played two seasons at Notre Dame before the former Maine state high school player of the year transferred to Maine. He captained the Maine team in 2004-05 and then spent five years as a Black Bear assistant coach. He moved on to Vermont as an assistant for three seasons and was in his first year at Northeastern in 2014-15.
-- At 1:04 a.m. comes word from the NCAA that the Irish and Butler will play the late game on TBS at 9:40 p.m. EDT Saturday in Pittsburgh. Expect Mike Brey to channel more comparisons to all of Notre Dame's late-game assignments last week in Greensboro at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
-- The Irish men's basketball party awakes to wet snow and 34-degree temperatures, though the high today is 41 degrees.
-- In leftovers from action on Thursday, the headline in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reads, "Irish stave off upset bid." Adds staff writer Chris Adamski, "Notre Dame used a touchdown nearly every time it fell behind or was challenged. The ACC Tournament champion Irish had three runs of 7-0 and two of 8-0-accounting for 54 percent of their offense." The featured cover play in sports involves NCAA games today for Robert Morris (against top seed Duke) and West Virginia (against 12th seed Buffalo).
-- Paul Zeise in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, "The NCAA tournament is often a stage where great players make big plays down the stretch, and that's why Notre Dame's Mike Brey is happy he has Jerian Grant on his team. Grant, a jack-of-all-trades guard, was at it again Thursday afternoon against Northeastern, making the two biggest plays of the game -- two steals in the final 1:30 -- with his team staring at another early exit in March." The Post-Gazette headline reads, "Notre Dame survives against Northeastern in NCAA tourney opener at Consol."
-- Also in the Post-Gazette is a page-one piece detailing the academic challenges for teams playing in Pittsburgh this week, with many players missing classes. Quoted in the story is Notre Dame director of academic services for student-athletes Pat Holmes. He notes that the Irish men's players woke up at 5 a.m. Wednesday to register for summer school classes and that he administered two exams to a player on Thursday after Notre Dame's win over Northeastern and sent the exams back to campus via FedEx.
-- Notre Dame's coaches meet at 10 a.m., with assistant coach Martin Ingelsby distributing the Butler scouting reports. The team has brunch at 11 a.m. (when players receive their scouting reports), then jumps back in its bus at 11:45 a.m. to head to the Consol Energy Center for a 90-minute private practice (though the Irish spend just more than an hour on the floor). The players and staff need wristbands to enter the arena, and Brey has the same woman who connected his Wednesday do it again today, admitting his superstition. Ingelsby does most of the talking on the floor, taking the Irish through Butler's offensive plays. As the players spend a final 15 minutes shooting, Brey visits with the CBS/TBS announcing crew.
-- Following practice, the Irish spend another hour fulfilling NCAA media obligations At 1:30 p.m. Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson head to the interview room and the locker room opens for business to other media. Brey does an interview with CBS Radio, then takes his turn in the interview room. Meanwhile, the players lunch on pulled pork sandwiches, French fries and corn, while some watch the Michigan State-Georgia NCAA game. At 2:15 p.m. Brey stops to do 10 minutes with media in the hallway outside the Notre Dame locker room.
-- Offers Brey, "There are gonna be a lot of people traveling across the state of Ohio these next two days . . . Both our programs (Notre Dame and Butler) were in new leagues starting last year and we both had to do it without key guys (Jerian Grant for Notre Dame, Roosevelt Jones for Butler)"
-- Brey notes the late start time but reminds media how well the Irish thrived in that late slot at the ACC Tournament last weekend, calling his group "the night stalkers."
"We know how to do the dance late at night. The building will be sweating a little bit by the time we get going."
Says Brey about Butler, "The machine keeps rolling down there, even through coaching changes-and they've always done it with great kids."
-- The Notre Dame team was slated for dinner at the hotel at 6 p.m.-and later a snack at 9 p.m. Otherwise the Irish could rest up and relax, with a full slate of NCAA men's and women's games (including a first-round NCAA women's game between Notre Dame and Montana back in South Bend) on tap on television for entertainment.
-- The Notre Dame Club of Pittsburgh put together a 6 p.m. Friday pep rally at the Claddagh Irish Pub, with the Irish band and cheerleaders in attendance.
