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Men’s Basketball: Men begin season play after two exhibitions

Fran Tolan | Friday, November 14, 2008

After cruising through two blowout exhibition wins, it’s time to see if No. 9 Notre Dame will live up to the hype. The Irish begin regular-season play when they take on USC Upstate at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

“These last two games have been great for us because we were able to see a lot of things and a lot of things we need to clean up, but it’s real now,” Irish junior forward Luke Harangody said. “You can’t mess up.”

During a brief exhibition season, Notre Dame beat both Briar Cliff and Stonehill by at least 30 points.

The Irish have one of the toughest regular-season schedules in the country but get to ease into it against USC Upstate, which is beginning just its second year in Div. I and is coming off a 7-23 season.

The Spartans, who will face Georgia tonight before heading to South Bend, joined the Atlantic Sun Conference last season.

For the Irish, the game presents an opportunity to adjust to the regular season before embarking on the rest of a non-conference schedule that includes Ohio State, UCLA and the Maui Invitational.

In his media day press conference, Irish coach Mike Brey said his team is excited for its challenging schedule.

“Given these older guys, what they’ve done, they want to play big games,” the reigning Big East coach of the year said. “You try to gauge your schedule every year on who you’ve got and what they’ve done, to strategically gain an NCAA bid. With the group of guys we have, they should be thrown in there. Let’s go after it.”

The Irish were ranked in the top 10 in the AP pre-season poll and Sports Illustrated rated them sixth in this week’s issue.

But Brey said the team will remain focused despite the considerable hype surrounding it.

“We have a lot of potential and a lot to work with … I don’t think they are distracted by [pre-season rankings],” he said. “They’ve been together for a while, they’ve always remained hungry, and have done some really nice things but they’d like to do more.”

After taking on USC Upstate, the Irish will next play when they head west to take on Loyola Marymount next Friday.