Now everyone knows.
In front of a national ESPN audience, the Irish did what they wanted offensively in a 99-85 upset of No. 5 Alabama, Thursday night at the Joyce Center. Before the game it was the Alabama players, walking around with a confidence about themselves, clapping at the Notre Dame student section. But from the opening tip, it was Notre Dame who played with, walked around with, celebrated with a swagger oozing that they are going to be one of the best teams in the Big East.
What did Brey know? What did his guys know before the season, and how has it come together so well for the Irish who are off to a 7-1 start? With five cupcakes rounding out the December schedule, this team is in great position to head into Big East play ranked in the top 25 with a 12-1 record, which would match the program's best start since the 2002-03 season that ended in the Sweet 16.
"I knew our personnel," said senior captain Colin Falls, who is sick of playing in the NIT after dressing for three of them. "You got Kyle McAlarney, he didn't really have a chance to play point last year, he was off the ball, I knew he was going to have a big year. And Russ (Carter) had a great summer, he was ready to come in and contribute. Then you have Rob Kurz, I think one of the better players in the league and no one really knows about him."
"I just think we had a feeling going into this year," co-captain Rob Kurz said, even though the Irish were picked to finish 11th in the conference. "We have great chemistry on this team and I think we all just felt something special about the way we can play together. We just have so many different weapons on this team, once we meshed together a little bit, we have a really good opportunity to be good."
What makes this Irish team so good is its offensive efficiency. Everyone on the floor can dribble, shoot it, drive it, pass it. The team doesn't turn the ball over, and has a high basketball IQ. You can tell by the fact that rarely does a bad shot goes up.
Against Alabama, the Irish shot 51.6 percent for the game, with three guys getting 20 points or more. Four guys were in double figures and one more had nine, while the team finished with 18 assists to just 10 turnovers.
Carter had the NBA scouts wondering who is this guy stealing the show from Alabama's four NBA prospects. The Irish guard scored a career-high 27 points, hitting the three (6-of-11), getting steals (five) and scoring transition buckets, rebounding (five, but constantly crashing the boards) and playing good man defense.
Falls and McAlarney both had 20 points, teaming up with Carter to give the backcourt 67 points on the night. Kurz added 14 points and 12 rebounds, validating Falls' point. Harangody had nine points and seven rebounds. Both post players handled the ball when they needed to, drove to the basket and got scores.
The offense can come from anywhere.
"We've got more guys we can go to I think, and we can come at you a lot of different ways," Brey said about the difference between this season and past years. "Probably the biggest thing, on the offensive end of the floor, you have big guys that can handle the ball and shoot it from the outside, it really spreads and distorts a defense. We're just hard to guard.
"We're very confident offensively and we know how to play."
Before the season, Brey and his players heard plenty about how at best this was an NIT team. Losses of leading scorer Chris Quinn and top post-player Torin Francis could keep Notre Dame out of any postseason play. The win over the Tide on Thursday night, and a victory over then No. 19 Maryland, last Sunday, have silenced the critics.
"I think us returning guys, we just took that to heart, me personally I took that as an attack on us," McAlarney explained. "We just came out, we knew Maryland and Alabama back-to-back were big games for us. We prepared real well for it and we showed them."
Speaking of critics, while Irish players were talking about making the school's first NCAA appearance in four seasons, outside discussion was about how much longer Brey will hold his post at Notre Dame. Brey can rest easy for at least a month, as the Irish should roll through the rest of December. A couple bad games in conference play beginning in January could put him back on the faithful's hot-seat.
But that's down the road and probably a moot point, because this Irish team looks to be destined for the NCAA Tournament. Just like they thought.
"I think, I hope we're one of them, but I think you watched two NCAA tournament teams play tonight in an NCAA tournament type intensity level game," Alabama coach Mark Gottfried said. "I hope we're one of them and I hope Notre Dame is too."
Brey had a message for his guys after the game.
"As much as this week means to our (tournament) resume, believe me that's not lost on me as we're trying to put something (together), think back to how we prepared and what we've done as a group and how we've grown up, think about that and see if we can bottle that a little bit."