-- Wondering how the Irish are doing in the NCAA Championship compared to the rest of the country? Over the last six editions of the men's NCAA bracket (2010 through 2015), only eight teams have made it all six years-Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State, Ohio State, San Diego State and Wisconsin. Of that group, Kansas produced the best average seed over those six years at 1.5. Notre Dame comes in next in a group of 14 schools in the bracket five of the last six seasons-BYU, Cincinnati, Florida, Georgetown, Kansas State, Kentucky, New Mexico State, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Texas, VCU, Villanova and Xavier. Of those 14 programs, Notre Dame finished six in terms of average seed at 5.0.
-- The Irish win Thursday marked the 32nd all-time Notre Dame NCAA victory . . . The game marked the 25th basketball game played at the Consol Energy Center (the seventh in NCAA Championship play) . . . The triumph put Notre Dame at 30 wins for the season, most since 33 in 1908-09 . . . Auguste's 25 points versus Northeastern marked the most by an Irish player in the NCAA Championships since Torin Francis had 25 against Arizona on March 27, 2003 . . . Jackson's eight assists marked a career high, and his two blocks tied a season high . . . Grant's 17 points comprised his 97th career double-double performance . . . Pat Connaughton played in his 136th career game against Northeastern to tie the all-time Notre Dame mark (held by Tory Jackson from 2006-10), so he'll rank atop that list after facing Butler Saturday night.
-- The early afternoon NCAA television window Thursday brought a respectable 4.6 rating, even with last year, up 12 percent from 2013 (4.1) and tied as the top overnight for the window on record. The window featured two #14 seed-over-#3 seed upsets, Georgia State/Baylor on TBS and UAB/Iowa State on TNT, as well as Northeastern-Notre Dame on CBS. Boosted by several close games and upsets, the first full day of the NCAA Championship scored a record overnight rating overall. Second-round coverage averaged a combined 6.6 overnight rating on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV Thursday, up 10 percent from last year (6.0), up 14 percent from 2013 (5.8) and the highest average for the opening day of the tournament since the current format began in 1991. All four windows hit at least a 24-year high.
-- Former Irish All-American Kelly Tripucka handles analysis on Westwood One radio coverage today of the Virginia-Belmont game.
-- When in Pittsburgh, stop by the Grand Concourse and try the scallop pan roast, the pasta diablo or the Cajun chicken tortellini. A solid lunch option is the crab melt sandwich at the Penn Avenue Fish Company in the Strip District. Fans of sausage and salami should try the dry chorizo, cacciatore and sopressata at Parma Sausage Products.
-- The location of the Consol Energy Center is familiar to Irish fans. Right across the street is a Marriott where the Notre Dame football team normally stays when the Irish face Pittsburgh.
-- by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director
NOTRE DAME COACH AND PLAYER QUOTES
Q. Zach, what's the difference, like when you have a game like yesterday and you're producing well, what's the difference between that and maybe a game where you don't produce as much? Is it mindset? Is it opportunity? Is it approach? What is it?
Zach Auguste: Really, I don't know. I guess it could be just like a focus, I guess. I got to be able to bring it every game, consistently on a day-to-day basis. That's something I've been working on individually.
Q. Demetrius, when you and Jerian can do what you guys can do, when you have the multifaceted aspects of the game, what can that do to the offense when it's working?
Demetrius Jackson: Yeah, it can really keep the offense flowing. As you saw yesterday, Zach stepped up and he finished all the plays. Me and Jerian got it to him a lot and he finished strong at the rim. So when guys can do that, it makes it so much easier for us to be able to attack and get in there too.
Q. Zach, did you get any messages from people around Marlboro or Cambridge yesterday? You take down a local school, a lot of people were rooting for them. Any family or friends or former coaches contact you about that?
Zach Auguste: Yeah, a lot of friends and family and coaches contacted me. It was great hearing from a lot of people. It was great to hear that they reached out and I was very blessed to hear from a lot of people from back home.
Q. For both of you guys, and I don't know if it's just that time of year and you just take your game up naturally, but both of you guys seem to have really elevated your game since the ACC tournament. Is there anything specific to point to, or just the evolution of your game at this stage of your careers?
