Down the Stretch

Down the Stretch

No. 21 Notre Dame emerged a solid 7-4 and 1.5 games out of first place in the Big East standings after its first 11 league games. They're likewise just a half-game out of ninth in a muddled, ever-changing race. Irisheyes.com looks at the last seven conference games of the season for Mike Brey's Irish, a set that includes three road tilts vs. Top 25 teams.

Three good wins: at Cincinnati, vs. Villanova, and most recently vs. Louisville.

Three "no harm done" losses: Connecticut, at St. John's, and one as expected at Syracuse.

A pair of home wins they had to have, beating Seton Hall and Rutgers, plus an overtime road victory in a game they couldn't afford to lose at DePaul, and another away from home vs. 1-10 South Florida.

That's Notre Dame's conference season to date.

Coupled with a win over Kentucky in December and 12-1 non-conference mark overall, it's a body of work that has Mike Brey's Irish at 19-5, squarely inside the NCAA's Field of 68, and also in what appears to be a seven-team race for a regular season Big East championship.

Below is our first look at the remaining path -- challenging to be sure, but no more so than that faced by teams such as #18 Marquette, #6 Syracuse, #15 Georgetown, and #16 Pittsburgh, teams but 1.5 to a half-game ahead of the Irish in the current conference standings.

Return Trip Trio -- DePaul, Cincinnati, St. John's

Notre Dame has already played each on the road, beating DePaul in overtime to kick off February, coming back and handling Cincinnati in the second half in early January, and blowing a winnable game late at St. John's in Madison Square Garden, Brey's regular season House of Horrors.

The Irish likely have to finish 3-0 vs. this trio to challenge for a conference crown. A 2-1 finish here puts pressure on the remaining road games, especially...

Trap City, courtesy of "Friar Town"

Though just 4-7 in Big East play, Providence has been a tough out at home, beating Cincinnati and Villanova and taking Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the wire plus Connecticut to overtime.

Don't be surprised if Notre Dame is no more than a 3-point favorite on game day (Saturday), even in a likely 8-4 vs. 4-8 matchup. (Providence is at South Florida Thursday prior to hosting the Irish.)

Satisfied (and then some) with a Split

Brey and the Irish recorded recent upsets in visits to both Pittsburgh and Marquette's home courts, but the Petersen Events Center and Bradley Center have historically been cruel to the Irish, with Notre Dame dropping five straight at both prior to the aforementioned upset wins.

The Panthers have beaten both Connecticut and Syracuse in their last two homes games, and worse for Notre Dame, the Irish visit follows a two-game road trip by the Panthers -- coming home is usually an elixir for contending teams in Big East play.

The matchup does however pit teams both on the tail end of Saturday/Monday swings: Notre Dame will hit the Steel City after facing Providence in Rhode Island; Pittsburgh returns home after a Saturday date with current conference leader Marquette.

The Irish play the Golden Eagles to kick off March, a five (Notre Dame) and four-day break (Marquette) sets up the crucial rivalry contest.

Good Luck With That -- at #12 Louisville

Its hard to imagine Notre Dame having an emotional edge at Louisville on the Cardinals Senior Day, not in the wake of last weekend's epic five overtime thriller. Then again, its hard to imagine any contest between the teams decided in regulation, with six of the last eight played to overtime, including the last three at Louisville and four of the last five taking extra sessions.

Remaining Slate

A look at Notre Dame's remaining games prior to March's Big East Tournament:

February 13, DePaul, 7:00 PM ET
February 16, at Providence, 12:00 PM ET
February 18 at #16 Pittsburgh, 7 PM ET
February 24 Cincinnati, 2 PM ET
March 2 at #16 Marquette, 2 PM ET
March 5 St. John's 7 PM ET (Senior Night)
March 9 at #12 Louisville 4 PM ET (Louisville Senior Day)

Conference Standings as of February 13:
#6 Syracuse (8-2)
#18 Marquette (8-3)
#15 Georgetown (8-3)
#16 Pittsburgh (8-4)
#21 Notre Dame (7-4)
#12 Louisville (7-4)
Connecticut (6-4)
St. John's (7-5)
Cincinnati (7-5)
Villanova (6-6)
Providence (4-7)
Rutgers (4-8)
Seton Hall (2-10)
DePaul (1-9)
South Florida (1-10)

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