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Brey hesitant with optimism

Matt Lozar | Wednesday, February 11, 2004

For all the optimism stemming after Notre Dame’s 80-74 upset of No. 5 Connecticut Monday night, Irish coach Mike Brey knows better.Brey knows his team is 11-9, 5-5 in the Big East, currently sits around No. 60 in the RPI and still has its next four games against teams in the top 35 of the RPI. That’s why Brey, at least right now, is being realistic about Notre Dame’s postseason chances.”We haven’t even talked about the bubble or getting to the bubble,” Brey said. “Where we’ve been is can we work on this in practice today and try and get another league win. When the smoke clears tomorrow, let’s see where we are.”On the more optimistic side, Monday’s win could be the start of a number of positive factors working in Notre Dame’s favor.First, the Irish finally got their big win. Before defeating the Huskies, the Irish had lost their previous five games against ranked teams. “We knew that one big win was all it would take to get the team turned around and get the team in the right direction,” Notre Dame senior co-captain Torrian Jones said.Jones and a number of other Irish players feel this win will propel them to getting hot for the rest of the season. That’s a testament to the attitude in the locker room, as the Irish had lost six of eight going into Monday night and just had a tough loss against No. 4 Pittsburgh only 48 hours earlier.”After that loss Saturday against Pittsburgh, you could just feel it,” Notre Dame forward Jordan Cornette said. “These guys were like, ‘We’re on the brink.’ We knew we had to crack sometimes.”Second, that momentum Jones and Cornette talk about could help them pick up enough “RPI wins” over the next two weeks to make the Irish a factor on Selection Sunday. One team the Irish can relate to is a 16-14 and 9-7 in the SEC Georgia squad from the 2000-01 season. During that season, the Bulldogs didn’t have an exceptional record, but played an extremely tough schedule, which led to finishing the regular season with a No. 19 RPI ranking.The selection committee rewarded the Bulldogs with a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament.Combine finally getting a big win with gaining some late season momentum and the last and possibly most important factor becomes apparent – for the first time in Brey’s tenure at Notre Dame, the Irish could finish hot in those always important last 10 games of the season. In Brey’s other three seasons, the Irish have gone 6-4, 6-4 and 4-6 entering the NCAA Tournament. This season, those marks won’t do. The Irish haven’t been very high in the RPI all season and have that glaring Central Michigan loss on their resume. But they do have a chance over the last three weeks of the season to make a late postseason push. Brey knows the only way that can happen is one game at a time.”We haven’t talked big picture,” Brey said. “I don’t think we can talk big picture with the schedule we have coming up. We have to try and get guys healthy for Saturday.”