Zach Auguste: I think what's important, especially with me, I don't want to speak for him, but me and Demetrius, when the lights shine the brightest, we both have individual goals we're trying to reach. Not just individually, but collectively. We just want to push each other that much further. Me and him have clicked since day one, so we kind of push each other. Me and him will get on each other and that's what helps us elevate our game.
Demetrius Jackson: My take on it is we're playing really good teams, so we need to really elevate our game and our team has done that, and guys have stepped up in a big way. Me and Zach just, we know that we can help this team bring energy and do certain things to help and we just try to do those to the best of our ability.
Q. Zach, in terms of your progress, since your freshman year, can you kind of recap what the process has been like stuck behind a quality big man early in your career and the evolution to this point? What has that journey been like for you?
Zach Auguste: It's been great. I got a chance to learn a lot from some great bigs, especially Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman. I was blessed to have them in front of me and learn a lot of things from them. Got to practice against them, get to go up against aggressive players. At the same time I took that and used it to my benefit and, you know, just continued to get better.
Q. Demetrius, it doesn't seem like your eye is swollen or anything. You came out of that okay?
Demetrius Jackson: Yeah, I'm good. Yeah, my eye feels fine, and that's all credit to our staff, getting me the right care and they just did a good job and just happy for that.
Q. What was that -- the immediate moments after that like? What were you going through?
Demetrius Jackson: It hurt, you know. Finger to the eye always hurts. It got me a little bit. He got me good and so I just wanted to be able to go back out there, help my team. And luckily we got a win and we can go and play again tomorrow.
Q. Zach, what specifically in the off-season was so big for your development? I noticed the foreign tour, coach said you came out with a lot of consistent play. Would you count that as it, or some other things?
Zach Auguste: Yeah. Started when I got home. Worked out a lot around the Boston area, traveled a lot, got in the gym a lot. But definitely, I think what was more important for me was Italy. It wasn't just about me. I think we grew as a team. Italy was very important for us. We got to hang out with each other on the court as well as off the court, kind of figure out who we were as a team and individuals. But I'd just like to say, yeah, Italy was definitely a benefit for us.
Q. Any specific places in the Boston area you worked at?
Zach Auguste: Peter Welch's gym, it's a boxing gym, where I would get some boxing training in three times a week with my trainer. I worked out of Harvard, Northeastern, BU. I traveled all over, especially BC, too. I'd just be around the area just traveling everywhere to work out.
Q. This is for either one of you. We don't know yet the status of Roosevelt Jones and his knee. If he's limited or out, what does that do to the way Butler plays their game?
Demetrius Jackson: He's a big part of their team and he's a really good player. So it would be huge for them. But also, the same time, they're still a really good team and we'll have to bring our A-game. No matter who's on the floor, we have to play Notre Dame basketball.
MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you. We have Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. We'll begin with an opening statement from coach.
Mike Brey: We are thrilled to still be here. I'm very proud of our group to grind one out and beat a very good Northeastern team. Certainly, we have a lot of respect for the Butler program, residing there in the state and watching their development and the great job Chris has done. I really think it's two teams that are very similar in that last year, we both went in to a new league, minus a real good player, and we got our butts kicked. We got our players back, we got a better feel for each of our leagues and we've had good years. I think it's a great matchup tomorrow night.
Q. Coach, when you saw Bonzie as a high school recruit and he's 6'5", what made you think, oh, he'll be able to play the four and five in the ACC?
Mike Brey: Because I had a guy by the name of Harangody, who struck me the same way with his relentlessness and his feel for right game and his knack for scoring. Luke flashed through my mind. I was watching Bonzie. Get away from the size, get away from -- I don't even know what position he plays, but he's one efficient basketball player. And that Nike circuit called the EYBL that those kids play on, he led -- he was the most efficient player over the four weekends of the EYBL. And that's the highest of competition. But I had a lot of Harangody flashbacks watching an undersized guy who just was one heck of a basketball player and was fearless and loved to compete.
Q. Mike, you touched on this after the game yesterday. But bringing Zach back into the game late in the first half with two fouls, I know he had two baskets maybe in the last minute, how much of a roll of the dice was that? I think you maybe said Jerian gets the assist, sending him back in there?
