Mike Brey doesn't have his traditional basketball team this season.
His roster consists of one name associated with national recognition, unproven underclassmen, the younger, over-shadowed brother of Tyler Hansbrough himself, and potential.
However, the most glaring difference in Brey's roster this season is what lacks—a one-dimensional specialists.
Last year, the Irish were dubbed as a top 10 preseason team before taking on the challenge of the Big East's toughest schedule. After a seven-game losing streak in the middle of conference play, Brey and his team found themselves ending their season in Madison Square Garden in the NIT.
Thanks to a new starting five and a change of personnel, the Irish find themselves sitting at 10-2 with just 10 days left before their conference slate begins.
While wins against UCLA and Long Beach State are decent OOC wins, Notre Dame did fail to get a resume-boosting win. With a disappointing loss to Loyola-Marymount, the Irish will need to win at least 11 games in-conference in order to have a shot at making the Dance.
Thus far, the Irish have proved that they can play like a top 25 team, or a bottom 25 team. Although the latter has been much more rare, shooting slumps may result in an unexpected loss for Harangody and company during Big East play.
However, that is not to say the Irish won't be making any noise. Fully expect the Irish to shake things up in the top half of the conference, especially as the season progresses.
Underclassmen forwards, Tim Abromatis (15.8 PPG) and Ty Nash (5.1 RPG) both will progress significantly as the schedule plays out. Abromatis has already proven to be the second scorer needed to compliment Harangody's game, and when he is hot, Notre Dame can play with anyone in the conference.
Nash, along with athletic-freak Caerlton Scott, have given Brey hope in the frontcourt opposite no. 44, especially on the offensive glass.
Tory Jackson and Hansbrough have combined to give Brey a solid backcourt thus far into the season and are doing everything expected of them. Jackson has cut down his scoring, but in result, has been dishing the ball better than ever and without turnovers.
One thing Brey may need to do before conference play, however, is add an eighth man to the rotation.
Playing with seven players during the grueling months of January and February will be a struggle. Adding an additional man, preferably either freshman forward Mike Broghammer or guard Joey Brooks, may play dividends come March.
If the Irish can continue to play defense like they did against UCLA on Saturday, expect a top six finish. Any team finishing in the top six in the Big East this season will be a tourney lock.
However, if Notre Dame fails to compliment its skilled offense with an average defense, a top 10 finish might even be out of the question with teams like Seton Hall and Cincinnati looking much improved from last season.