What if Tim Abromaitis got a (probably deserved) sixth year, too? Imagine how excited Mike Brey would be then.
As it stands, the Notre Dame coach is already quite stoked. On Friday, he learned that senior Scott Martin would be granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA, his sixth overall, thanks to a lost 2008 year transferring from Purdue and an ACL tear that cost him his 2010 season. On Monday, Martin and Brey got around to discussing the decision with the media, and as Martin cracked jokes about the bad economy ("So I figured why not stay in school for one more year?"), Brey wrapped his arms fully 'round his own very high expectations for the 2012-13 Fighting Irish. From the Chicago Tribune:
"I want this group to dream extremely big dreams, because they are very realistic," Brey said. "And dream them from Day One. We got a lot of work to do it. But I am excited about chasing big goals.
"We've talked about the Big East tournament, trying to win that. We've talked about playing deep in the NCAA tournament. This is a group that should be able to digest all that and do that. That's exciting for me, going forward. I like to have that: Boy, we can do it and we're expecting to do it."
Those are indeed big goals for this team, particularly without Abromaitis, but there are reasons to expect so much. Notre Dame's mid-season Big East run in 2012 proved this group of Irish, when cohesive and self-contained, can play with just about anyone in college hoops on any given night. It's an experienced group, but it's also one that keeps improving. Forward Jack Cooley proved to be one of the best offensive rebounders in the country in 2012 (and an underrated post scorer to boot), and he could compete for Big East player of the year honors in 2012. Sophomore guard Jerian Grant is an equally underrated perimeter presence who pulled off the rare feat of a high assist rate (29.5 percent) and a relatively low turnover rate (15.6 percent) in his 2012 season.
That duo alone would have kept this Irish team near the top of the Big East next season. Martin's return -- alongside good and/or emerging guards Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton-- gives the Irish a deep, experienced, well-rounded team.
It's tempting to look at this Irish lineup, compare it to the talented heavies in the Big East and wonder if Brey isn't merely wishcasting. But the more you dig in, the more you appreciate Grant and Cooley's performances in 2012 ... well, no wonder Brey is so excited. He has every reason to be.