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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

Mazurek: Notre Dame's peak is higher than ever

It started as a joke.

But after a 16-point comeback win over then-No. 6 Wichita State to win the Maui Invitational, it isn’t a joke anymore.

Notre Dame just might be a basketball school.

Sitting at 6-0, the Irish are ranked No. 5 in the nation — the first time Notre Dame has made the top-10 poll in November since 2008.

And if Notre Dame finds a way to knock off No. 3 Michigan State on Thursday, who knows how high head coach Mike Brey’s squad can climb in next week’s AP Poll.

Zach Yim | The Observer
Irish senior forward Bonzie Colson goes up for a shot during Notre Dame's 105-66 win over Chicago State on Nov. 16 at Purcell Pavilion.

But 2017 isn’t necessarily all fun and games for the Irish. For the first time in recent memory, there are expectations surrounding the program.

This year, a trip to the Elite Eight is the expectation by many in the national media, especially after winning the Maui Invitational. Gone are the past few years where back-to-back tournament runs were a pleasant surprise.

The Irish are at a point where they should win. And with the best recruiting class ever for Brey coming in next year, they should be set up well to win in the future too.

In other words, the Irish were playing with house money for the past few years.

But when you starting playing with your own money and the expectations and the noise mounts, it’s easy to lose sight of what made you successful in the first place.

That’s why the success of Notre Dame’s season depends on Brey and his team keeping the culture the same as it’s always been.

And if you know Mike Brey at all, that shouldn’t be a problem. Brey isn’t worried about what the outside world thinks. Brey has earned the moniker “the loosest coach in America” for his easy going, honest and affable nature. He isn’t going to turn into a hard-nosed authoritarian along the lines of Jim Boeheim, Mike Krzyzewski or Rick Pitino.

That’s not his style.

After Notre Dame stamped its name as champions of one of the country’s most prestigious non-conference tournaments, Brey was parading around the Irish locker room shirtless and wearing a lei.

Brey hasn’t changed, and, hopefully, his team hasn’t either.

This is undoubtedly the most talented and most promising men’s team in decades, and with that comes those expectations.

But it isn’t a talented team in the same way Kansas or North Carolina is. Notre Dame hasn’t had a one-and-done player in years, and it won’t for the foreseeable future.

In fact, the Irish are an old team. Like, really old. There’s only one freshman — D.J. Harvey — on the entire roster.

Instead, Brey has reached the No. 5 ranking by doing what he always does: coaching good defense and letting his players play freely on offense. I guess that’s easy to do when you have preseason AP All-American Bonzie Colson and pick-and-roll aficionado Matt Farrell on your team.

The college basketball season is a long one. There will be many more wins and a couple of losses along the way. The Irish don’t have to win them all, no matter what national polling services say.

Notre Dame has to do what it’s always done: Learn from its losses, roll with the punches of a difficult ACC schedule and hit its peak come March.

Notre Dame has checked those boxes in each of the last three seasons, and there’s every reason to believe it can again.

But this year, Notre Dame’s peak is higher than it’s been in a long time.

If you’re looking for a fun ride, the Notre Dame basketball bandwagon has plenty of room. Just be aware the ride may not end until April.