Blue and Gold Illustrated

Jan. 1, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 53 of 63

54 JAN. 1, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED MEN'S BASKETBALL BY TODD D. BURLAGE A s Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey unveiled his tortu- ous December schedule this preseason, he insisted that af- ter two years of being bullied by the best, this year's team was equipped to flip the script and defeat the alpha figures. Before the early December game against preseason No. 12 Tennessee was canceled because of COVID con- cerns, Notre Dame was scheduled to face five top-13 teams by the end of December — and six top-25 op- ponents total in a span of about five weeks prior to the new year. "You'll know I've lost my mind completely," Brey explained of al- most exclusively scheduling Power Five blue bloods before full-time ACC play began. If Brey's personal insanity assess- ment wasn't spot-on then, it appears to be on target now with the treach- erous early portion of the schedule completed. Among Notre Dame's first six op- ponents this season between Nov. 28 and Dec. 19, four — No. 13 Michigan State, No. 23 Ohio State, No. 10 Ken- tucky and No. 9 Duke — were ranked in the preseason. A fifth, Purdue, is now flirting with a top-25 ranking af- ter beating the Irish 88-78 on Dec. 19. Notre Dame was able to hold on and secure a 64-63 win at Kentucky Dec. 12, the first-ever victory for the Irish at Rupp Arena in Lexington in nine tries. The Irish also scored a 78-70 home victory Dec. 6, against Detroit Mercy in a replacement game for the lost dates with Tennessee and Western Michigan. Beyond that, Notre Dame lost the other four of the first half- dozen games, three of those — Mich- igan State, Duke and Purdue — by exactly 10 points, though the Irish fell behind by many more in each of those contests. Undeterred after his 2-4 start, and while facing nine upcoming games against seven ACC opponents either ranked or receiving votes in the latest AP poll, Brey said his team is learn- ing even while it's losing. "I like that we have thrown our- selves to the wolves in December," Brey said immediately after the loss to Purdue at Indianapolis in the Crossroads Classic. "… It's coming at us hard." Brey explained that he was in- spired to build and play this gruel- ing schedule after his team gained confidence late last season when it won nine of its final 13 games, fin- Junior guard Trey Wertz scored a game-high 27 points against Purdue in his first start and second career appearance for the Fighting Irish. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS GROWING PAINS Rugged early season schedule takes a toll on the Irish

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