SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame has taken a roller-coaster ride to the final week of the men’s basketball season.
With games remaining at home against Connecticut (17-12, 7-9 Big East) at 7 p.m. today and at Marquette (19-9, 10-6) at 2 p.m. Saturday, the Irish (19-10, 8-8) could hold their NCAA tournament fate in their hands.
You play your way in or out of the NCAA tournament in January, February, March, and we’ve done both, Irish coach Mike Brey said of Notre Dame in the last 10 seasons.
Notre Dame appeared to be playing its way out of the NCAA tournament for a second straight season thanks to a swoon in January and when All-American forward Luke Harangody suffered a knee injury Feb. 11.
The Irish went 1-4 from Jan. 16 to 30, ending the stretch by giving Rutgers its first Big East win of the season, but they bounced back with home wins over Cincinnati (83-65 Feb. 4) and South Florida (65-62 Feb. 7) to remain in the at-large conversation.
Then disaster hit Feb. 11 when Harangody suffered a bone bruise on his right knee in a 90-87 loss to Seton Hall. And without their star, the Irish lost back-to-back games against St. John’s (69-68 Feb. 14 at home) and Louisville (91-89 in double overtime Feb. 17 on the road).
But instead of preparing for a possibly unwanted home game in the NIT, Notre Dame scored wins over then-No. 12 Pittsburgh (68-53 Feb. 24 at home) and then-No. 11 Georgetown (78-64 Saturday on the road) to return to the NCAA tournament picture.
I don’t think one good week gets the Irish into the field, said Jeff Eisenberg, editor of Yahoo Sports’ college basketball blog, The Dagger. They have too many curious losses and not enough marquee wins prior to last week to be a shoo-in.
If Notre Dame sweeps Marquette and UConn this week and avoids a first-round exit in the Big East tournament, I think that’s enough to get them in.
With seven victories over teams in the RPI top 100 and three victories over Top-25 teams (West Virginia, Pittsburg and Georgetown), the Irish have a case for why they should be in the NCAA tournament.
But with losses to Rutgers and Loyola-Marymount and a 3-7 record away from Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame’s critics have a case to keep them out.
We’ve got nothing to lose right now, Irish guard Tory Jackson said. A lot of people are still doubting us.
Though Notre Dame is being discussed as a possible tournament team, the Irish are not paying attention, just as they ignored when analysts said they were going to miss the tournament.
We have to focus on what we got within the 14 guys on that court, said Carleton Scott, who has averaged 10.7 points and 6.4 rebounds since filling in for Harangody in the starting lineup the last three games.
We just trust each other. We go out there every day, talk it up and see what goes on from there.