football

Irish hope theyve lived, learned

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Eric Atkins won’t torture himself this week. He’s already done enough of that.
In the wake of Notre Dame’s NCAA flameout against Xavier last year, the point guard watched tape of his final minute pass into the Greensboro Coliseum’s stands. And Atkins watched the crippling turnover on a virtually endless loop all summer.
There won’t be a film review this week before No. 7 Notre Dame’s date with No. 10 Iowa State on Friday night in Dayton, Ohio to open the NCAA tournament.
The 9:45 p.m. tipoff time might be similar to last year.
Everything else seems different.
“I think it just changes our mentality because we have been there so many times,” Atkins said. “Last year, the fact we didn’t get out of the first round, it ups the ante a little bit for this first round game. I think we’re all approaching it really like a first round championship game.”
Notre Dame’s comfort in making the NCAA tournament showed on Sunday night even if the Irish haven’t had much success in the tourney itself. There was no celebration when Notre Dame made the field in the West Region, which was announced last.
The fourth straight appearance is a first under Mike Brey and a second for Notre Dame since the field expanded in 1985. In other words, the Irish have been here before even if they haven’t stayed as long as they’d like.
“It was just business as usual,” said Jack Cooley. “Everyone calmed down, it was a great mentality to have. I was very happy with how everyone handled it. No one got over excited. Everyone was focused exactly on Iowa State. That’s great, that’s exactly what you have to have.”
Cooley said there was no locker room talk about a potential date with No. 2 Ohio State, which could put Notre Dame into the Sweet 16 for the first time in a decade. That assumed gag order would make sense for a team where no active player has played a key part in any NCAA tourney win.
The last one came two years ago when second-seeded Notre Dame beat No. 15 Akron in its opening game at the United Center in Chicago before falling to Florida State two days later.
Atkins played 28 minutes in that win and scored eight points. Cooley played three minutes and scored four points.
The roster has turned completely over since.
“I think when you look at it last year, there were a lot of guys going through it for the first time, a lot of guys that even if they weren’t going through it for the first time, they were going through it for the first time as keys guys on the team,” said Pat Connaughton. “That’s something we’ll be ready for this year. We’ll be ready to close.
“We know the toughness that teams play with because it’s win or go home.
When people’s backs are up against the wall, there’s another gear that they have. That’s something that we’ve got to bring to the table as well.”
Notre Dame appears to have the experience from last year’s flameout working in its favor, paired with playing well to close the season.  The Irish have won five of their last eight games, the only losses coming at Marquette, at Louisville and against Louisville in the Big East semifinals.
The Irish avenged that loss to the Golden Eagles in the Big East quarterfinals, falling to the Cardinals the next night. Louisville took home the No. 1 overall seed.
Those kinds of performances are the focus for Notre Dame now, not what happened last March against Xavier.
 
“It was most of the guys’ first time actually playing a role in the tournament,” said Jerian Grant. “We felt like we had the game, but in those key situations where we needed to make a play, we kind of didn’t.
“This year we’re all back and I think we’ll be ready.”
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