Following Flynt - Hoops Media Day

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4612974.jpegThough it was 70 degrees in South Bend yesterday and football season is only half over, it's time to begin turning some of our attention to the winter season.

Games will not start until November, but this week marks the beginning of the basketball season for the Irish men's and women's hoop teams.

While my role with Fighting Irish Digitial Media has been almost entirely dedicated to football thus far, I will also be covering the happenings on the hardwood.

Notre Dame is and probably always will be a "football school." From Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen to Lou Holtz and Rocket Ismail, Notre Dame's rise to national prominence as a university was due in part to the success achieved on the football field. However, Our Lady's University is home to 25 other accomplished varsity athletic teams, and basketball is no exception, especially as of late.

Led by longtime head coach Muffet McGraw, the women's team reached the NCAA championship game in Indianapolis last season, stunning perennial powers Tennessee and Connecticut along the way.

Though head coach Mike Brey's team did not have the postseason success it had hoped for, the Irish stormed through the BIG EAST schedule, finishing 14-4 and earning a No. 2 seed in the Southwest Region.

Conveniently, this year's basketball media day fell in the midst of football's bye week. McGraw and her team spoke with the media earlier, while Brey and his squad met with reporters afterward. The men's team was thrust into the spotlight even before media day, when it was announced that fifth-year forward Tim Abromaitis would miss the first four games due to a "misunderstanding in the technicality of an NCAA rule governing seasons of competition." Brey addressed that situation on Tuesday.

Here are a few of highlights from the media session with the men's team ...

Expectations: After losing Tyrone Nash, Carleton Scott and BIG EAST Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough, many do not expect the Irish to be among the top teams in the conference. This season Brey is preaching patience, understanding that his team is "going to take some punches." Still, he and his coaching staff are taking a similar approach as they have in the past, asking the question, "Can we fight into the top eight (of the BIG EAST?)"

Given the competitive nature of the BIG EAST, a top-eight finish would give the team a realistic chance of earning an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame has used the conference's strength to its advantage.

"There's always enough power in the schedule to play your way into the tournament," Brey explained. The 12th-year head coach is confident his team can fight its way into the NCAA conversation when it begins in early 2012.

Room For Everyone: With the departure of Nash, Scott and Hansbrough, Brey finds himself in an unfamiliar situation.

"I don't know if there was ever a team where I could tell on the first day of practice, 'All right let's start with this fellas ... everybody's playing.' I don't know if many coaches can say that."

Players probably won't be asking themselves, "Am I going to play?" or "How much am I going to play?" Instead, everyone is likely to be involved, which might be helpful in the latter part of the strenuous conference schedule.

Still, there are a lot of question marks regarding how minutes will be distributed in the Irish rotation.

"If we played tonight, I feel like we have four guys that have been in the battles and had success ... That's a good place to start," Brey said.

hose four include co-captains Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin, as well as Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley. It remains to be seen how players like Jerian Grant, Alex Dragicevich, Joey Brooks, Mike Broghammer and Tom Knight will factor into the mix as they gain more experience.

Eric Katenda: In July, the 6-foot-9 Irish recruit suffered a freak injury during a pick-up game, permanently losing vision in his left eye due to a severed optic nerve. The setback has jeopardized Katenda's basketball career, but Brey remains hopeful that the forward will be able to play again. A native of France, Katenda recently connected with former Duke guard Jon Scheyer. After an injury during an NBA workout, Scheyer only has 20 percent vision in his left eye, but has gone on to play professionally in Israel. Team doctors will evaluate Katenda when he arrives on campus in January.

Christmas Comes Early: Notre Dame's BIG EAST schedule kicks off with a home game against Pittsburgh, last year's regular season conference leader and the No. 1 seed in the Southeast Region. It will be a rematch of January's showdown in which the Irish upset the second-ranked Panthers, snapping a 20-game home winning streak. This year's game will be played at the Purcell Pavilion on Dec. 27.

Brey joked about celebrating Christmas with his family a few days early. "I don't know about Christmas this year for the Brey family because we've got Pitt rolling in Dec. 27," he said. "I'll tell you right now, I'm not going to be thinking about Christmas. We might have to do it on the 22nd because by the 25th, Merry Christmas, we've got Pitt coming in. Only in the BIG EAST would they do that."

- Josh Flynt ('11)

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