Mike Brey: We talked about it as a staff. Jerian gets the big assist. We just had to get him in there. Jerian got me over the hump, as I was thinking about it. And you know what? I trust Zach more now, this time of year. If this was back in January or earlier, I wouldn't have trusted him. He's matured so much. He understands how to play with foul trouble. He's controlled his emotions better. Right now, really, starting in Greensboro, he's on a heck of a roll for us. But ole Jerian Grant gets a big assist on that one.
Q. I know he got off to a really good start at thebeginning of the season. You touched on maybe the ACC season up and down. Has he had the kind of year you thought he would have?
Mike Brey: Me or him? You know what? He's had even a better year. He really has. I felt there was no way we would get to this point without him being a key guy. But we wanted to keep it simple for him when we started with our foreign tour and he was a starter and rolling to the bucket off of ball screens, defending, rebound, keep it simple. He did a great, really did a good job feeling that. But now, what he's doing with his post defense, I was always after him, because I didn't think he was a real invested post defender. And starting with the game against Okafor, the job he did and he gave himself up and got fouled out, but then the Carolina guys, he's made great progress on that front, and he's even exceeded where I thought he would be. So I'm really pleased with him. And really pleased that, you know, he'll come back next year as a main guy.
Q. Coach, you talked about matchups. Obviously, Northeastern has some kind of a matchup, but at least matched you somewhat in the paint last night. When you face Butler, what kind of matchup disadvantage do you have and what are some of the advantages you have when you're playing Butler?
Mike Brey: The one thing that stands out is how they beat us up on the backboard last night. We've not been the dominating rebound team that we play. We play Connaughton as our second big guy. I think one of the reasons we got beat up so bad on the boards so is Pat didn't get to the backboard as much as he usually does. And that was a little by design because we were very worried about taking away their 3-point shots. We were further away from the bucket, chasing around perimeter guys because I didn't want threes going in. That's how I really felt they would beat us. Against Butler, even though they do have three point shooters, I do think they have some bigs. Now, we're guarding inside the arc a little bit more and we'll be in a better position to block out and defensive rebound. It's got to be a team effort. They're a really physical rebounding team. We've played against a bunch of them in the ACC and we've been able to hold our own. That's all I'm looking for.
Q. Mike, we see where Zach Auguste is now. Can you go back the last couple years and kind of briefly explain the journey that he's had to make to get to this point?
Mike Brey: Just, I think, overall maturing. A lot of -- I mean, most young college kids need to do that, just growing up. Controlling emotions better. He was a guy who could really swing emotionally. Even in a practice. He punched the standard in practice last year, his sophomore year, because he was mad and he broke his hand. That was kind of Zach back in his younger days. He's controlled that better. He's been able to recover from mistakes better. We've worked with him long and hard on that. And he's really learned how to play off great guards. Any big guy would like to play with the guards that you have, and he's done a great job just -- he keeps it simple and knows how to get his stuff off these guards.
Q. Besides yourself, who has been the greatest positive influence on him?
Mike Brey: Well, I mean, I think Jerian and Pat. There's no question. Those two guys, I think, have been very demanding of him. They've demanded him to be more consistent every day. And them doing it is more important than me doing it on this particular team. Demetrius Jackson, I think, has been right there. Rod Balanis works with our big guys. There's a special relationship there, but also Anthony Solomon too, because Anthony's the bad cop and Rod Balanis is the good cop. It depends which day it is who I sic on Zach.
Q. Last thing for me. Without giving too much away, although I'm asking you to do that, who does Steve Vasturia get tomorrow night?
Mike Brey: We're still playing around with that, but Steve usually is guarded, the best perimeter guy, the most potent guy. He's done that time and time again and he's been very consistent doing that. But a lot of guys are going to have to guard different perimeter guys and we did that last -- yesterday on Walker, different guys had to guard Walker at times. Jerian's going to have to. So we'll rotate through it, but Steve will probably start on him.
