The Notre Dame men’s basketball team has a lot to think about on its flight from Rhode Island to Pittsburgh this afternoon, starting with what went wrong in Saturday’s 71-54 loss to Providence, which was about everything imaginable.
Notre Dame can still make some noise in the Big East in the final stretch, but a lot is riding on Monday's game at Pitt.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee also has quite a bit to ponder when it comes to including the Fighting Irish next month. Head coach Mike Brey’s squad has made it much more difficult than necessary this season.
With three straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament and eight in Brey’s previous 12 seasons, Notre Dame might not get the benefit of the doubt this year as has been the case with a number of Big East programs over the years. The league produced nine tournament teams last year, an unprecedented 11 in 2011 and eight in 2010. Including the 2007-08 season when Notre Dame was among eight league teams selected, it has gotten significantly easier for the Irish to punch their dance cards in recent years compared to Brey’s first few seasons in South Bend.
When Notre Dame was chosen in 2000-01, only four other Big East schools went as well. In 2001-02, six teams, including Notre Dame, played in the NCAA Tournament, and the following year produced just four (eventual champion Syracuse and Sweet 16 runs by Notre Dame, Connecticut and Pittsburgh).
Some things to think about:
All that matters is Pitt
Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette remain tied at the top of the Big East Conference standings at 9-3, with Louisville at 8-4.
Louisville plays at South Florida Sunday, and a win by the Cardinals would put them at 9-4 in the league and earn a designation as only the fourth team to collect nine wins with three weeks remaining in the regular season. The Irish (8-5) travel to Louisville to wrap up the year on Feb. 9. If the Irish don’t get up for that game, and all it means, the revenge-driven Cardinals (loser of a five-overtime game in South Bend) could run them out of the gym.
But first things first — that won’t matter if Notre Dame doesn’t first rebound from the Providence loss with a much better effort Monday at fellow 8-5 Pitt. This is the game that will set the tone for the rest of the season, and it doesn’t get any easier after that with a home contest against Cincinnati, a visit to Marquette and a home tilt with St. John’s, which beat the Irish handily back on Jan. 15, before the finale against Louisville.
The Irish will need some help to earn a quarterfinal bye (given to the top four teams) in the Big East Tournament, and then will need a victory at Madison Square Garden to solidify a spot in the NCAA Tournament. It starts with beating Pitt and finding a way to win at least two of their final four before heading to New York.
The time for quality wins is now
As of Sunday afternoon, Notre Dame ranked 49th in the Ratings Percentage Index, which was eighth in the Big East. Most experts believe seven or eight league teams will make the NCAA Tournament this season. To be safe, let’s assume seven advance. Notre Dame is 2-3 against teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, with victories over Louisville and Cincinnati, and games still to play against Louisville (eighth), Marquette (15th), Pitt (32nd) and Cincinnati (40th). Notre Dame is 2-5 against teams ranked 50-100 in the RPI this season. This could be the stretch Notre Dame falls to pieces or bolsters its resume drastically.
Three for the road
Poor shooting against Providence wasn’t the only reason the Irish didn’t have a chance to win the game, but it was a major contributor in the blowout. The Irish matched a season-low total with one made three-pointer (on 14 attempts). Notre Dame also made just one triple in a 67-63 loss at St. John’s on Jan. 15. The 7.1-percent shooting from behind the arc against the Friars Saturday was by far the lowest since Notre Dame went 1-for-20 (5 percent) in a 57-44 win over California on Nov. 26, 2010, at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla.
The Irish have led the league for most of the year in 3-point shooting percentage and are currently atop the list at 37.6 percent. They’ve converted 32.9 percent of their attempts from deep in six league road games, including 23.4 percent (11-for-47) in their last three Big East road games.