By Jon Rothstein
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Mike Brey doesn’t keep secrets.
The long-time Notre Dame coach will be the first one to tell you why he’s been able to make the Irish a perennial contender for the NCAA Tournament during his seven-year tenure in South Bend — veteran players.
Thanks to multiple transfers and creative red shirting tactics, Brey has always had a seasoned group to coach when he started practice each and every October — and that’s exactly why one thing he’ll never do is rely on predominantly first-year players in a conference as rugged as the Big East.
“I’ll never do it,” Brey said Friday before Howard Garfinkel’s “Clinic To End All Clinics V” at Iona College. “The year I go into the Carrier Dome and start three freshmen is the year I take a sabbatical. You need grown men if you want to win in the league we play in.”
And that’s who Notre Dame will turn to again this season in their annual quest to reach the field of 68.
The Irish return two starters in Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin who are both in their fifth-year, giving Brey the type of leadership he craves when his team steps foot on the floor.
“I brought them both into my office recently and told them that the three of us have to make a pact that none of us can get sick or injured from November to March,” Brey said of Abromaitis and Martin. “All three of us need to be solid every day for five months. Those two have to be our voices. They’re going to be out there for us close to all of the time. Whether we play conventional or play smaller at times with those two as our primary big guys, both Scott and Tim will be on the floor.”
Joining those two as starters will be rugged big man Jack Cooley and sophomore floor general Eric Atkins, with the fifth spot to be determined between now and Notre Dame’s first game in November.
“If we had to play a Big East game tonight, I know who four of our starters would be,” Brey said. “I know what Atkins, Martin, Abromaitis, and Cooley are going to give us — the fifth spot is the question. Is it Joey Brooks who’s a great defender and could be our glue guy? Is it Alex Dragevich who’s going to be a solid outside shooter? Or is it going to be Jerian Grant who gives us a guy who can score with a mid range game? I’m anxious to find out.”
And when he does, Brey will expect that core will lead the Irish to the place they’ve grown accustomed to — hearing their name called on Selection Sunday.
“I think we can do it again,” Brey said of earning a bid. “We’ve had a good run recently of losing guys but have been able to plug our new guys into the roles that were vacated. That’s what we’re trying to do again.”
THIS AND THAT:
– Word out of Pittsburgh is that red shirt wing Cameron Wright has separated himself as the third guard in the Panthers rotation behind Travon Woodall and Ashton Gibbs. Despite a penchant for always having a tight rotation, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon may have the option to explore stretching his rotation to nine or ten this season.
– Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said freshman forward Jenard Jarreau could be a factor for the Huskies if he continues to perform at the level he’s displayed since preseason workouts started. “If he plays the way he practices, he’s going to be in the mix,” Romar said of Jarreau. Washington’s front line did lose Matthew Bryan-Amaning to graduation but Romar feels confident in veterans Darnell Gant and Aziz Ndiaye, a 7-foot shot blocking menace. “Our track record here shows that complementary guys are always ready to become main guys,” Romar said. “That’s going to have to happen with those two.”
– Lost amidst the the thud of UCONN receiving late commitments from Andre Drummond and Deandre Daniels was the potential impact that freshman combo guard Ryan Boatright could have this year for the Huskies. A freak athlete with uncanny leaping ability, Boatright has a chance to replicate the type of role off the bench that Shabazz Napier thrived in last season for the Huskies en route to the national title. Look for Huskies coach Jim Calhoun to use Boatright, Napier, and Jeremy Lamb together plenty this season and frequently in end of game situations.
– He may not become an immediate starter but look for Cincinnati freshman guard Jermaine Sanders to replace some of the steadiness that the Bearcats lost with the graduation Rashad Bishop. The cerebral Sanders was savvy and cerebral during his high school career at Rice and should give Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin quality back court depth behind Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon, and Sean Kilpatrick.
– Former Iona guard Ben Mockford has a legitimate chance to start for St. Francis coach Glenn Braica this season. The left handed gunner could be the Terriers’ best hope to replace some of the outside shooting that was lost with the graduation of both Ricky Cadell and Akeem Bennett.
– George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said this week that he might look to play lefty forward Ryan Pearson in stretches at small forward because of his uncanny face up ability. “We might do that,” Hewitt said. “Ryan is a tremendous threat when he’s facing the basket because he can beat you in so many different ways.” Don’t be surprised to see the Patriots use Pearson, Mike Morrison, and freshman center Erik Copes together on the baseline to offset the team’s lack of experience on the perimeter.
– He’s not getting the hype of other transfers but Texas A & M’s Elston Turner could wind up as a major reason why the Aggies have a chance to end Kansas’ run on consecutive Big 12 titles. The versatile Turner has NCAA Tournament experience with Washington and should give Khris Middleton a running mate on the offensive end of the floor.
How will the Irish fare? Let Rothstein know in the comments below…