The Big East is usually the best conference in college basketball from top to bottom, and somewhere in the middle exists Notre Dame. In fact, the Fighting Irish have probably been the best middle-of-the-road team in the conference in recent memory. Led by Luke Harangody, Kyle McAlarney, Tory Jackson, Ryan Ayers, Zach Hillesland, Rob Kurz and many others over the years, the Irish have consistently been a postseason participant. All of those players have since graduated, leaving head coach Mike Brey to start fresh with a group led by last year's breakout star Tim Abromaitis.
Abromaitis has become the latest scoring wing to showcase his talents in South Bend, and will have to return to last year's form to replace what Brey called a "heck of a class to lose" when talking about last year's seniors at Big East media day last week. So far, the team has adjusted to life without Harangody, Jackson and Jonathan Peoples, but the challenge is "doing it long term over short term," insisted Brey; whose replacement for Jackson is freshman Eric Atkins, a point guard who the coach believes to be "intellectually and mentally ahead of the game."
Brey has a number of teams to jockey for position with as far as an NCAA Tournament bid is concerned, with the likes of St. John's, Seton Hall and Cincinnati standing out among others. Two nonconference games are highlighted in the ledger for the Irish; starting with their collision with Kentucky at Freedom Hall, an arena in which Brey mentioned the "Big East-type atmosphere," calling it a "quality win" if Notre Dame was to pull it out. It doesn't get any easier for the Irish immediately following their battle with John Calipari and his latest batch of recruits, as Gonzaga invades the Joyce Center three days later.
Notre Dame opens its Big East schedule at the arena where they have enjoyed a clear homecourt advantage in recent memory as they host Georgetown on December 29th before heading to the Carrier Dome on New Year's Day as they ring in 2011 against Jim Boeheim and Syracuse. UConn and St. John's come into South Bend from there, with the Johnnies of course led by new head coach Steve Lavin.