Ben Hansbrough at practice on Friday (AP)

Akron-Notre Dame Preview

March 17, 2011

CHICAGO (AP) – Slowing down Ben Hansbrough hasn’t been easy for any team all season and the Akron Zips know it.

Akron will get its shot at Notre Dame’s hot-shooting guard on Friday in a second-round NCAA game in Chicago.

Akron will not only have to control Hansbrough but defend the shooting of capable scorers in Carleton Scott, Tim Abromaitis, Scott Martin and Tyrone Nash in Notre Dame’s motion offense that is predicated on sharing the ball.

But it’s Hansbrough that makes it all work for the second-seeded Irish.

“If you saw the way his brother played, he kind of plays just like his brother only in a different position,” said Akron coach Keith Dambrot, comparing Hansbrough to his brother Tyler, who led North Carolina to a national title and now plays for the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.

Turns out that earlier in Hansbrough’s career, Irish coach Mike Brey had to rein in his frenetic floor leader, this season’s Big East player of the year. Brey had to keep him from getting too emotional and intense.

“Is there a possibility of playing the game too hard? Yes, in his case,” Brey said Thursday. “And too fast. … I think he’s learned over time to change tempos, change speeds.”

Hansbrough is the undeniable vocal leader of the Irish and had to tone down that part of his game, too.

“He’s also learned to become a leader with diplomacy. You can’t hit everybody in the back of the head with a 2-by-4 all the time,” Brey said.

“He’s the loud one out there, the brash one,” added 6-foot-8 forward/center Tyrone Nash, who exemplifies Notre Dame’s versatility by sometimes bringing the ball up court when defenders are hounding Hansbrough. “I’m the quiet one and I think it’s good for a team to have a loud one and a quiet one just to balance out the team.”

Hansbrough should really be amped up for the Southwest Region game against the Mid-American Conference tournament champion and 15th-seeded Zips (23-12). He’s coming off a 3-for-16 shooting game with six turnovers when the Irish blew a 16-point lead and lost to Louisville in the Big East semifinals last week.

Also consider that the Irish (26-6) were knocked out of the NCAA tournament in their opener last year by Old Dominion. This time, they will be ready to go on a court that is about 95 miles from their campus.

“I think it scarred us,” Hansbrough said of last year’s early exit. “I think it’s been the driving factor.”

Asked if Akron reminds him of any team Notre Dame has seen this year, Brey was quick with an answer: They’re similar to the team he sees every day – the Irish.

The Zips have veteran players, including five who have appeared in 100-plus games. They know what it’s like to win, with at least 20 victories in six straight seasons. They rely heavily on 3-pointers.

And as Brey has been pointing out, the Zips have been able to do one thing the Irish haven’t over the last week – cut down the nets after winning a tournament.

The is Akron’s second NCAA appearance in the past three years. As a No. 13 seed in 2009, they were beaten in their opener by Gonzaga 77-64 after a strong first half.

“We learned a lot from that experience and I think this year that might show up in our maturity level and the way we’re going to play,” said Nikola Cvetinovic, the Zips’ leading scorer and rebounder. “It’s much more comfortable than two years ago.”

Zeke Marshall, Akron’s 7-foot center who blocked nine shots in the MAC tournament championship victory over Kent State, said the Zips should be able to match up with Notre Dame.

“I don’t have any doubt we’re going to be able to play well against them,” he said.


NO PRESSURE, COACH: Akron coach Keith Dambrot is feeling the heat after Virginia Commonwealth’s win in the “First Four.”

VCU coach Shaka Smart was an assistant to Dambrot at Akron for three years (2003-06). Two other Dambrot assistants are also in the tournament, with Jeff Boals (2006-09) at Ohio State, the overall No. 1 seed, and Lamont Paris (2004-10) at fourth-seeded Wisconsin.

“These guys are putting a lot of pressure on me,” Dambrot said Thursday. “I’ve got Shaka, who’s the head coach of VCU, who wins an NCAA tournament game. And Jeff Boals of Ohio State, they’re No. 1 in the country. And Lamont Paris is the assistant at Wisconsin, and they’re probably going to win their first tournament game.

“If I don’t win, they’re going to say it’s me.”

The 15th-seeded Zips (23-12) have never won a game in the NCAA Division I tournament. They play No. 2 seed Notre Dame (26-6) on Friday in Chicago.