Mike Brey never liked all that red in the stands.
In the fall of 2000, Brey’s first season as Notre Dame basketball coach, the Irish were hosting the Indiana Hoosiers. Before the game tipped-off, Brey looked around the Joyce Center arena and saw just as many, if not more, red-clad Hoosier fans in his home arena than he did Notre Dame blue bloods.
The Fighting Irish hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1990 and local Indiana fans were known to buy season tickets to Irish home games just for the chance to see their Hoosiers, since the southward trek to Bloomington was some 3 1/2 hours.
The Irish played at IU in 2001 and 2004, while the Hoosiers came back to South Bend in 2003. That was the last time the two teams played at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame and Indiana will meet for the 71st time when they play in the Crossroads Classic Saturday in Indianapolis. It will mark the fourth consecutive neutral court meeting between the intrastate rivals since 2008. The first came at the Maui Invitational, while the past two have been at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, where Saturday’s game will be played.
Saturday’s game will hardly break either Notre Dame (7-2) or Indiana’s (8-3) season, but the Crossroads title is still somewhat apropos of a game between two teams that are trying to, at least to some extent, find out just who they are this season.
Both teams are still in search of a signature victory and a win in Indy could go a long way when NCAA selections are made in March.
Brey’s Irish have won three straight games since dropping two of three (to Monmouth and Alabama) at the Advocare Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend. Tom Crean’s Hoosiers have also rattled-off three consecutive wins since a 94-74 drubbing at the hands of Duke two weeks ago.
Point guard Demetrius Jackson (17.8) and post Zach Auguste (14.4) are Notre Dame’s top two scorers. Auguste also leads the Irish with 10.4 rebounds per game. The duo along with Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem and forward Bonzie Colson have started all nine games so far.
The Irish have been solid offensively and defensively. They rank ninth in the ACC in scoring average (79.6) and seventh in scoring defense (66.4). Where they have mightily struggled, though, is defending the 3-pointer. Notre Dame ranks dead last out of 15 ACC teams with a 39% 3-point percentage defense.
Vasturia, arguably Notre Dame’s best defender this year, and Beachem are both averaging double-digits in scoring, but both have had a hard time rotating out to guard the perimeter consistently. The Irish beat Loyola (Chicago) 81-61 last Sunday, but the Ramblers connected on 11 of 24 (45%) from long-range.
It marked the fourth time an Irish opponent has hit double-digit treys in a game this season. Monmouth drilled a thunderstorm of 3’s, hitting 18 of 22 from behind the arc in a 70-68 upset of the Irish on Nov. 26 in Orlando.
Notre Dame’s best defense against Loyola was a move to a small line-up and a switch to zone. That could be a dicey proposition for Brey on Saturday against an Indiana team that has connected on nearly 44% of its long-range shots through 11 games, though.
Robert Johnson (8.5 ppg) and Nick Zeisloft (7.3 ppg) have made 20 and 24 treys, respectively, this season and are shooting the 3 at .571 and .545 respective clips. They could easily surpass their season scoring averages and make it hard for the Irish to stay in a zone, especially considering four other Hoosiers, led by Yogi Ferrell’s 16.8, score in double figures. Ferrell has hit 19 of 47 (40%) 3s, while James Blackmon Jr. (15.9 ppg) has nailed 27 of 60 (45%) of his 3s.
Notre Dame, as always, has been healthy beyond the arc as well. The Irish are hitting 41% from long distance. Jackson, Vasturia, Beachem, and freshman Matt Ryan are all threats to get hot from behind the arc.
The 3’s will be flying Saturday in Indianapolis, and the team that hits the most and stops the most is likely to come out on top.