In each of the last three seasons Big East coaches have predicted that Notre Dame would finish somewhere in the middle of the conference pack.
In 2009 Mike Brey’s team was picked to finish eighth place, followed by predictions of seventh (2010-11) and ninth (2011-12). With Big East media day set for Wednesday, Brey’s program will be in a far different position this season.
While Louisville seems to be the generally accepted favorite to win the conference, no one’s conceding anything and Notre Dame is one of the teams with enough firepower to make sure the Cardinals don’t win the Big East.
And with their time in the conference winding down, the Fighting Irish are hoping to accomplish some things they’ve never done as a Big East member.
“A phrase I used on Tuesday, and I’ll put up in their lockers tomorrow, is, “Work to deliver.” Work to deliver on those expectations, but those expectations are our expectations,” said Brey at the team’s media day on Thursday.
“We’re honored by some of the things people say about us, but we lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. We didn’t get to the Big East championship game. We didn’t win a regular season Big East title.
“I think it’s very key for me and our leaders to keep talking about our expectations, and that starts with trying to chase down a regular season title.”
All five starters from last season’s squad, which went 22-12 (13-5; 3rd in Big East) and helped Brey win his third Big East Coach of the Year award in the last six years, return with guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant leading the way.
Atkins averaged 12.1 points and 4.1 assists per game while leading the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio, and Grant averaged 12.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest last season.
From a leadership standpoint the Irish can call on graduate student Scott Martin and senior Jack Cooley, with the latter being lauded for his improvement in that area during the offseason.
“I just became more vocal really, and put all caution to the wind,” said Cooley. “Whatever we were doing at the time I needed to fix or someone needed to fix and I figured there’s no one better than me to do it. I just stepped up.”
Cooley led the Irish in both points and rebounds while Martin was a steadying influence for a team that had to deal with the loss of small forward Tim Abromaitis, and this season they’ll be joined by Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman in the paint.
Brey referred to Sherman as their “sixth starter” at media day, and with the return of Pat Connaughton and the addition of newcomers such as Zach Auguste and Cam Biedscheid give the head coach talented options that weren’t as readily available last year.
Feel free to look ahead to Notre Dame’s ACC future if you wish, but the Irish can accomplish some big things in the present as well.