March 19, 2007
Back to work means back to tournament
It ended on a sour note.
But Notre Dame's basketball season, abruptly complete after a 74-64 loss to Winthrop in the NCAA tournament's first round on Friday, will be remembered more for a young team returning to the desired postseason bracket than how quickly the Irish were bounced from it.
Mike Brey, the Big East's coach of the year, took a thin roster and molded it into a 24-8 outfit, his best record in seven seasons in South Bend. He coached through the loss of point guard Kyle McAlarney, who was bounced just before league play tipped. He worked two freshmen into the starting lineup, turning both Tory Jackson and Luke Harangody into two of the Big East's top rookies. And maybe most impressive, Brey coached through whispers that his job was on the line.
Now it's time to get to work on an encore, making NCAA tournament inclusion a regular event. Fortunately for Brey, he'll have a deep roster to manage, a group that learned plenty about what it takes to make the field of 65. That road map to Bracketville might be the biggest advantage the Irish have heading into the off-season.
"We kind of have a blueprint now of what we have to do to make this a yearly thing," said Rob Kurz, who'll be the squad's sole senior next season. "We can look back a think how hard we worked last summer, how we prepared for every game this season, we didn't overlook anybody.
"We played with a hunger because nobody thought we'd be good."
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