As Notre Dame prepares for the 2011-12 season, many things are the exact same as they were a year ago.
Once again, the Irish reflect on an early-exit from the NCAA tournament. Once again, the team leader has graduated and gone pro. And once again, these items have led to relatively low expectations for the upcoming season.
Last year, those low expectations resulted in a 26-6 record and a No. 5 ranking leading into the NCAA tournament, where the Irish were seeded second in their regional in Chicago.
"[I'm] thrilled to jump on the bus to come down the toll road over here," Brey said heading into the opening game against No. 15-seed Akron.
But when the Irish left Chicago, Brey was not as thrilled, suffering a 71-57 season-ending loss to No. 10-seed Florida State.
"We're all really leveled physically and emotionally because we invested so much," Brey said immediately afterward. "It's hard for me to frame the season right now."
Brey lost three starters to graduation from that squad — guard Ben Hansbrough and forwards Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott.
Hansbrough hoped to follow up his Big East Player of the Year award with a draft pick from the NBA, but did not receive an offer. Facing the NBA lockout, Hansbrough opted to head overseas to Germany to play for FC BayernMuenchen.
Nash, who left Notre Dame as the program's all-time winningest player with 96 total wins, also went undrafted and joined a separate professional team in Germany.
Scott, however, turned pro with one year of eligibility remaining, expecting to hear his name in the draft. He too did not get drafted to the NBA and has caught on with a team in Spain.
The loss of these three starters and their combined averages of 39.1 points per game, 17.2 rebounds and 9.0 assists forced Notre Dame to turn to newcomers to pick up the slack. But highly-touted recruit Eric Katenda suffered a severed optic nerve this summer, and his career on the court remains uncertain.
With or without Katenda, Notre Dame's starting five is yet to be determined. Senior guard Scott Martin and forward Tim Abromaitis will likely return to their starting spots, and will most likely be joined by sophomore guard Eric Atkins and junior forward Jack Cooley. Atkins and Cooley were the first two players off Brey's bench throughout last season.
The fifth piece of the puzzle will come down to a competition between junior guard Joey Brooks and sophomore guards Alex Dragicevich and Jerian Grant. Neither of the sophomores saw playing time last season.
Another unknown is Notre Dame's complete schedule, although some games are set. The Irish will face Big East opponents Connecticut, Rutgers and West Virginia twice apiece and play a game at Gonzaga. The team will also appear in the CBE Classic, where Notre Dame will host Detroit and Sam Houston State at home and face Missouri and either Cal or Georgia in Kansas City.
The full schedule will be released later this fall.