DAYTON, Ohio – Notre Dame, forward Jack Cooley said, is right where it wants to be.
Check that -- almost where it wants to be.
The seventh-seeded Irish (25-9) had hoped to be fueled by Big East tourney championship momentum. But a 69-57 semifinal loss to Louisville ended that.
Still, they won two Big East tourney games, overcame a big early deficit to beat Marquette and are peaking, Cooley said, at the right time.
“When we played Marquette, that was some of our best basketball of the season. We started to get into the flow of the players knowing their positions and their roles. We're clicking very, very well.”
The clicking will resume tonight when Notre Dame plays 10th-seed Iowa State (22-11) in an East Region showdown.
The Irish thrive with a patient offense that features guards Jerian Grant (13.4 points, 5.7 assists) and Eric Atkins (11.4 points, 5.6 assists) and well as the inside muscle of Cooley (13.1 points, 10.3 rebounds) and swingman Pat Connaughton (9.0 points, 4.7 rebounds).
Iowa State's three-point preference -- it leads the nation in three-point baskets a game (9.8) and total three-pointers made (325) -- presents a strong defensive adjustment for Notre Dame, which is used to the Big East's power-oriented attacks.
“They basically like to shoot threes,” Grant said. “We're going to have to defend the three-point line in. Usually Big East teams like to go inside on you, so you defend inside-out.”
That, Cooley said, is a good thing.
“The tournament is supposed to create fun matchups and make it more difficult,” he said. “It's more fun because sometimes it gets boring playing against teams that you know exactly what they're going to do.”
Cooley is on the same page as his coach, Mike Brey.
“Iowa State is unique,” Brey said. “With five shooters on the floor at times and spreading you out and not much of a low-post presence, it's really an adjustment for us. We've not played anything like this.
Iowa State is led by senior guard Will Clyburn, who averages 15.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists. The Cyclones get major contributions from guard Korie Lucious, a transfer from Michigan State, who averages 9.9 points and a team-leading 5.7 assists.
Lucious played on a Final Four team at Michigan State. That experience, he said, will help against Notre Dame.
“It shows me what kind of focus you're supposed to have during the tournament because any game could be your last,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to help this team get to the tournament, too. We're just trying to make a long run.”
The Irish have a size and strength advantage that the Cyclones, coach Fred Hoiberg said, will try to neutralize with speed.
“I'm very impressed with Notre Dame's ability to control tempo, and just their physicality. The big thing for us, and what we've tried to do all year, is dictate tempo. We try to get up and down the floor.
“We have to compete on the glass. If we give up second-chance opportunities, it's going to be tough for us to win this one. That and we need to limit turnovers. We need a good shot every possession. If we do that, I think we'll have a chance.”