Nov. 19, 2004
AP-Normally, coaches don’t like it when players make preseason predictions.
However, it appears as if coach Mike Brey and senior point guard Chris Thomas are in agreement entering 20th-ranked Notre Dame’s season opener against Harvard on Friday.
Thomas said the team’s goal is to win 30 games and advance to the Final Four this season.
Pretty lofty talk for a team that did not even make the NCAA Tournament last year – snapping a school-record run of four straight trips – and lost in the third round of the NIT to Oregon.
However, Brey has a tremendous amount of confidence in his fourth-year playmaker, as well as the rest of his team.
“My feeling is if a group is taking ownership and I’m letting them take ownership of themselves, I’m going to let them talk about some of the things they want to do.” said Brey.
What the Irish players are aiming for is the one of the best seasons in the 100-year history of the program. It’s been 96 years since Notre Dame team won 30 games, and 27 years since the Irish made their only Final Four appearance.
“I agree with Chris in putting out lofty goals for this team, only for the simple fact that we can achieve them,” forward Jordan Cornette said. “I think that’s setting the bar high, but by no means do I think we can’t achieve that.”
To reach their goal, the Irish would have to win at least 23 of their 27 regular-season games, take the Big East tournament title for the first time ever and win four NCAA games to advance to the Final Four in St. Louis.
The Irish are confident because they return a talented nucleus with several key additions.
Thomas, who two years ago tinkered with the idea of leaving for the NBA, is back for his final season. Last year, he led the Irish with 19.7 points and 4.7 assists per game despite playing most of the year with torn cartilage in his left knee.
The Irish also return guard Chris Quinn, who was second on the team in scoring at 14.3 points per game, and forward Torin Francis, who missed the last third of the season with a herniated disc in his back. Francis, who averaged 14.2 points and 8.8 rebounds in 20 games last season, said he’s feeling 100 percent at the start of this year.
Another of Notre Dame’s goals is to become more dominant at home. The Irish were just 11-7 at home last season, including an embarrassing 69-68 loss to a Central Michigan team that finished 6-24.
Cornette said he hopes the Irish, who will play eight of their first 10 at home, learned last season that they can’t afford to look past any opponent.
“That’s a big part of college basketball, avoiding letdowns,” he said.
The Crimson, who finished 4-23 last season, are facing the Irish for the first time in nearly 63 years. The only other meeting resulted in a 39-31 Irish win on Jan. 3, 1942.
Crimson coach Frank Sullivan has a returning backcourt of senior Kevin Rogus and junior point guard Michael Beale.
Rogus, the team’s leading scorer with 14.7 points per game, set a single-season school record by hitting 74 three-pointers. Beale not only led the team in assists with an average of 3.7 per contest, but was the Crimson’s second-leading rebounder with 5.2 per contest.
Center Brian Cusworth, who missed the entire 2003-04 season due to a knee injury, hopes to contribute, and small forward Matt Stehle, who averaged 13.6 points and a team-high 7.0 rebounds, will be the key to Harvard’s inside game.