Saturday, November 16, 2002
Irish aiming for third straight tourney berth
By Tom Coyne
The Associated Press
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Guard Matt Carroll is feeling greedy heading into his final season at Notre Dame.
He wants to win another Big East West Division title, like the Fighting Irish did two seasons ago. He wants the Irish to earn a third consecutive NCAA tournament berth. He wants the Irish to get past the tournament's first weekend for the first time in 16 years.
"I want to be greedy this year and get everything we can," he said. "This being my last year, I want to go with these guys to the second weekend."
Carroll, a three-year starter, has seen a lot of changes since his freshman season. When he arrived in South Bend four years ago the Irish had never posted a winning season in the Big East and hadn't had a 20-win season in a decade. Carroll hasn't been on an Irish team with a losing record in the Big East and has won at least 20 games for three straight seasons.
The Irish have 21 league victories the past two seasons, a mark matched only by Connecticut and Boston College.
Things will be somewhat different this year then the Irish kick things off 4 p.m. EST Sunday when they host Belmont in the first round of the Guardian's Classic. While the Irish have been led the past three years by dominant inside play from Ryan Humphrey and Troy Murphy - NBA first-round draft picks the past two seasons - this year's team is most experienced in the perimeter.
The Irish will be looking for more scoring from Carroll, who averaged 14.1 points and 4.8 rebounds a game last season.
Carroll and backcourt mate Chris Thomas should provide the Irish with one of the nation's steadiest backcourts. Thomas was second on the team last year in scoring with 15.6 points a game and led the Big East with 7.6 assists a game.
Irish coach Mike Brey expects the sophomore point guard to take an even bigger leadership role this season.
"I think he's much more comfortable speaking up on and off the court. Even though his title is not a captain, he basically is a captain," Brey said. "He talks in our huddles. He's more comfortable telling guys where to go and what to do."
The Irish also will get some help on the perimeter from freshman guard Chris Quinn, who can play both point and shooting guard, and forward Dan Miller, a transfer from Maryland who averaged 5.0 points and 2.4 rebounds a game for the Terrapins two years ago.
The concern for the Irish is up front, where they need to replace Humphrey, David Graves and Harold Swanagan. Heading into the opener Sunday, Brey still isn't sure exactly how the Irish will do that.
"We're still searching inside, who's going to score for us around the bucket consistently," Brey said. "I think we'll have questions about our front line probably until the Big East starts. We'll be looking at some different things, who steps forward. We've almost played too many guys on the front line."
The Irish used five forwards in their exhibition games. Tom Timmermans started at center in the two exhibition games, but was limited to an average of five points and 2.5 rebounds. Jere Macura played in only the second exhibition and had five points and four rebounds.
Jordan Cornette, coming off the bench, sat out the first exhibition with a sprained right ankle, but had eight points and seven rebounds in the second game.
Freshman Torin Francis was impressive in his first two appearances for the Irish, averaging 13.5 points and 12.5 rebounds.
"You can just tell how much he's maturing day in and day out," Cornette said. "He's becoming more comfortable offensively with the ball. He's becoming more vocal. And he's adjusting real well to the college game."
Brey said what he likes about the team is that they have high expectations for the team and themselves.
"They have high standards and they are hard on themselves, which is great as a coach. They talk about what they need to do better after I leave the locker room many times. I think that will help us," he said.
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