Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 11/3/11

Notre Dame basketball had an unexpected breakthrough season last year, even though it ended very poorly. They had the second best record in the Big East and were just one Big East tournament win away from probably securing a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Of course, there was the disaster upset to #10 seed Florida State very close to home at Chicago’s United Center. Still it doesn’t take away from all that the team accomplished last year.

Last year’s Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough is now playing professionally in Germany.

However, Tim Abromaitis is still in South Bend, and he’s a nightmare match-up due to his ability to stroke it from deep and use his size to back down defenders in the post.

Abro could potentially be a 20-point per night scorer and Big East Player of the Year candidate if he can once again shoot higher than 40% from three.  He should get more scoring opportunities due to the losses of Hansbrough, Ty Nash, and Carleton Scott.

The Irish lose three starters this year, but return Abro and Scott Martin, who’s kind of like a middle class man’s Abromaitis.

On the strength of 28 points and nine rebounds from Abro and a double-double from junior forward Jack Cooley, ND opened its 2011-12 season with a 90-72 exhibition victory over Saint Xavier (Oak Lawn, Illinois- SICA!) on Tuesday night at the Joyce Center.

Along with Abromaitis’ near double-double, Cooley produced 14 points and 11 rebounds, while sophomore guard Eric Atkins showed he’s ready to run the point, scoring 19 points and dishing out six assists with just one turnover. A scrappy Saint Xavier team battled the Irish for much of the first half, taking its only lead of the game at 13-12 and trailing by just two (28-26) at the 8:24 mark. From there, Notre Dame went on a 23-13 run, keyed by Abromaitis’ 11 points over the final 7:23, to stretch its halftime lead to 12 points. Abro dropped 20 first-half points, going 6-of-13 from the field, including 3-of-7 from three-point range.

Granted it’s an exhibition, versus a D-3 team, but it shows who the alpha dog will be this year.

And beyond that, there could be many minutes this season when Abro and Martin are the two biggest guys on the floor.

“Can Abromaitis and Martin play as our two biggest guys and we play a little smaller? Yeah we can. They’re both 6-8, one’s 240 the other’s 220 I think they’re smart enough to guard big guys and maybe we play a little smaller on the perimeter,” ND Coach Mike Brey said at media day.

ND wasn’t exactly ranked high last preseason, yet they ended up having a banner season, and they were more nationally relevant than the college football team at their school has been in almost 20 years. Again, they fly under the proverbial radar this year.

“Like last year, people are going to underestimate us and we can prove that we’re as talented and capable as anybody out there,”Abro said.

And Abromaitis is used to the underdog role.

“I don’t know if I like it, but it’s something I’ve gotten used to. We’re in the middle of the Big East and have to prove ourselves. but I think we all have high expectations for ourselves and we believe we’re going to live up to them,” he continued.

For our Notre Dame season preview go here.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, a Google News site generating millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports.

A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; he’s also a member of the FWAA, USBWA and SPJ. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.

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