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Men’s Basketball: Weather, competition heat up for Notre Dame

Greg Arbogast | Friday, November 21, 2008

Let the test begin.

Faced with arguably the most difficult schedule in the country, No. 9 Notre Dame will begin its difficult non-conference slate with a West Coast swing that begins tonight against Loyola Marymount.

The Lions aren’t the difficult part. Loyola Marymount has lost all three of its games this season, falling to Milwaukee, Iowa State and UC Davis.

The Lions likely will bring emotion to Friday night’s contest with the Irish, though, as the game will serve as the team’s home opener as well as a commemoration for Hall of Famer and LMU alum Pete Newell, who died on Monday.

Things get tougher for the Irish, as following the weekend they head to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. The Irish have a potential stretch of three games in three days after battling Loyola Marymount only two days prior to the start of the tournament.

The Irish will face in-state rival Indiana in the first round in a nationally televised game on ESPN2 at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. After the Hoosiers were faced with scandal under former coach Kelvin Sampson, they brought in a familiar face for many Irish fans, former Marquette coach Tom Crean, to lead the program.

Crean appears to still be settling into his new role. The Hoosiers have looked far from convincing in their first two games where they led Northwestern State by only nine at halftime and were a missed Alex Young three-pointer away from falling to IUPUI.

Should Notre Dame defeat Indiana, the Irish will play the winner of St. Joseph’s and No. 7 Texas. The Longhorns enter the season highly regarded despite the departure of lottery pick D.J. Augustin, and they will be counting on senior guard A.J. Abrams to fill Augustin’s shoes.

If the Irish win their first two games, they will advance to play in the championship game on the Nov. 26. Notre Dame could play any one of Chaminade, Oregon, Alabama or No. 1 North Carolina.

The Tar Heels are the clear favorite to emerge from that side of the bracket, although the team has been bit by the injury bug early this season. Reigning National player of the year Tyler Hansborough has yet to suit up due to a shin injury, and Hansborough’s replacement, freshman Tyler Zeller, was lost for the season Tuesday with a fractured left wrist.

Both Hansborough and Zeller have Notre Dame connections. Tyler Hansborough is the brother of Ben Hansborough who transferred to Notre Dame from Mississippi State after last season, and Tyler Zeller is the brother of senior Irish forward Luke Zeller.