Q. Mike, just curious what you think Pat's other career, how has it helped him, do you think, in this sport?
Mike Brey: What I've always said with him, I think what helps him is he's so fearless because when you're a pitcher and I'm only kind of trying to put myself in his shoes and watching baseball, the whole game is on your shoulders. And he's done that since he was like 14. He's been in those positions where the whole game is resting on his back. So to make a clutch free throw or to get a big defensive rebound at crunch time, been there, done that. I think it really made him very battle-tested to be poised and confident under pressure.
Q. Mike, it seems like this is such a contrast in styles. You all obviously want to spread the floor as much as possible, whereas Chris has even used the term, we want teams to feel like they're playing in a phone booth or a box or something. Is it a little bit of an overstatement to say that the team that gets the game in their style tomorrow night is probably the team that's going to win?
Mike Brey: I don't think that would be an overstatement. There's no question. I mean, it is contrasting styles. As I mentioned earlier, I'm really impressed with how physical they are. I haven't seen them much this season, but certainly follow them closely, their being in the state. But looking at their personnel, I got out to watch the last ten minutes of the first half yesterday. Very impressed with how strong and physical they are. Certainly, we've played against some teams like that and we're going to have to be ready to meet that test in the paint. We got to try and get some stops and run. I think it's hard to play against their defense, their set defense the whole night. They're so good in their half court D. But you're almost playing a similar style in that they're going to run -- their pattern and their movement is similar to Northeastern. It's a longer possession and they're grinding you with continuous ball screens. So we had a little bit of a simulation of the style yesterday. I hope that can help us.
Q. Let me ask the obligatory Indiana-based question. As good as these two programs are now, has there been any talk recently of playing home and home again?
Mike Brey: We haven't talked about that. I'm open to that. The thing about us with our schedule, we're already locked into two Big Tens with the crossroads and with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. And if we're going to play a Big East school, I think I want to start doing something with those old Catholic schools that we have just kind of a natural rival with. Do you get back into DC because that's a recruiting base or Philadelphia or New York with St. John's? Never say never, but I don't think anything is on the near horizon with that.
Q. Mike, on those same lines, Jay Wright was saying last night that when you get to this stage, the players really don't care about their seed or who they're playing or what's going on. Beyond what is obvious, is there anything to describe the benefit of beating Butler or for Butler beating you?
Mike Brey: Well, I erased all the seeds on our board as soon -- selection show night. I don't think that really matters much. These are two really good teams going at it. Two confident teams. I think the biggest mistake would be to be uptight. Our group has been pretty loose and I've tried to keep them that way and I've certainly tried to be that way. That can be a struggle sometimes, quite frankly. I'll be darned if I'm going to be uptight now. If we can beat their program to advance to the Sweet 16, it would be yet another feather in the cap of a season that has really been a heck of a season for us.
Q. Mike, a lot's been talked about the job that Chris has done taking over in the situation he has. What about his players have rolled through that? What does it say about the kind of individuals they have with that program?
Mike Brey: They have great kids. Again, I've watched the Butler program for 15 years out there in Indiana. They've always, they've had different coaches, but they've always had great kids and real believers and they've recruited that way. And in a lot of ways, our programs are very, very similar in that sense. So I had to get a group to buy back in after a tough year last year. He had to get a group to buy back in after a tough year. You can't do that unless 12 of the 13 are great kids in that locker room.
Q. Mike, what is the development of Demetrius this year and what he's been able to do? How has that helped Grant and the two of them play together? What impact has that had?
Mike Brey: It's been -- if it's not number one, it's number 1A, as far as where we've gotten so far this season. I think Demetrius has kicked it to another gear starting in Greensboro, through yesterday. He has gotten more comfortable. The two of them love playing off of each other. I think they've helped each other. I think Jerian has taught Demetrius how to make better basketball decisions, become a better play maker. And I think Demetrius has kept Jerian's edge up, because he is not afraid to confront him and get after him if he's hanging his head on a missed shot or a mistake. It's been really interesting to watch. Now we have two guys that can work off the ball screen to make a play. Up until a month ago, it was pretty much Jerian's show off of that. But now Demetrius is another weapon off a ball screening situations and driving.
