November 25, 2015

Notre Dame had a relatively easy time going undefeated through the first week of the season. Now, the No. 17 Fighting Irish can see how they stack up against some tougher competition in a tournament setting.

Mike Brey's group could receive a serious test right off the bat against Monmouth in their opener of the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, Florida on Thursday night.

Notre Dame (3-0) has averaged 85.3 points and recorded two wins by at least 26. The Irish led by 20 against Milwaukee on Nov. 17, but the Panthers' 14-of-21 shooting from 3-point range resulted in an eight-point victory.

"We are seeing a lot of good teams losing to teams that aren't as highly ranked as them," said senior Zach Auguste, who averages 17 points and 10 rebounds. "We have that in our back pocket, we don't want to be one of those teams. We want to go out there and beat every team we can by at least 20."

Though Notre Dame will have the same attitude in Orlando this week, that kind of dominance could be hard to come by with No. 20 Wichita State, No. 23 Xavier and fellow unbeatens Iowa, Dayton and USC also part of the eight-team field.

Notre Dame won the event formerly known as the Old Spice Classic while making its first appearance in 2010, leaving its coach eager to see what happens this year.

"I like that we get a lot of games at a high level of competition playing for a championship," Brey said. "You have the chance to cut nets down. We did it last time in Orlando, and this group did it not that long ago in Greensboro (after winning the 2015 ACC tournament).

"They're excited that they get to play for a championship."

With guard Demetrius Jackson (20.7 points per game) leading four players averaging in double figures, the Irish feel good about their situation and what lies ahead.

"We just have confidence in each other and are just getting better daily," said Jackson, who has gone 24 of 40 from the field.

"We just have a theme as a team: 'We're a work in progress.'" We're going to continue to grow and continue to have fun and continue to work hard and continue to make good decisions."

They'll try to extend all of those trends against Monmouth, which was picked to finish second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and opened with an 84-81 overtime win at UCLA. The Hawks followed with an 11-point defeat to USC but bounced back for an 82-74 victory at Drexel last Saturday.

Facing its first ranked opponent since losing to then-No. 4 Syracuse in December 2012, Monmouth is led by 5-foot-8 Justin Robinson, who averages 24.0 points. The junior went 19 of 34 from the field while setting, and then matching, a career high of 28 points in each of the last two games.

Auguste and teammate Austin Burgett are the only current players from either school who were on the floor when Notre Dame improved to 5-0 against Monmouth with an 84-57 victory Nov. 12, 2012.

The winner plays Iowa or Dayton in Friday night's semifinals.

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