"I think a lot of them were hanging around the player's lounge trying to figure out how this thing was going to work out," Irish head coach Mike Brey said. "Again, none of these guys have played in it, so I think there is a lot of anxiety and excitement, all good positive excitement, anticipating who you're going to play, where you're going to play, what are the match-ups, who's getting in from the league, etc."
That good positive excitement was brief. Once the Irish players found out they were a six-seed, headed out to play 11-seed Winthrop in Spokane, Washington, the game faces returned. For some guys it never left as seen on CBS's Selection Sunday program.
Brey at times this season has had to try and get his guys to enjoy a big win a little more. But excitement and relishing some of the season's achievements is not what put the Irish team in this position for the first time in three years.
It was a hunger and anger. Those two things fueled the Irish to a 24-7 overall record, an 11-5 Big East run, and a consistent top-25 ranking, and ultimately, a shot at NCAA glory.
"I think our guys have prepared for the season with a chip on their shoulder," Brey said. "After last year, being picked 11th in the (conference) preseason poll, nobody really talking to us much during (conference) media day, being projected as probably maybe an NIT team. This has kind of been a group that has played a little angry and pissed off all year. I don't expect anything different as we move forward."
It won't be. There is still plenty for the Irish to be angry and pissed about.
Winthrop (28-4) rolls into the NCAA tournament with an 18-game winning streak, already wearing a glass slipper. Many analysts are picking the Big South champs to dispose of the Irish on Friday, including former Irish coach, program cheerleader and ESPN analyst Digger Phelps, according to senior guard Colin Falls.
"It definitely helps us focus for the game," junior forward Rob Kurz said. "With the NCAA tournament, we know that we can't take anybody lightly, but obviously all the attention they're getting is going to help us prepare. People are picking them to beat us and that's always a nice added incentive.""It's just fitting for our team," senior guard Russell Carter said. "Nothing is ever handed to us. We're just going to play hard and take what we think we should have."
That's not just a first-round win over Winthrop. A win against the Eagles and the Irish are looking at a possible second round date with three-seed Oregon. A victory over the Ducks, and two-seed Wisconsin looms.
"We think we have a good chance in this tournament," Carter stated. "We're just going to play hard and see what happens."
Last year, Falls and Kurz sat in their dorm room watching the first couple days of the NCAA Tournament. The two captains didn't want to be doing the same thing again next March.
"We were talking about how we have to do whatever we can this year to bring us back to the tournament," Kurz said. "I think obviously with the older guys on the team, it's been very gratifying to be in this position and have this opportunity, because I remember when I came to Notre Dame I thought I would have the opportunity to get to the tournament every year."
With hunger and anger, Kurz and company have that opportunity this year. With that same attitude, there could be more success to come.