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Hutton: Brey, Irish out of sync right now

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey yells during first half an NCAA college basketball game against MarylBB T Classic WashingtSunday

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey yells during first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Maryland at the BB&T Classic in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011. Maryland won 78-71. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

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Updated: January 19, 2012 11:17AM



INDIANAPOLIS — What does a professional golfer do on the third hole when his round blows up with a quadruple bogey on the second hole?

Unless he’s John Daley, who finds his pack of Marlboro Lights and heads out to the courtesy car in the parking lot, he tries to regroup one hole at a time, knowing it’s going to be a long round and a day to learn something, anything, before he finishes No. 18.

Get some birdies. Make some nice swings. Work on a shot or two that has baffled him over the years.

Mike Brey is that wounded golfer right now.

Brey is in the fight of his professional career at Notre Dame to avoid the worst season he’s had as the Irish coach. The Irish finished 16-14 in 2006 (6-10 in the Big East). That team was different. Those Irish had a future NBA player in Chris Quinn and they were snake bit, losing 10 games by less than four points. They were, though, marginally talented.

It’s hard to even use “marginal” at this point to describe the potential. Notre Dame’s four losses coming into Saturday’s game were by an average of 15 points.

If this team were a company, it would be woefully under capitalized. The Irish have just nine scholarship players left after Tim Abromaitis tore his ACL two games into his return this year. Their best offensive player, Jerian Grant, is a redshirt freshman who is still trying to figure out when to attack and when to pull back.

The hump for Notre Dame to get over probably won’t be hurdled until next year, maybe even the year after that, when Brey has some players coming to the rescue.

The Irish are the last three versions of Indiana. They are scrappy and thoughtful — too much so on offense — and just not very good. Certainly not good enough to beat a Hoosiers team ripe for an upset.

Indiana still appeared hung over from its win over then-No.1 Kentucky last week in the first 10 minutes of its 69-58 victory over the Irish.

Notre Dame jumped out to a 15-6 lead, but then went on a scoring drought that lasted 6:01. The Irish finished with four first-half field goals.

That’s how it goes with the Irish, who are typically an offensive juggernaut under Brey. They just stopped scoring. Alex Dragicevich, a sophomore, dropped in three 3-pointers early, catapulting the Irish to a nine-point lead. Indiana started to get a hand in his face and he didn’t score the rest of the game.

The Irish have been assaulted with bad luck, the worst of it coming when Abromaitis suffered his knee injury after coming to a jump stop in practice. Abromaitis limped out onto the floor at Conseco Fieldhouse, crutches underneath his shoulder, to participate in the pregame huddle. It was an appropriate symbol for a team whose fortunes have been battered since spring when Carleton Scott, its best returning defensive player, decided not to return, opting to try to play professionally.

It got worse when freshman Eric Katenda, a potential replacement for Scott at some point, was blinded in his left eye during a pick up game over the summer.

Scott Martin has battled an ankle injury, Mike Broghammer, a backup big man, has played with chronic tendonitis and Jack Cooley, the Irish’s 6-9 starter in the post, plays limited minutes because of a problem he has with his stamina.

Not surprisingly, the Hoosiers hammered the Irish inside, getting 36 points from Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo.

Notre Dame tried everything offensively to find a spark. Nothing worked consistently, other than having Eric Atkins and Grant drive hard to the basket to try to create offense.

It certainly isn’t the symmetry — the cutting and screening and ball movement — characteristic of Irish basketball.

Brey is hopelessly optimistic about what the future holds, patting players on the butt as they walked through the hallway in the basement of Conseco, giving them impromptu pep talks, probably because he has no other choice.

Brey says he is energized by the challenge of getting this group to some kind of postseason play. The Big East looms. Pittsburgh comes to South Bend on Dec. 27.

It’s a long season but it’ll be an epic recovery if the Irish win more than a handful of games in conference play, no matter how hard he tries to find the right combinations and switch up the offenses.

Sometimes, no matter what you try, the swing just isn’t there.



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