By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND -- Notre Dame coach Mike Brey joked Tuesday that he knows of a surefire way to make certain the Fighting Irish don't have another midseason swoon like last season.
"If we could play in the Big Ten, maybe that would help us a little bit," he said.
Brey was in a good mood Tuesday, a day after learning that forward Luke Harangody, who led the Big East in scoring and rebounding the past two seasons, will be back for his senior year. Just as important, though, after losing four seniors, including three starters, the Irish add two highly touted transfers.
Ben Hansbrough, a 6-foot-3 guard who started 28 of Mississippi State's 34 games during the 2007-08 season and was fourth on the team with a 10.5 scoring average, and Scott Martin, a 6-foot-8 forward who started eight games for Purdue the same season, averaging 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds, will help take the load off Harangody.
"If we didn't have the two kids getting eligible, I would have told him to stay in the draft," Brey told reporters. "I think it would have been smart because I think it would have been too much of a risk with us rebuilding with a lot of young guys."
Instead of having to rely heavily on freshmen big men Jack Cooley, Mike Broghammer and Tom Knight, Brey can let Harangody mentor them.
Harangody learned a lot during a two-month process where he worked out for NBA teams, losing 10 pounds and convincing himself he's ready to play in the pros. He wasn't ready, though, to give up his college career.
"Last season didn't go as we wanted, and I feel with the additions we made to the team this year and with the freshmen coming in we have a strong nucleus to make a run in the Big East and even the NCAA tournament," Harangody said. "That's why I came back."
Notre Dame started last season ranked No. 9 and talked about advancing to the NCAA tournament Final Four for the first time since making its only appearance in 1978. Instead, the Irish went through a seven-game losing streak in midseason and finished 21-15, losing to Penn State in the National Invitation Tournament semifinal.
"I didn't want to go out on the year we had last year," Harangody said.
The Irish lose four of their top six scorers in Kyle McAlarney (15 points a game), Ryan Ayers (11.1), Luke Zeller (4.9) and Zach Hillesland (4.6). The only returning starter besides Harangody is point guard Tory Jackson, who was fourth on the team in scoring with 10.6 points a game and sixth in the Big East with 4.9 assists a game.
But Brey and Harangody believe the two transfers, along with a slightly easier Big East with players like Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet, Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair and others leaving, give the Irish a chance.
"I don't think you're ever going to see a league like that again," Harangody said.
Brey believes the Irish could be better offensively. After averaging 79 points a game in going 25-8 during the 2007-08 season, which led the league, the Irish were seventh in the league last year at 75.8 points a game. He also thinks they can do a better job on defense and rebounding.
Brey talked to Harangody about his chance to become the school's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, but he didn't want to hear about it.
"Obviously that would be great to have those records, you can't lie about that," Harangody said. "But that's not the reason I came back to school. If I get the records, great; if I don't, great. I'm just looking to have a great season, like coach said, getting back to the NCAA tournament."