Last year, the Fighting Irish were so wracked by injuries that it was often a struggle to find enough healthy bodies to practice. This season, coach Mike Brey will have the opposite problem -- finding enough playing time for a cadre of talented players.
Add two more returning starters, steady co-captain Jordan Cornette and shooter Chris Quinn. Cornette is one of the invaluable players who does all the little things you need to win, and Quinn can hit shots from anywhere when he gets on a roll.
As for the fifth starter? Brey could go with Rick Cornett, whose rebounding numbers belie his size. Or he could pick Dennis Latimore, the Arizona transfer who provides a huge talent boost for the frontcourt.
Add steady backcourt reserve Colin Falls, and you've got a very solid seven-man rotation. Add a healthy Omari Israel and talented freshman Rob Kurz, and you can see why Brey is concerned about finding minutes for everyone.
This will be the 100th season of Notre Dame basketball. The Irish should be able to celebrate with a return to the NCAAs after a one-year absence.
STRENGTHS: If everyone stays healthy, the Fighting Irish have the talent, depth and flexibility to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. Torin Francis and Chris Thomas are among the college basketball elite, and the Irish also have rebounding and scoring threats.
WEAKNESSES: This team struggled last season when Chris Thomas tried to shoulder too much of the offensive load. He'll be much better as a pure point, but if he feels like he needs to score 20 points per game for this team to win, the Irish will have problems.
LAST YEAR: 19-13 overall, 9-7 in the Big East; lost in NIT quarterfinals.
HEAD COACH: Mike Brey (career 184-96); fifth year at Notre Dame (85-44).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think I'm going to have to push a lot of buttons this season. We have a very focused group of guys who know what they want to accomplish. We've tasted success and know what it's like to play in the NCAA Tournament." -- Head coach Mike Brey
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Dennis Latimore will be the biggest addition. The 6-8 Arizona transfer sat out last season under NCAA rules, but may well be starting by the season opener. He'll provide both points and toughness. Freshman Rob Kurz can rebound and play defense, and will get some minutes, and Omari Israel finally gets to play after sitting out last season as a redshirt.
KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: Dec. 4 at Michigan -- Say this about Mike Brey's squad -- it's going to get a lot of tests on the road before conference play starts. This is the first of a back-to-back Big Ten road swing -- Indiana follows on Dec. 8 -- and is an early way for the team to show that it's a legitimate Top 25 team.
PROGRAM DIRECTION: Ascending. With the core of last year's team back and the addition of Lattimore, there's no reason why the Irish can't get to the Sweet 16 and beyond.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Point guard Chris Thomas, shooting guard Colin Quinn, center Torin Francis, power forward Dennis Latimore, small forward Jordan Cornette.
ROSTER REPORT: It was an offseason of surgeries for Notre Dame, but all appear to have been successful. Both Torin Francis and Chris Thomas went under the knife, Francis to repair a herniated disk and Thomas to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery. Both were ready to practice in October. ... Rick Cornett underwent offseason surgery for a stress fracture in his left foot; it went fine and he's back at practice. ... Omari Israel missed the entire 2003-04 season recovering from ACL surgery, but he practiced with the team throughout his redshirt year and is likewise ready to roll.