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Notre Dame Basketball

Hardly Cinderella, but Notre Dame slips in to NCAA Field of 68

March 13, 2022
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Mike Brey held a fairly worn cigar in front of the camera, and he stopped just short of borrowing from Mark Twain about exaggerated reports of his own demise.

Notre Dame’s veteran men’s basketball coach had just seen his team gain entrance into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. The Fighting Irish (22-10) face Big Ten resident Rutgers, an old Big East rival, Wednesday night inside University of Dayton Arena.

”I think my lack of energy has been grossly overstated,” said Brey, asked how much the challenge to erase 2016-17 as his team’s last entrance to March Madness might have reenergized him. “I had a face-mask slammed down my throat most of last year coaching in empty arenas (due to COVID-19 protocols). I love teaching and coaching. I'm extremely competitive. I'm very proud of our program and how our program is viewed in college basketball. I love that we had seven guys getting degrees that will play in this tournament.

"Our mission is our mission at Notre Dame. I've always been a big believer in it. It's hard, man. I've always embraced it. Maybe later tonight for about 30 minutes, I'll smile a little bit more. I am going to smoke this cigar and pull up the snow antennas from my driveway. That's always cheerful for me when I can pull them up. I know we'll probably get two feet of snow on Wednesday, but that's how I'm going to celebrate.”

Brey then added, “Thrilled to be part of it. That was the mission when I was hired 22 years ago. We were pretty darn regular until the last couple of years. We keep growing kids and keep working with them. No one was in the (NCAA Transfer) Portal (from Brey’s program) last spring. Staff was the No. 1 thing Jack (Swarbrick) and I talked about as we moved forward."

While Brey overhauled the majority of his staff – Anthony Solomon and Antoni Wyche were new to the bench – said he initiated the rebranding with an emphasis on more effective recruiting and a renewed defensive commitment that had been lacking.

“Yeah, I mean, it’s changed a lot,” said senior point guard Prentiss Hubb. “Just the way we’ve been able to lock in on the defensive end and no, like, saying that the people who were here last year or the coaches on the team were doing something wrong, but it’s our time.

“Coach Brey has always been preaching that, and I think it’s about time that all of our hard work that we’ve been putting in, especially the guys that came with me here, we’ve been doing it for four years, maybe not the best seasons in the past, but we finally got a chance to showcase that.”

Indeed, the Irish’s core-four of Hubb, Dane Goodwin, Nate Laszewski and the injured Robby Carmody absorbed 46 losses before their senior seasons, 36 of them in ACC play, before they gutted their way through a regular-season runner-up finish this season in the league.

Still, after getting bounced early Thursday night by No. 7 seed Virginia Tech and also having endured a late-season loss at lowly Florida State, the Irish admitted the wait for Selection Sunday was an anxious one.

Ultimately, a December win against eventual No. 2 seed Kentucky, as well as 15 ACC victories and triumphs against automatic big-winners Howard and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi helped salvage the Irish’s fate. 

“Obviously, we had to sweat it out a little bit today,” said Goodwin, an All-ACC third-team selection. “It’s not exactly the highest seed we wanted to get, but we’re in.

“We’re going to try to take full advantage of that, win this one on Wednesday and get on a roll.”

Added Hubb, “Yeah, I think it makes me want to go harder. It’s taken a while, a long time, and this is my last year. I can’t get it back, so all I’ve got to do it is go out there and leave my all out there.”

Cormac Ryan, a veteran in his third year with the program after being forced to sit out following his transfer from Stanford, vowed that Notre Dame had recommitted to seize this opportunity after it fizzled in the ACC Tournament.

“I think we have definitely kind of found a new edge about us,” Ryan said. “We had some competitive practices, and I think we’re all on the same page where we know you have one shot at making it happen, and that starts one game at a time, obviously, but really one possession at a time.

“Holding each other accountable, coming ready to play and just making it happen.”

That all unfolds Wednesday. The Irish will bus Monday to Dayton, practice Tuesday and play Wednesday night.

”Intense,” Brey said of the journey to this point. “I think it's been a one-year march to get to March Madness. There were some great conversations with Jack Swarbrick about what we need to do to better and be back in the mix.

“He's always been such a great supporter. [Swarbrick asked] What do you need? What do you think we need to do? We did what we needed to do.”

Just barely. Now, it’s time to see if the Irish can do anymore.  

 
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