According to the Big East, the Irish and UConn will likely play twice again in the regular season, only this year the regular season is expected to end with Notre Dame playing at UConn.
Last season: 29-6, with three of the defeats coming to UConn, including in the Big East tournament semifinals. Notre Dame qualified for its eighth Sweet 16 in 14 years and was ranked in the Top 15 in the final Associated Press (7th) and ESPN/USA Today (11th) polls. It was its seventh 25-win season in the past 14 years. The Irish were ranked high in eight NCAA categories, including steals (4th - 12.9), assists (6th - 18.1), scoring offense (11th - 77.2), scoring margin (13th - 14.9) and field goal percentage (16th - .454). They won the 2009 Paradise Jam Island Division title and opened the season with a 15-game winning streak, setting school records along the way for steals (450) and turnovers forced (791). The Fighting Irish finished fourth in the country in attendance (8,377), the best in school history with six sellouts.
Who's gone, who's back: Like UConn, the Irish have been hit hard by graduation, losing guards Melissa Lechlitner, Lindsay Schrader and Ashley Barlow and center Erica Williamson.
Lechlitner led the team in assists (3.2), three-point percentage (.420) and free throw percentage (.849), setting career highs in all three. She was a two-year tri-captain who started all 35 games and played a team-high 1,030 minutes. She ranks among the top 10 in school history in career games played (131), free throw percentage (.800) and assists ( 388).
Schrader is one of only four players in school history with 1,400 points and 800 rebounds and holds school records for double-doubles by a guard in both a single season (seven in 2008-09) and a career (17). She was a two-time all-Big East Conference selection and an Associated Press and State Farm Coaches' honorable mention All-America selection this season. . . . Barlow is the only Fighting Irish basketball player (male or female) with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists and 250 steals in her career. A two-year captain, she graduates in the top 10 in 12 of Notre Dame's career categories. Barlow is a two-time second-team all-league choice who led Notre Dame with a career-high 53 three-pointers this season with a .363 field goal percentage.
But sophomore guard Skylar Diggins may soon be one of the best players in the nation. She led the team in scoring (13.9) and steals and made 35 percent of her three-pointers. She'll be joined in the backcourt by junior Natalie Novosel, who started four games last season. Senior forward Becca Bruszewski gave UConn fits last season and senior forward Devereaux Peters is experienced. The freshmen class includes Natalie Achonwa, a 6-3 forward from Guelph, Ontario, Ariel Braker, a 6-1 forward from Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., and Kayla McBride, a 5-11 guard from Erie, Pa.
What's at stake: The Big East figures to be much better next season with St. John's, Georgetown and West Virginia amped to take a run at UConn. But the Irish will always have a fundamentally sound team with veteran coach Muffet McGraw in control and Diggins in charge of the offense. And since the Irish and Huskies will likely end the regular season against each other, there is always the chance Notre Dame can keep UConn from perhaps a third consecutive unbeaten season.