Game Day, Take II

No. 25 Notre Dame hosts ESPN College Game Day and 11th-ranked Louisville Saturday night at the Purcell Pavilion. Our basketball notebook examines preparations for the contest, hits on a pair of personnel notes, and touches on the ebb and flow of a wild Big East season to date…

Its been four seasons and just over 48 months since ESPN College Game Day graced the Joyce Center floor. Unfortunately for Irish fans and Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, that prime time matchup with No. 3 Connecticut remains memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Connecticut proudly ended No. 25 Notre Dame's program record 45-game home winning streak that evening, its players raising their arms in defiance at the formerly fired up partisans as the final seconds ticked away in a 69-61 finish.

The Irish lost again in their next home game, part of a seven-game losing skid overall that knocked them from NCAA Tournament consideration, the only Notre Dame squad of the last seven seasons not to quality for March Madness.

Brey blames himself for that streak-snapping loss. He's also ready to correct past mistakes.

"I have taken a whole new outlook," said Brey of the distractions, pomp and frill that accompanies a Game Day visit and long wait for tip-off (9 p.m. ET). "The circus is coming to town, and I've got my cotton candy. I am going to have fun. We are going to enjoy it. I am going to be with the students -- and someone said there's a game in there at 9:00? I'll get to that later."

He admitted it will be easier to enjoy the second go-round because of the failure of the first.

"Now, we don't have a 45-game win streak on our back either, so it's changed," he noted of the game's circumstances. "Given my preparation for (Game Day), given the win streak, the whole thing coming to town, I don't think I did a good job with my team, they probably were up tight because of me. We're going to enjoy it and be loose and play.

"I told them on Tuesday, there's going to be a lot of stuff going on, we're going to embrace it and have fun with it. We'll have time to come back (later that evening), get our shoot-around and just play. I think that gives you the best chance as I've experienced one of them and lost, and watched other teams go through it. You just have to embrace it."

At 6-4 in league play, 18-4 overall, Brey hopes Saturday night's approach vs. No. 11 Louisville can apply to the rest of the league slate as well.

"I would like to see us play that way the rest of the season and kind of just go for it," he said. 'You play tight, you play not to lose (and begin to worry about the tournament.) The key down the stretch is just to go for it. When you have six (wins) and get in the vicinity of nine, you get to be in pretty good shape, you're more apt to be able to be that way."

Reality TV

Notre Dame isn't the only conference team to encounter major swings in its league standings. Currently back in seventh-place, the Irish were tied for third as recently as Monday. A win Saturday and another at home next week vs. DePaul would likely bring them back among the league's top four with a two-game road trip vs. Providence and Pittsburgh on tap.

"Our league continues to be the 'drama queen league' and the most-watched league," said Brey of a wild college basketball season. "We're right in the thick of this thing and with some big games. I looked at our schedule and five our our last seven (opponents) are in the top 57 of the RPI. Its going to be an interesting stretch run with what you've seen from teams picked in the Top 3 or 4 of the pre-season league polls getting nailed. (Expected cellar-dweller) Providence is a top 100 RPI team now.

"Who knows? We're just trying to handle our business and not get too low emotionally after a tough loss and you can't celebrate a good win. Short memories is the key in the Big East."

Oh Captain My Captain

Part of Notre Dame's January self-assessment and what Brey has termed its "reinvention" is a result of the absence of sixth-year senior and team leader, Scott Martin.

Martin, who shot poorly throughout last season but was on fire from the arc in non-conference and early Big East play this year, has been sidelined for two weeks with tendinitis in his surgically repaired knee.

"He is feeling better. He's going to shoot a little bit (Thursday and Friday) and I think we're kind of day-to-day evaluating and I certainly don't want to rush him back," said Brey of what he had previously deemed a minimum two weeks off the court for Martin. "I'd like that thing (knee tendinitis) to be really calmed down before we bring him back. I think we're still in limbo because if he goes hard on it for two days are we right back where we started from? This is a tricky one to evaluate."

The team's new seven-man rotation has fared well in Martin's absence.

"I really have loved how our group has come together after the Georgetown game. We were up against it then (at 3-3 in league play)," Brey admitted. "Playing bigger with Tom (Knight). Tom has given us great energy and a lift. Playing two big guys has made us more physical. For us to get three out of four with Scott down, I'm thrilled.

"I still think we're improving now that we've had a reinvention. I'm also excited about the prospect of bringing Scott back to energize us, whenever that is."

Brey added Martin was unlikely to play Saturday night, though it wasn't impossible he'd be available.

"Very up in the air. He hasn't done anything in two weeks. I'm interested to see how he moves in some shooting drills and how he feels (Friday as a result). That's as far as we can go right now. His frame of mind was he wanted to get back in there, move around a little, and see how it felt."

Part Hero, Part Zero: One of the chief beneficiaries of Martin's time on the sideline is promising freshman power forward, Zach Auguste. Auguste showed well in a close win over Villanova last week and also provided a lift off the bench in last Saturday's win at DePaul.

He has, however, failed at one mandatory aspect of any 6'10" 230-pound athlete's game.

"He's given us great juice and energy, but what he needs to help us with now is on the defensive boards," said Brey. "I told him after watching film he's played 32 minutes without a defensive rebound. I love his juice, he's running the floor, he's had put-backs (offensive rebounds for scores), he's scored for us, but he needs to help us on the defensive backboard.

"Having said that, I like what he's given us. He's been another injection of energy for us." Top Stories