Whatever happens the rest of this season for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team, its Big East Conference swan song is now officially scheduled for 2013-14, head coach Mike Brey confirmed Wednesday. A deal to move all Fighting Irish sports other than football and hockey was announced in September, and both Brey and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick appeared eager to make the switch by the start of the next academic year.
Notre Dame will compete in the Big East for the final time in 2013-14 before moving to the ACC.
The football program’s contract to play five ACC teams per year is to kick in beginning in 2014, but Swarbrick revealed in December that the school wasn’t bound by the same potential early-exit penalties for the remainder of its athletic stable as other Big East institutions.
That scheduling for next season is already in motion, combined with a lack of progression by the seven Catholic basketball programs in the Big East expected to break away and form their own conference — now believed to be in 2014-15 — Swarbrick made the decision on Feb. 1 to stay put.
“It looked like the Catholic schools were not going to be able to formulate this league that they’re going to put together by next season,” he explained. “Now, I think anything could happen. Could they put it together in the next six weeks? Nothing would shock me. But I think they feel they’re going to be in [the Big East next year], we’re going to be in there, so the last hurrah is going to be next year, not this year.”
A sentimental Brey didn’t appear all that disappointed by the news.
“You know what? I’m okay with that,” he said. “I’ve had a little buyer’s remorse on this ACC [deal]. Going through the [Big East this year] and playing in all these buildings and wondering if it’s going to be the last [time]. … That you know you’re in the Big East, you can start to schedule your non-league stuff.
“Right now we have Indiana down at the Crossroads [Classic], and it looks like we’ll be in what we call the Gotham Classic, which ends up playing Ohio State in [Madison Square] Garden as far as power games. Santa Clara will come here on a one-game stint. After that, now that we know we’ll be in the Big East, we’ll start to investigate what we want to do with other stuff.”
Notre Dame has never won a Big East regular-season title or conference tournament crown since joining in 1995. At 18-5 overall and 6-4 in league play this season heading into Saturday’s tilt with visiting and 11th-ranked Louisville (19-4, 7-3), the 25th-ranked Fighting Irish are fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a retooled lineup.
It’s been a wild regular season for the Big East, which features Syracuse and Marquette tied at the top of the standings with 7-2 records. Louisville is third, followed by Georgetown (6-3), Pittsburgh and St. John’s, which both have 7-4 marks. The Irish, coming off a 63-47 loss to Syracuse Monday at the Carrier Dome, will play host to ESPN’s College GameDay crew Saturday when the Cardinals visit.
“It’s great. How about the drama in college basketball?” Brey said. “It’s going to make for an unbelievable NCAA Tournament. I just hope we can be part of that thing. We just want to get one of those 68 spots. Our league continues to be the drama queen league and the most-watched league. It’s just amazing what’s going on. We’re right in the thick of this thing. I looked at our schedule and five of our last eight are in the top 57 of the RPI. I think it’s going to be an interesting stretch run with what you’ve seen happen with top teams, teams that were picked in the top three or four of the preseason Big East poll getting nailed.
“You’re just trying to handle your business, and you don’t get too low after a tough loss and you can’t celebrate a good win. Short memories is the key in the Big East.”
The only other time GameDay was on campus (Jan. 24, 2009) didn’t go so well. Trying to protect a 45-game home win streak, the Irish fell to Connecticut, 69-61. Brey said he didn’t handle the situation well and that his players were too tight. This time around he plans to enjoy “the circus” that’s coming to town.
“I’ve got my cotton candy,” he said. “I am going to have fun; we are going to enjoy it; I’m going to be with the students. Someone said there’s going to be a game in there somewhere at 9 o’clock. I’ll get to that later. … You’ve just got to embrace it.”
Scott Martin’s status is up in the air
It has been two weeks since sixth-year senior captain Scott Martin was shelved so he could try and salvage a piece of the remainder of the year after suffering with knee problems. There is a possibility he’ll play Saturday against the Cardinals, but it depended on how he looked in practice Wednesday and Thursday after very little physical activity over the past 15 days.
“He is feeling better,” Brey said. “I think he’s going to shoot a little bit today and tomorrow. I just think we’re kind of day-to-day evaluating. I certainly don’t want to rush him back. I’d like that [knee] to be really calmed down before we bring him back. I think we’re still in limbo because if he goes hard on it for two days, are we right back where we started from. This is a tricky one to kind of evaluate. But he is going to get out on the court and shoot with us today in some non-contact drills.”