By Tom Coyne
December 07, 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame is eager to show the college basketball world what it's got.

After back-to-back NCAA Tournament regional final appearances, the only school to accomplish that feat the past two years, expectations outside the locker room were lower this season after the Fighting Irish lost last season's two leading scorers, Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. The Irish were picked in the preseason to finish seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Irish players have been talking all along about the possibility of being even better than last season. So far, they've looked looking pretty good as they moved into the Top 25 for the first time this season on Monday at No. 23.

''We've got a little more here than everybody thought,'' coach Mike Brey said.

The Irish are 8-0, matching their best start in 17 seasons under Brey and are averaging 89.1 points a game, also the best under Brey through eight games, and 10th in the nation overall.

The Irish are playing a more wide open style, depending less on ball screens to get open shots.

''Now we're just swinging it and cutting and things like that. I think we're getting out in transition more, too. That's one thing that's been great for us,'' said forward V.J. Beacham said.

The Irish also are playing better defense, too, something the Irish haven't been known for under Brey. Notre Dame is holding opponents to 62.6 points a game, 39th in the nation, and to 36.7 percent shooting, 17th in the country. Senior guard Steve Vasturia said he believes it could be the best team defensively he's been on.

''Let's see if we can continue to get better,'' Vasturia said.

The Irish also are leading the nation in free-throw shooting at 85.8 percent.

''If we miss, I'll bet the crowd will just walk out of the building,'' Brey joked.

Both Beacham and Bonzie Colson, who has had five straight double-doubles, are leading the Irish in scoring, averaging 17.1 points each. Vasturia is averaging 15.9 points and the Irish have nine players contributing regularly, which is more than Brey usually uses. Brey said he likes the intensity of Rex Plfueger, Notre Dame's best defender, and T.J. Gibbs.

''They give you a great energy boost and defensive boost when they're in there,'' Brey said.

Critics will say the Irish haven't played anyone yet, with Colorado (6-2) and Northwestern (6-2) the only teams they've faced with winning records. That is about to change. The Irish host upstart IPFW (7-2) on Tuesday two weeks after the Mastodons upset Indiana, then play No. 1. Villanova at Newark, New Jersey, on Saturday and No. 18 Purdue a week later in Indianapolis.

''It's a great stretch for us to make a run,'' Beacham said.

The Irish are the last unbeaten team left in the ACC and a win Tuesday night would make it the fourth-best start in school history, ranking behind 1945-46 (13-0), 1973-74 (12-0) and 1933-34 (11-0).

Brey is enjoying watching the Irish.

''They're really special the way they like playing together, sharing the ball. You've got skilled shooters with skilled passers, it's just fun to watch,'' he said.

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More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

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