Notre Dame will close its regular-season men's basketball schedule tonight against Villanova with plenty on the line during Senior Night.
The Irish, who were slightly bumped up the Associated Press Top 25 from No. 9 to 8 in this afternoon's poll, can make a big step into the Big East tournament with a victory over the No. 19 Wildcats ()21-8, 9-7).
Notre Dame (23-5, 12-4) can earn a free pass in the opening two rounds of the tourney with a victory, which would also continue to put pressure on league leader Pittsburgh (25-4, 13-3).
The Irish enter tonight a game behind the Panthers, and Notre Dame can secure the top seed in the Big East tournament if Pitt loses one more game and the Irish win their final two. Notre Dame would also be the No. 1 seed in the Big East if the two teams end the season with same conference record thanks to the Irish's 56-51 upset of the Panthers on Jan. 24.
But before any positioning for the conference tournament can really be talked about, Notre Dame has to get past a wounded Villanova team.
The Wildcats have lost four of their last six and come into Purcell Pavilion tonight on a two-game losing streak.
Corey Fisher, Villanova's leading scorer at 15.5 points per game, has struggled in his last two games scoring two in an 81-68 loss to St. John's on Saturday and eight in a 69-64 loss to Syracuse on Feb. 21.
Villanova also has dangerous offensive options in Corey Stokes (15.2 points per game) and Maalik Wayns (13.3).
Notre Dame counters with Ben Hansbrough, who is averaging 18 points, Tim Abromaitis, who averages 14.9, and Carleton Scott, who averages 11.4.
And the Irish's biggest advantage is they don't lose at home.
Notre Dame is the only Big East team not to lose a home league conference game this season, and the Irish are 16-0 in Purcell this year. A win tonight would secure the program's third undefeated home mark in the last five seasons.
One thing that could trip the Irish up is the emotions of the night. Though they start five seniors, the program is only saying home goodbyes to two starters – Hansbrough and Tyrone Nash. The other senior honored tonight is Tom Kopko.
If Hansbrough and Nash, who is averaging 9.5 points, play like they have all season, the Irish should be able to close with a perfect home record and lock up the double-bye in the Big East tournament.