NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Notre Dame's first ACC basketball game is still nearly three months away, but the shift to the Atlantic Coast Conference was an obvious topic of conversation at Wednesday's men's basketball media day.
"Our whole thing has been can we create a consistent presence in the ACC like we have in the Big East," Irish head coach Mike Brey said of his 2013-2014 Irish. "We're very proud of how consistent we've been year-to-year in the Big East. We've been as good as anybody at delivering during regular season league play."
Brey loses the inside presence of Jack Cooley (13.1 points, 10.1 rebounds per game in 2013), but he still has two of his top three returning scorers back on the perimeter. Jerian Grant (13.3), Eric Atkins ( 11.2) have been together with fellow guard Pat Connaughton for the past two seasons (Grant did not play as a freshman) and that strong perimeter game has Brey optimistic about the transition to the new conference.
"I think it situates you well for wherever you play," said Brey. "Because if you've got pretty good guards and perimeter guys you have a chance to be really good."
"You give me that perimeter - guys like that - let's go play everybody," Brey said of his backcourt trio. "I'm really confident again with those perimeter guys."
While the Irish are moving to a new conference, don't expect to see a drastically different style of play from them this year. Brey says he wants the new faces on this year's conference slate to have to adjust to his team's style - not the other way around.
"With a core of veteran guys that are accustomed to playing a certain way, we're going to play our way," said Brey. "The one thing we've tried to do more defensively since September 27th in contest passing lanes and pressure the ball a little bit more."
Brey is entering his 14th season at Notre Dame and his teams have fared well in the regular season during his tenure. Moving to a new conference with the reputation of the ACC could be a daunting task for even the most veteran coach, but Brey relishes the invigoration for his program.
"I think it's energized our whole coaching staff," Brey said. "We've had more good basketball discussions during the summer than just recruiting, because we're preparing a new way."
Notre Dame's first ACC game will be at Purcell Pavilion when the Irish host Duke and Brey's old mentor, Mike Krzyzewski, on Jan. 4. North Carolina and NC State are among the other ACC schools that the Irish will face on the home court in the inaugural ACC campaign.
"I think it's important for us to keep the streak going here at home," said Brey. "Because it's harder to win on the road in the ACC, because we're in these on-campus facilities."
The energy level may be different in a new conference this year, but there will also be a void of natural Catholic school rivals like Marquette, DePaul, Georgetown and Villanova that the Irish faced during its run in the Big East. Brey says there have already been talks to add Villanova as a non-conference foe in the future and he would like to add more as well as the ACC's conference game requirements change.
"Right now, as we know, it's two permanent repeats and two rotate," said Brey. "But that could also change this year and in the league meetings with Louisville coming in. I think that's all up for discussion when Louisville gets in, but I think those old Catholic schools would be great non-league games for us (to) at least have one on and maybe two."
Brey has led the Irish to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. That stretch is the best for the Fighting Irish since qualifying for six straight NCAA Tourneys from 1985-1990. They have also gone to the tournament in six of the past seven seasons and Brey says another bid this year is the goal.
"Can we earn a bid in the first year in the ACC," Brey said of his team's motivation this season. "Can we right out of the gate get a bid?"
The other new change for Notre Dame and all college basketball teams this season is the practice calendar. Under the old rules, men's basketball teams were allowed 24 practices over a 30-day period, but new rules allow for up to 30 practices in a 42-day window before the first scheduled regular season game.
"I liked the old set date," said Brey. "Which was October 15th and then we flipped it to what would be this Friday as the date we could start. I kind of liked it. You kind of had it in your mind. That was your body clock."
"Having said that, I think we used what the new rule was starting September 27th, we used it strategically," he continued. "We went two-three days a week, but we didn't go any more than an hour and 15 minutes."
The Irish will have this weekend off, which will be the team's last chance to get away from campus until just before Christmas. Full practices will begin next week and Brey says the team will be able to do some two-a-days the week of Oct. 21 when school is out for fall break.
Notre Dame plays its first exhibition game on Oct. 28 when it hosts Division II Indianapolis University. Another exhibition is set for Nov. 1 against Tusculum. The regular season begins on Nov. 8 when the Irish host Miami - Ohio.