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Men’s Basketball: Chaotic Big East tests Irish

Matthew DeFranks | Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A year after a record 11 berths in the NCAA tournament, the Big East is back to its old chaotic ways. After placing four teams in the top-10 of the preseason Associated Press poll, the conference now owns just two places in the top-10.

Notre Dame (11-8, 3-3 Big East) will host one of those teams, top-ranked Syracuse, on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion. Syracuse (20-0, 7-0) is considered the only Big East team that has lived up to its preseason expectations.

“I think it’s good for us because we’ve been chaotic,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “In the midst of the chaos, that’s good for a team trying to find itself. We’re thrilled to be 3-3 [in the Big East] and in the middle of the pack right now. The chaos is a good thing given who we are right now.”

Notre Dame’s performance this season has been mostly inconsistent, ranging from lopsided losses to Missouri, Gonzaga and Cincinnati to an impressive road performance against preseason No. 9 Louisville.

The Cardinals (14-5, 2-4) have struggled lately, dropping three of their last four games including the double-overtime loss to the Irish at home. The win marked one of two over then-ranked conference opponents for Notre Dame. Preseason No. 10 Pittsburgh has dropped to 0-6 in conference play since falling to Notre Dame.

“When we played Pitt, we looked at it like a huge game given they were ranked. We were really ready to play, as we were for Louisville,” Brey said. “Both of them have not played as well as one would have expected.”

While Brey likes the chaotic nature of the Big East, he also said earning wins in the league will be a tough task for the short-handed Irish.

“Any league win you can get is huge,” Brey said. “Last year, we breezed to 14 league wins. This year is going to be a scratching, grinding, clawing next two months.”

The Big East’s depth has created a tough schedule for the Irish, given they must play Rutgers, No. 13 Connecticut and West Virginia twice this season.

“If you can go 9-9 against the toughness of our league schedule, you’re probably going to be in the discussion for the NCAA Tournament,” Brey said. “That’s going to be really hard to do with the schedule we have set up.”

Despite the difficult slate ahead for Notre Dame, Brey said the Irish have taken on the challenge

“One of the things I talked to our group about in the midst of November and December getting smacked pretty good, was to embrace the challenge that this season will be,” Brey said. “

Most of these guys were on the team last year on cruise control.

“This is a huge challenge for our staff and our group. I think they’ve embraced it. For me, it’s more of a teaching year. It’s exciting to me, it’s energized me. It’s a neat challenge at this point in my career.”

Notre Dame faces No. 1 Syracuse on Saturday at 6 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]