ND Basketball Season Set to Tipoff

It's been over half a year since the Notre Dame men's basketball team ended their 2004-2005 season in disappointing fashion and, as a result, missed out on the NCAA Tournament. The team will give it another chance starting on Sunday as they open up their season at home against the Lafayette Leopards from the Patriot League and begin life after Chris Thomas.

Two days later, the Irish will have to quickly turnaround and face a Hofstra team that went 21-9 last season and looking to put a major conference school on their NCAA Tournament win resume. The two games in three days is a quick way to get the season going. Head coach Mike Brey tried to shorten the week by preparing with something other than a normal practice.

"We scrimmaged last night (Wednesday) and brought officials in and actually put the game uniforms on," Brey said. "We had to do something to speed this week up since it's a long week of practice and going from nothing to three games in a row. I thought that was the good way to do things."

The first test comes Sunday against Lafayette. The Leopards are coming off a 9-19 season and return seven players from that team. It's a young team as well. Six freshmen are on the Lafayette roster with only one senior, senior co-captain guard Pat Betley. Fran O'Hanlon is in his 11th year as head coach and has sent his team to the NCAA Tournament twice. A plus for Notre Dame: leading returning scorer Marcus Hatley, a 5-11 guard, will not play because of a stress reaction.

"The theme I'm getting is a little more perimeter oriented and trying to use the three point shot as part of their arsenal," Brey said. "They do change ends and get down the floor pretty fast. They'll be similar style-wise to the exhibition teams we played where they spread you out and the second big guy on floor with the open middle and spaced out on the outside."

Freshmen guard Kyle McAlarney will be a game-time decision. He's been suffering from back spasms but Brey said he'll practice up until Saturday when a final determination will be made. McAlarney is part of a four freshmen group that will be expected to produce off the bench. Brey plans on having a starting lineup of Chris Quinn, Russell Carter, Colin Falls, Rob Kurz and Torin Francis. The rotation of players in and out of the game will be more fluid than usual with this year's Irish team.

"I think I have a better feel but I think that's going to move around more this year than any year that I've been here with what's your rotation and whose coming off the bench roles, especially when you have four young guys that are going to get better and more confident as the season goes and hopefully do more," Brey said. "That's probably still a work in progress. The group that started the first two exhibition games will start on Sunday unless something were to occur here in the next three days and then coming off the bench with a lot of those guys. Then it's a matter of who is in a nice rhythm and that's who'll get most of the minutes as you find a mix in the first half that's going good. In the game, that could be a group you ride a little longer and play at the end of the game."

The rotation will be vital on Tuesday in thwarting a Hofstra group that returns its two best players from an NIT team in 2004-05. Junior guard Loren Stokes was runner-up for Player of the Year in the Colonial Athletic Association last year and averaged 18 points per game. Sophomore Antoine Agudio was the CAA's Rookie of the Year as he averaged 15 PPG and set the Hofstra single-season school record with 82 made three-pointers. Brey knows this is a dangerous test.

"I certainly know that league very well," Brey said, who was head coach of the nearby Deleware Blue Hens from 1995-2000. "Hofstra could be the Vermont, Bucknell or Holy Cross of this year. It's a Big East game. If you can beat Hofstra, that's a pretty big win for you at the end of the day. People don't understand that now but they will as this thing plays out. It's a heck of a test. They got good guards like some of the backcourts in the Big East that will spread you out. Again, it's a quick turnaround for them preparation wise. It's a great test for us right out of the gates."

Notre Dame does start its season fast. The Irish only play two games in three days one other time this year. After Tuesday, Brey and his team play North Carolina State on Saturday in the John Wooden Classic in Indianapolis at Conseco Fieldhouse. The schedule makes Brey a little concerned with the fatigue factor but said this is time the coaching staff earns their money.

"You worry about turning around quick," Brey said. "I'm looking at Sunday-Tuesday. Next Saturday seems years away for us right now. You're worried about pacing your group physically through it and how you get feedback and move on. Somebody who isn't a big part of it on Sunday could be a big part of it on Tuesday. That's where we really have to do our jobs as coaches is to keep their heads in it and help the young guys. We have to keep the young guys working because all of them are going to get called on at a key time."

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