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Men’s Basketball: Time for tip-off

By Douglas Farmer | Thursday, October 13, 2011

A year ago Irish coach Mike Brey sat comfortably at the annual preseason media day knowing his starting lineup consisted of five seniors.

As would be expected the year following such an experience-laden squad, Brey does not yet know Notre Dame’s starting lineup for this season.

“Of my 12 years, I haven’t had to keep reminding myself about patience [like I have this year],” Brey said at Wednesday’s media day. “Of all the guys, only one of them is a freshman, but as a team we are younger, we’re newer.”

The Irish will start two fifth-year seniors, forward Tim Abromaitis and guard Scott Martin, who were both starters last year as well. Abromaitis’ 15.4 points per game last season lead the team.

“[Abromaitis] has to do a little bit of everything for us,” Brey said. “I don’t want him to feel that he has the weight of the world to carry us offensively, but we have got to get him looks. I don’t want him to force stuff.”

Abromaitis will miss the first four games of the season as he serves a four-game suspension handed down from the NCAA. He did not play in the regular season his sophomore year in an attempt to retain a year of eligibility, but did play in two exhibition games before the season. By NCAA rules, those exhibition games should have cost Abromaitis the season of eligibility.

“I’ll definitely be working hard that week or two, and take it as an opportunity to keep working on my game and lead from the bench and be in good shape for Missouri,” Abromaitis said, referring to Notre Dame’s first road game in Kansas City, Mo., against the Tigers.

In Abromaitis’ absence, a large portion of the Irish bench will have a chance to audition for a consistent spot in the rotation, if not the fifth slot in the starting lineup. Leading that group will be junior guard Joey Brooks and sophomore guards Jerian Grant and Alex Dragicevich. Junior forward Tom Knight and freshman forward Pat Connaughton are also expected to earn playing time this year.

“All nine of those guys, we are going to need them this season because there are unknowns from [spots] four through nine,” Brey said, including in his grouping starters sophomore guard Eric Atkins and junior forward Jack Cooley, both of whom played extensively last season. “I hope it gives our group really a clear head to go and get better as a team.”

No matter who fills out the starting lineup or who the first players off the bench are, Brey’s goals remain the same as they do every other season: compete in the Big East and earn a berth to the NCAA tournament.

“We are going to take some punches, and then can we be in a position to earn an NCAA bid?” he said. “That’s kind of the game plan that we have used annually.”

Brey said he realizes this may be the last season that the first goal is as it has always been. With the departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC in coming years, the Big East could look drastically different in the relatively near future.

“One of the good things about the Big East is that there is always enough power in the schedule to play your way into the [NCAA] tournament,” Brey said. “Our league is great, and there is a lot of talk about, ‘Is this the last year of this grouping with all these teams?’ Maybe it’ll go out with a bang.”

Contact Douglas Farmer at dfarmer1@nd.edu