Big East Presents Big Problems

This year's Big East schedule will be the toughest Notre Dame has ever faced. But great challenges provide great opportunities and the Irish feel that this year's conference slate could allow them to have one of their best seasons ever.

The appeal of this year's Big East college basketball race stretches across the country.

"This summer other head coaches in other power leagues, if it wasn't the first thing they said when we were out on the recruiting trail, it was the second thing," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. "‘Wow, your league.' They all want to watch it; none of them want to coach it.

"Every other league is going to be watching this thing. Now, there's 16 guys coaching teams in this league that are probably a little anxious quite frankly."

This season's 18-game conference will be by far the toughest that Notre Dame or any other Big East team has faced in recent years.

"I think I'd drive myself crazy if I looked at the whole 18, and really it's 19 with UCLA, so I don't even want to think about that," Brey said. "You kind of look at this segment coming up as three games, ending with Georgetown, and then you can kind take a deep breath a little bit and get your legs under you before you get into the next segment."

The Irish open conference play at DePaul on Wednesday before heading to St. John's on Saturday and coming back for a home date with the Hoyas on Monday. The Irish will then get a few days to recover before hosting Seton Hall on Saturday, Jan. 10.

Brey knows that it will be good for his team to start fast, but also understands that the strength of the league will provide opportunities to get untracked.

"It's important. I think you have to invest a lot," Brey said of starting quick. "But the other thing about 18 league games and power in your schedule and in your league, you always have a chance to recover. You're always a two-game win streak in this league from going under the bubble to maybe getting a bid."

Now in his eighth year in the league, Brey feels comfortable with the characteristics of Notre Dame's opponents.

"The interesting thing about the league for me is I know the coaching styles in the league," he said. "One of the reasons the league is so good is so many players are back. So it's not like I need to watch loads and loads of tape of everybody because everybody has just about a lot of the same guys back and they haven't changed that much."

Brey admits that is not totally the case with the Irish's first opponent.

"Now DePaul is a little different because they have some new faces and I've had to spend more time on them and they haven't been on TV that much," he said.

But with a veteran group, Brey has a team that is also experienced.

"I told these guys, I said, ‘Fellas, I don't have to talk to you long about negotiating the league. You've won 25 league games in the last two years, but this is going to be harder than the last two years so let's be ready.'"

Two road games to start conference play will get Notre Dame's attention, but Brey is not worried about his team's focus.

"Their concentration level has been a little like the three days before Maui. They knew that was a big event and I thought they were really focused over there," he said. "There's no question when you got away from there your concentration level can go up and down, but they've been waiting on this."

Notre Dame will not be looking past any Big East games, especially ones away from the Joyce Center.

"If we're fortunate enough to win at DePaul, we are thrilled about that," said Brey. "You just try to scratch each one of them out, celebrate if you can win for a little bit, if you don't win it, regroup and here comes another one."

The Irish will make up for what they lack in athletic ability in the league with teamwork.

"Maybe more than any other team in the league or teams projected to get a bid, we really rely on each other's stuff," said Brey. "The sum of the parts of this group is maybe more important than the other groups because there is maybe some just sheer talent on some other groups that can take over at times. We really need those seven guys, eight guys to do their thing and be right and that means low-post touches then when it's doubled, kicking it out and being able to rely on each other defensively.

"I think there is more on us to be together in ourselves more consistently or we can look just kind of average if we get out of character or don't do our jobs. This group has been doing the same job for awhile, you can't get bored doing that job, you've got to do it everyday. Again, if we get one or two guys off the page then we're just okay and the league is just too good to mess around with it."

The Irish posted a 14-4 mark in conference play last season, but Brey is not expecting that kind of success through this gauntlet.

"I don't know if anybody in this league is going to see 14 league wins," he said.

Brey has stressed that the conference slate will be a test to see who can respond best to defeat all year and liked how his team responded to a tough loss against Ohio State by pulling out a victory against Boston University.

"There's going to be a lot of that in this league for every team," he said. "How do you bounce back after a tough one because the next one's coming fast and if it spins you into three or four losses in a row, that's when I think you're going to be in trouble." Top Stories