Nov 28, 2012, 6:22 PM EST
ESPN play-by-play announcer Dan Shulman called the Indiana – North Carolina game in Bloomington last night, and perhaps the most famous call of his broadcasting career involves the Hoosiers, not the Irish.
But tomorrow night, along with analyst (and Notre Dame football superfan) Dick Vitale, Shulman will be calling the action at Purcell Pavilion, when Notre Dame takes on #8 Kentucky, the defending national champs.
They watched the Irish practice this afternoon, and I had a chance to chat with Shulman for a few minutes about the big game.
Obviously tomorrow night is going to be the biggest game we’ve had here this season. Blackout game, defending champs coming to town, Notre Dame has a great record here at home and beat #1 Syracuse last year. What are your expectations for tomorrow night?
I think it’s going to be a fascinating game. As you mentioned, they’re so tough here. They’ve won 40 of their last 41 at home. I think what’s interesting about this is that you’ve got a team with so much experience, juniors and seniors, taking on a very athletic, talented team, but one that is almost all freshmen.
If they can knock down threes, if they can handle themselves on the glass and not get beaten up by some of the frontcourt guys that Kentucky has, I think they have a terrific chance to win the game.
It’s going to be a rabid fan group, and a great environment tomorrow night. I love the blackout idea. I know it’s going to be a full house. These are the kinds of games that people like me live for – early November, December matchups that you don’t get to see often.
I was watching the game last night, and I know your partner, Dickie V, is a big supporter of Notre Dame with his daughters having graduated from here. He was mentioning how in the state of Indiana, right now you’ve got #1 Notre Dame in football, #1 Indiana in men’s basketball, and two very strong basketball teams here at ND. What does that mean for the state?
I think it’s great. When I think of college basketball, there are three states that I think of – Indiana, Kentucky and North Carolina. I did the IU – ND game last year, I’ve done games at Indiana, done games here, at Purdue, going to Butler in January, and you can just feel how important college basketball is to everybody in this state.
I have a particular fondness for coming here. Digger [Phelps] will tell you this. Back in the 80’s, when I was in college, I’m Canadian, and for whatever reason, I kind of grew up a Notre Dame fan. I drove down here five hours each way, about three or four times during college to see David Rivers play, to see LaPhonso Ellis play. I always had a thing for the Irish. I love coming back to any of the schools in this state because I like being where the games really mean a lot to the people in that city. I’m always excited to do a game in this area.
Is there a game that you called here that was particularly memorable?
Yes, I believe it was Notre Dame against Syracuse. This was years ago. Keith Friel hit eight threes against Syracuse and the place went absolutely bananas. I remember the last one hit the back of the rim, bounced about ten feet up in the air and then dropped through the basket. He set all kinds of Notre Dame records that night, and they beat a very, very good Syracuse team.
I feel like in a lot of ways, Kentucky’s fan base is the Notre Dame football equivalent of college basketball. What do you expect to see out of them tomorrow?
There will be some here. They find a way. I remember I did the Great Alaska Shootout several years ago. The building holds 8,000 and about 7,500 of them were Kentucky fans. They travel like nobody’s business. And they are beyond passionate. I agree with you. They’re like Notre Dame football fans, they’re like Green Bay Packer fans. Living in Toronto, they’re like Toronto Maple Leaf fans. They eat, sleep and breathe their basketball team.
I think they’ll make their presence felt, but I still expect the vast majority of the fans to be Notre Dame fans, and I expect there to be a home court advantage. I think this is the first ‘true’ road game that Kentucky’s playing in, and with a lot of young kids, it will be interesting to see how they react.
Notre Dame is always kind of seen as one of the off-the-radar teams in college basketball. Last year, many weren’t expecting much when Tim Abromaitis went down, and then the Irish went on that great run in the BIG EAST. What do you expect to see from them this year?
I think it’s wide open this year. They’ve got seven quality players. They’ve got experience. They’ve got a shooter, they’ve got an inside guy, they’ve got an attacker in Grant, a point guard in Atkins, a really tough kid in Connaughton. I think they’ve got a lot of different pieces and I think they’ve got a chance to have a really good year.
I think what separates a Notre Dame from a Marquette, from a Georgetown, it’s not that much. I think they could finish second in the league, I think they could finish sixth in the league. I think they could get knocked out in the first weekend of the tournament, I think they could win two, three, four games in the tournament. The differences between the great and the good are not as big in college basketball as they used to be.
They’ve got to stay healthy, because Coach Brey’s really only playing seven guys. If the seven guys stay healthy, they knock down their threes, and guard reasonably well, I think they have a chance to have a really good season.
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