Dec. 2, 2013
Big Ten/ACC Challenge
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Winning on the road in college basketball is never easy. Throughout his 18-plus seasons as a college coach, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey always has made sure his teams have savored victories on the road. He knows how important and sometimes rare they are. In some instances, it's a gauge for coaches to see how their teams respond under pressure in a hostile environment.
Tuesday night's matchup against Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge will provide that litmus test as Brey takes his veteran Fighting Irish squad (5-1) into Iowa City to face the 23rd-ranked Hawkeyes (7-1) at 9:15 pm (ET). Iowa, runner-up in the 2013 National Invitation Tournament, is coming off a second-place finish at last weekend's Battle 4 Atlantis. The Hawkeyes suffered their first loss of the season to Villanova, dropping an 86-83 decision in overtime to the Wildcats in the championship tilt.
Brey is anxious for the contest for a couple of reasons. As first-year members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Irish are playing in their first-ever Big Ten/ACC Challenge and will be representing their new conference home for the first time. Secondly, Brey is looking forward to seeing how his team competes and responds in what will be a very hostile environment. It will be an atmosphere similar to what Notre Dame can expect all season long during its travels in the ACC.
"We're certainly aware that this is the first time that we will be representing the Conference in some capacity," Brey says. "It's heightened our awareness and urgency of being part of the league and we feel a responsibility. We're excited to be part of this as we are playing for Notre Dame and the Atlantic Coast Conference."
Immediately following Sunday's 101-67 win over Cornell, Brey addressed the Iowa game and the challenges it presents his Irish team. The 14-year head coach is anxious to see how his Notre Dame squad responds in its first road test of the season.
"I am interested and intrigued to see how we respond to what we are going to face on Tuesday evening, " Brey says. "I am anxious and excited to see this group in its first road game. I think they're excited as well as they have played in a lot of big games on the road throughout their careers.
"It's a great opportunity for us. I am not sure many people give us a chance considering how Iowa is playing right now and how we are still trying to figure it out right now. There is no better feeling than winning on the road. The challenge for us is going to be staying poised and our mental toughness. I am anxious to see what our identity is going to be."
Brey has tinkered with the starting lineup this season and fans can expect Sunday's quintet of Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson and Garrick Sherman to be on the floor when the game tips off.
Jackson has been impressive of late and one month into his collegiate career is finding his niche in the Irish lineup. The 6-1, 195-pound guard from Mishawaka, Ind., has netted double figures in each of the last three games, averaging 11.3 points and 4.7 rebounds. He scored a career-high 13 points and grabbed a personal best eight rebounds against Santa Clara on Nov. 22. In the last three games, Jackson has shot the ball well, connecting on 10-17 (.589) shots from the field and 7-9 (.778) from three-point range.
"Demetrius has really given us a great deal of energy in the last week," Brey says. "He's just becoming more and more confident every day. You can tell because he has become more of a voice. You hear his voice. Before our very eyes, he is adding a leadership voice and it fits in with the rest of the team. Our players like that. They have confidence and respect for Demetrius."