Q. Between Jerian and yourself and Beejay Anya, what's it like to have the DeMatha presence there?
Mike Brey: Yeah, how about the Stags? I texted Jerian last night when Anya tipped that one in, how about the Stags. Jerian and Beejay are really close. It will be a little bit of a DeMatha night. I think people are coming from Hyattsville to see both of them play tomorrow night.
Q. Mike, you and Jerian go back a long way, obviously, alma maters even. But when you have a young guy like that who's got a father and an uncle who played in the league, it can be very easy to be entitled and not work as hard. Seems like everything you read and hear about him, he's the hardest working guy in the gym. Where did he get that from, do you think, and how impressive is that?
Mike Brey: He's always been a gym rat. The family, the boys grew up in a gym. But I think more than any of the four of them, he thinks the game, watches the game, analyzes the game, works on his game. He has an unbelievable -- he's a genius as far as his basketball IQ. You talk to him about a game the night before, things he sees, different things, he's brilliant. And I've told a lot of NBA people that as they've analyzed him. I said you got a guy that the mind really works. You know what's great? Harvey has never felt like I got to coach him. He's been there to support him, but I really appreciate and I -- Harvey has let me coach him. That's not always the case when you have an NBA father. And I think that's why we've gotten to the point with him that we have. But he's a low key kid. He's kind of a humble kid. This year, it's been so neat to see that personality come out more. But I think, as you've heard me say, you've seen my quotes, it took every bit of five years for him to become a young man. If anybody needed a redshirt and all five years to really become a total person before he goes off in the real world next year in the NBA, it was Jerian Grant. It's neat to see personality out this year.
Q. Mike, Connaughton was talking about how it would have been greedy for him to try to play football. What is it about him that allows him to be successful in two major sports?
Mike Brey: He's handled both sports at Notre Dame and he's getting a degree from the Mendoza School of Business and there's never been any issue going back and forth. He's such a poised -- he was so much older than all the other freshmen. He's just, he was a man when he got here. Mature. It was like talking to a young man when he was a freshman. As soon as we put him in the starting lineup, we got on a run that year. Tomorrow night, he breaks the all-time games record played at Notre Dame. He breaks Tory Jackson's record. I think it's 137 games played. He breaks that. My assistant, Anthony Solomon, always says it's Pat's world. Whatever he wants to do. And there's some truth to that. The guy, you talk about a guy being born under the right star, man, it just happens for him. And you know what? He's very disappointed with how he played yesterday. One rebound and maybe not defending as well as he feels he could. I'm excited to have him in that frame of mind in bounce-back mode tomorrow night.
Q. Mike, you said that after the selection show, you kind of wiped away the seeds and you explained the opponent. The fact remains in the last three tournament games, you lost to three consecutive No. 10 seeds. In the past, since '87, you've been to the Elite Eight twice. Generally, how do you get the team past that history and thinking about the Final Four?
Mike Brey: I don't want them really dwelling. That's, you know -- well, I'm not going to take the '87 Ls, but I'll take everything since 2000. It certainly drives me to want to make a run in this thing. It's kind of the unfinished business for our program. We've done everything else. Our program is amazingly respected. But it's the unfinished business, I think. The competitor that I am, it drives me in the offseasons. I don't -- would never get into it with a current team. But I think yesterday was good for us to win a first round game. Pat and Jerian had not won a first round NCAA tournament game. So it was great. I tried to frame it this way. Instead of looking back to our past NCAA tournament disappointment, I framed it this way. Our first game in the ACC tournament, we had a dog fight against Miami and had to escape to win and then we got on a heck of a run. Let's do the same thing in this tournament. That's kind of how I want to frame it with this group.
Q. We're not sure yet what the status is of Roosevelt Jones. There are reports he's going to play. If he's in any way limited, what does that do to the way their offense runs?
Mike Brey: Well, he's a great player, man. I mean, obviously, it looked like a tough injury. The worse thing would be like for us to over-coach because he's injured or we're going to attack it a certain way. They're going to be good, whether he's healthy or not. They're going to be really good tomorrow night. It takes away a little bit of the driving in their offense, because he's such a powerful driver and where when he gets in there, what happens, people get out of position and then their shooters get clean looks. So that would be the one thing that maybe they don't have as much driving capability without him.