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    Notre Dame coach Mike Brey stated that Steve Vasturia will start in the backcourt for the Irish this season. Former New Haven standout V.J. Beachem is also expected to start at one of the forward spots.
October 19, 2016 1:02 AM

Irish facing a year of questions

Making it to tourney anything but a given with depleted roster

Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND  – The talk about Notre Dame is whether this upcoming season will be one of those rare times the Irish miss the NCAA tournament. Within their locker room, there is no chatter about the Big Dance. By design.

At the team’s media day Tuesday, Irish coach Mike Brey relayed a conversation with a season-ticket holder on that topic.

“There was a great question, ‘What’s your goal?’ Well, there’s no question that in that locker room I don’t have to talk about any goals,” Brey said. “This group of guys talks about playing past the Elite Eight, and that’s awesome when your culture generates that kind of leadership and tone without me getting involved.”

Notre Dame has made the NCAA tourney eight of the past 10 seasons, with 2009 and 2014 being the only exceptions. But there is some concern over whether this edition has enough star power given the offseason departures of point guard Demetrius Jackson and center Zach Auguste. The offseason before, Brey lost Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton.

“All summer, everybody said, ‘Well how are you going to be?’ My comment was, ‘We just lost four NBA players in two years,’ which is a major drain on your talent,” Brey said. “I know how hard it is to just earn an NCAA bid. You’ve got to get access to the thing before you can have fun in March like we’ve had the last two years, and it will be harder for us to get a bid this year than it was the previous two years given what we’ve lost and that our league (the Atlantic Coast Conference) is amazingly deep.”

Still, shooting guard Steve Vasturia can’t imagine anything other than seeing Notre Dame in the bracket on Selection Sunday.

“It’s been a great run the past couple years, so I think being a part of two Elite Eights is awesome, but once you get to it, the guys in here are hungry and want to get over that hump (to the Final Four),” Vasturia said. “I think that’s achievable for this team.”

Brey said if the season started today that his starting lineup would be Vasturia and Matt Farrell as the guards, Martinas Geben at center and V.J. Beachem and Bonzi Colson as the forwards.

But Brey cautioned that he has two exhibition games to sort things out before the real games begin Nov. 12 against Bryant.

Beachem, the former New Haven standout, said the identity of the new-look Irish is “coming into form.”

“I think after we get back from (fall) break, that will be very important 10 days before our first exhibition game (Nov. 1 at home against Mercy College),” Beachem said. “I think it’s something that will grow throughout the year. But I think right now we have a pretty good feel. It’s not set in stone what that would be. But I think we have a chance to be better.”

Brey at least sees a “great chance” to get to the NCAAs, even if he’s not writing it on the white board.

“People I think always respected our program even before the last two years,” Brey said. “We were solid. The last two years have kind of kicked us into a new level. It drives the confidence of that locker room.”