Published January 13, 2015
A change of conferences isn't going to mean a change of style for Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish were a consistent contender in the Big East, winning at least 10 league games the past four seasons and advancing to the NCAA tournament each time. Neither coach Mike Brey nor the Fighting Irish players, coming off a 25-10 season, see any reason to make changes heading in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"I don't want to reinvent the wheel," Brey said. "Last time I checked we have a style of play here that's been really consistent and really effective in this building. We want to make people adjust to us."
But the Irish have shown they can adjust as well, playing up tempo at times and at other times slowing it down, or "burning," as Notre Dame likes to call it. Irish players believe they're ready for whatever the ACC brings.
"Teams are going to play at our pace, no matter what. We're still going to play at our speed and dictate the tempo," point guard Eric Atkins said. "Sometimes that's going to be a little bit more fast-paced, but it's what coach Brey wants, and we're going to control that."
Brey, a former assistant to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, said he never thought he'd coach Notre Dame in the ACC and the prospect of that has re-energized him in his 14th season as Irish coach.
"Now you're thinking about new styles of play, how's Duke playing, N.C. State, all these guys. I think it's energized our whole coaching staff. We've had more good basketball discussions during the summer than just recruiting because we're preparing a new way," he said.
Five things to know about Notre Dame as it heads into its inaugural season in the ACC:
VETERAN BACKCOURT: The Irish have two veteran guards in Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, who should help them with their new surroundings in the ACC. Atkins is a senior who had an assists-to-turnover ratio last season of 2.61, which was 17th in the nation, and he averaged 11.2 points a game. Grant led the Irish in scoring last season as 13.3 points a game, but has been inconsistent. He can score in hurry, though, as he showed against Louisville, when he scored 12 points in 47 seconds against the eventual national champions.
UTILITY MAN: Brey wants Pat Connaughton, who at 6-5 can play both guard and forward, to take more shots from outside but also help out on the boards. Oh, and he will likely wind up guarding the opponent's best player again this season. Connaughton is looking forward to the challenge.
FORWARDS: The thing the Irish will be missing as they head into the ACC will be a dominant big man. After depending on Luke Harangody and Jack Cooley in recent years, the Irish will be relying on three players at forward who have primarily been role players: Garrick Sherman (7 points, 3.4 rebounds a game) Tom Knight (5.5 points, 3.5 rebounds), and Zach Auguste (3.7 points, 2.7 rebounds). The biggest challenge will be replacing Cooley's 10.1 rebounds per game.
BREY'S WAY: The Notre Dame coach has a style of making his players feel at ease and giving them confidence when they most need it. Whether it's laughing with a player after he throws up an air ball on a free throw, yelling at him to "bank it" on the next one, or jumping up and down and exhorting his team in a five-overtime victory over Louisville, Brey has a knack for knowing which buttons to push to get his team going.
NCAA STRUGGLES: Notre Dame has two wins in its last six NCAA tournament appearances, including an embarrassing 76-58 loss to Iowa State last year. Brey doesn't believe there will be any hangover effect from that, saying players have short memories. For his part, Brey said he's been too "distracted and engaged" on moving into the ACC to worry about NCAA failures. He said the focus is making sure the Irish earn a fifth straight tournament berth.