Head coach Mike Brey was entering his 10th season at the helm. Among the topics of conversation: Luke Harangody's pursuit of school records, the unique leadership of senior Tory Jackson, and of course, an out-of-conference slate highlighted by a visit from…Long Beach State?
"Nobody thinks about Long Beach State, but if you read the magazines, Long Beach is really good," said Brey in a vain attempt to promote his 2009 purported non-conference heavyweight from the Big West (that's a conference, not a compliment).
Return with me to 2010, an oddity in that the Irish head coach need not fabricate any sleeping giants that await.
The veteran Irish will be tested early and often as a solid if unspectacular slate in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando on Thanksgiving weekend features an opening matchup with Georgia, a game to follow vs. either California or Temple, plus a possible championship game vs. Boston College, Texas A&M, Manhattan or Wisconsin.
The requisite tomato cans are intermixed (Georgia Southern, Chicago State, Maryland Baltimore-County) as well as couple of lesser-known foes that will arrive at the Purcell Pavilion with a purpose, such as Indiana State and solid Stony Brook.
But the schedule is one that should interest most college basketball fans, with the highlight of the pre-Big East schedule undoubtedly a four-day, two-game tussle vs. Kentucky at Freedom Hall (Louisville) and Gonzaga at the Purcell Pavilion. That extended December weekend will test Brey's senior-laden, yet still inexperienced first unit.
"It's something we have to learn about before we get into the Big East," Brey said of his possible end game rotation of players. "You have some real challenges to learn it; I refer to those old guys; I'm pretty confident in those guys, they've been in battles. Once we got a rhythm to the program that's been our philosophy."
The quartet sans Martin, the Purdue transfer who sat out due to a knee injury last season, were part of the driving force that propelled the Irish from outside the NCAA Bubble to the Big East Semi-Finals, to a No. 6 NCAA Tournament seed last March, winning six consecutive games in the process.
While the pre-conference slate offers plenty of resume-builders, Brey knows Big East action will again determine his team's post-season fate.
"In the league we play in, it's (good news/bad news). Our league schedule will define us again. The Big East regular season will make or break you."
Notre Dame begins its two-game exhibition season tonight vs. Marian University. A Saturday evening matchup with Catholic University follows before the Irish officially kickoff the 2010-11 hoops season with a home date vs. Georgia Southern on Friday, November 12.
The rest of the pre-Big East slate that awaits Brey's Irish is detailed below.
Two-game tangoBrey's Irish have faced back-to-back non-conference tests often over the last 10 seasons, but the majority of those occurred as the result of in-season tournaments (Texas and North Carolina in the 2008 Maui Classic is the most recent example).
For those that have challenged the program's pre-Big East schedules in the past, may I present to you the early December tandem of Kentucky and Gonzaga…in a four day span.
Notre Dame will travel to the program's House of Horrors, Freedom Hall, for a December 8 prime time matchup with Kentucky in Louisville. The Irish are matched with the Wildcats, who opened at No. 11 in the pre-season Associated Press Top 25, as part of the SEC-Big East Invitational.
Notre Dame's December 11 opponent, Gonzaga, debuted at No. 12 in the A.P. Poll. The Zags will travel to South Bend for a Saturday night showdown with the Irish.
Too early two-game prediction: 1-1…Look for a huge effort in front of a packed house on December 11 with the nation's most respected non-BCS program visiting South Bend.
As for the preceding matchup with the Wildcats? What year do you think this is, 1981?...Notre Dame never beats Kentucky in its home state.
Checks received upon arrivalThese games count…but only if you lose.
- Georgia Southern (November 12): The matchup serves as the second leg of a three-sport, two-day show on campus with Muffet McGraw's squad tipping off festivities late Friday afternoon; Brey's group following vs. the GSU Eagles Friday evening and a date with current BCS No. 5 Utah as the main course Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium. Two wins from three team sports ‘aint bad…
- Liberty (November 14): The Flames make a return trip to South Bend after a 91-72 defeat last season. I vaguely recall covering that game prior to Thanksgiving…Harangody grabbed a bunch of rebounds; Abromaitis hit some open 3s, etc., etc.
- Chicago State (November 17): The Cougars held men's tryouts on Sunday Oct. 17, at 1 p.m. on the main floor of the Jacoby Dickens Center (JDC). So really, you'd think a Big East team could protect its home turf here…
- Maine (November 22): Finished 19-11 last season as members of the America East Conference and upset Boston College in the process. I hate Boston College. Go Black Bears!
- Indiana State (November 30): Would be the unquestioned Game of the Year if this were 1978-79…
- Maryland Baltimore-County (December 22): Irish freshmen Jerian Grant (DeMatha, H.S.) and Eric Atkins (Mount Saint Joseph) receive a chance to showcase their skills vs. at least a couple familiar foes. Also, it's the day after my birthday, so feel free come by press row with gifts, well-wishes, etc.
Too early prediction: 6-0
Game, set, trap?Last season it was Loyola Marymount that showed up with more than a paycheck in mind to shock the Irish. This year, the Irish should be wary of Stony Brook crew that will have been tested at Connecticut and Holy Cross previously, and that finished 22-10 last season, qualifying for the NIT.
The Seawolves (seriously) return 4 of 5 starters that won 14 of 17 games to conclude the regular season in 2010. A 76-66 NIT loss to Illinois was the first post-season game in program (Div-1) history.
Stony Brook travels to South Bend for an ESPNU matchup on Sunday, December 19.
Too early prediction: W. The Irish will be battle tested and well-rested; Brey can use last year's lingering Loyola Marymount memory to ensure the veteran roster's focus.
Old Spice ClassicThe four day event from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday evening in Orlando starts with the Irish taking on the Georgia Bulldogs in what will be the first meeting between the programs. The winner/loser of that contest will take on the same in the California/Temple tilt, with the victor then moving on to face off against the other half of the bracket's champion: Boston College, Texas A&M, Manhattan or Wisconsin on Sunday.
Too early prediction: 1-1. The Irish tend to flame-out during these neutral-site mini-tournaments. Georgia is technically ranked No. 28 in the A.P. pre-season poll. A potential loss to current No. 22 Temple or returning NCAA participant California (coached by Mike Montgomery) in Round 2 is unlikely to damage the team's NCAA Tournament hopes four months later. Losing two could hurt...
A trip to the finals vs. one of the quartet mentioned above would serve the Irish well on Selection Sunday. A potential matchup with current No. 24 Wisconsin (Coach's Poll) would be one of great interest for Big 10/Midwest hoops fans.
Nine wins in 11 pre-conference matchups as predicted above would position Notre Dame comfortably in the nation's Top 35 entering Big East play.
A complete breakdown of Notre Dame's Big East schedule will be published on Christmas Day. The Irish tip-off conference action with a visit from A.P. pre-season No. 20 Georgetown on Wednesday, December 29.