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Hutton: Irish in need of some postseason luck

FILE - In this March 8 2012 file phoNotre Dame coach Mike Brey calls out his team during an NCAA

FILE - In this March 8, 2012, file photo, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey calls out to his team during an NCAA college basketball game against South Florida in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference men's tournament in New York. Brey can't believe how Jack Cooley has blossomed into a leader for the Fighting Irish, especially after wondering whether the 6-9, 245-pound forward would ever get serious about basketball. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

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Updated: December 7, 2012 6:22AM



Let’s be honest. Notre Dame needs to play well in the postseason.

A little unfair to be harping on this before the season starts? Not really when you consider expectations as they relate to performance over time for the Irish.

They are outstanding over-achievers in the regular season, regularly defying projections (They were picked to finish in the bottom half of the conference last year after Ben Hansbrough, Carleton Scott and Tryone Nash all left and they finished second.)

Almost every year under Mike Brey they have added value to their regular season performance based on preseason predictions.

Like clockwork, they regularly disappoint when the end of the season starts to kick in.

Two years ago, seeded No. 2, they looked sluggish in an opening round win against Akron and then they were destroyed by Florida State in the second round of the tournament in Chicago.

Last year, after a slow start, they played their way to a No. 7 seed but they were upset by Xavier in the first round.

In 2010, when Luke Harangody was playing his final season, the Irish were defeated in the opening round by Old Dominion, the 11th seed.

Notre Dame is an unremarkable 6-8 in postseason play under Brey, who is now entering his 13th season as the head coach. They have only made one Sweet 16.

Brey, deservedly so, got a big, fat 10-year extension this summer. He is everything you want your head coach to be if you work at Notre Dame. His players graduate. He loves his job, the university, the kids — everything it stands for — and it shows. Heck, he even looks good in a pink mock turtle-neck sweater.

So, let’s move past all that right now and talk about what is really most important for this Irish team.

They need to win at least two in the NCAA Tournament.

Ok, I know — a hundred things can happen that would make that not possible.

Heaven forbid, Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins go down for the season with some kind of major injury.

Some other combination of critical players gets hurt or injured.

Some strange chemistry issue slows down the momentum of this team and they aren’t nearly as good as everyone expects.

Generally, though, the expectations for this team are very high. (Ironically, some of Brey’s ND teams have played their worst basketball when they were supposed to be good. Case in point. In 2004, the year after their last Sweet 16 trip, they were supposed to be very good with Chris Thomas returning as their point guard. They failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament that season.)

Notre Dame has the goods this season.

Grant, a 6-5 No. 2 guard, has NBA potential, Eric Atkins is a solid All-Big East point guard, Jack Cooley is one of the best big men in the league and Scott Martin is the ultimate role player who is capable of getting 15 points and 10 rebounds and/or letting someone score while he sets picks and takes charges.

Notre Dame can play big inside with Cooley and 7-0 Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman when they want. Pat Connaughton, a 6-6 sophomore who is spectacularly athletic and a bulls eye shooter, will probably start as well.

Off the bench, Brey will have freshman Zach Auguste, a 6-10 inside guy who can block shots and clear off rebounds and Cameron Biedscheid, a 6-6 freshman who arrives as the most heralded recruit since Luke Zeller for the Irish.

By Notre Dame standards, this team is loaded. Only Syracuse and Louisville are better in theory.

The postseason is important because it’s important to Brey, who strikes me as the kind of coach who is aware of his perceived short comings: He doesn’t close the deal in March. We’re not talking about Final Fours or NCAA championships. We are talking about an occasional, more than once-in-a-decade appearance in the Sweet 16 for a program that is pretty darn good.

This is as good as time as any to get that thought out of the way, knowing very well that this could be the final ride for the Irish in the Big East. The ACC is nice but it’s going to be much harder for the Irish to stick out in that thicket of teams. They need to get it done now and send Brey into the ACC with that load off his shoulders.



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