Saturday, February 21, 2009


February 21, 2009

It is crunch time for Big East teams as we have just three weekends left of regular season action. Saturday is a day full of NCAA Tournament bubble implications and the Big East starts it off with Notre Dame and Providence meeting in Rhode Island.

The Irish are 5-8 in the Big East and 14-11 overall. They are coming off a disappointing road loss to West Virginia where they wasted a quick start that saw them get out to an early 10-point lead and eventually lose 79-68. Once again, their defense let them down as it was too easy for the Mountaineers to erase the deficit and pull away in the second half.

Almost any way you look at it, Notre Dame MUST have this game. A lose would make them 5-9 and they still have to play at UConn and host Villanova, meaning they would have to sweep their final four games to reach .500 in Big East play, the number Rick Pitino thinks a team MUST have to be considered for the NCAA Tournament.

“If you don’t have a winning record in your conference, you’re not getting an NCAA berth,” said the Louisville coach in this week’s Big East coaches conference call.

Providence is 8-6 in the Big East, but just 16-10 overall as they failed to win any of their meaningful out of conference games, aside from in-state rival Rhode Island. They have a road game with Rutgers left, but Pittsburgh and Villanova also are on the schedule. Winning a marquee game is probably a must, but dropping this one is likely fatal to their NCAA chances.

Providence failed to earn such a marquee win in their last outing, a 94-76 loss at Louisville. The Friars led the game 46-45 at the half, but the Cards went on an early run in the second half to gain full control of the contest.

Both teams prefer a similar style of game, wide open with plenty of shooting opportunities. A free flowing game is not very common in the Big East, but it should be here. However, whoever will dedicate themselves on the defensive end of the floor could come up with the advantage. Mike Brey believes his team is ready to finish strong.

“Every league game now, there’s a lot riding on it [especially] when you’re in the position we’re in,” Brey said this week. “There’s no question about it. It’s not lost on us.”

While there is no magic mark for a conference record in order to make the NCAA Tournament, the Irish coach knows that, at a minimum, a .500 record will put you in the conversation on selection Sunday.

“I don’t think anybody would argue that a .500 record in the Big East this year is a very respectable record,” said Brey. “I think 9-9 is pretty good in our league this year.”

With Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney on the side of the Irish, they are likely to have the two best players in the game. However, finding complimentary players to step up and play with toughness, both mentally and physically, is the key to the Irish. Too often this season, that has not been the case and Harangody and McAlarney are seemingly on their own to decide the Irish fate. In the Big East, that is not going to win many games.

The Friars have a deeper team of contributors and are a very experienced group. Seniors Weyinmi Efejuku, Geoff McDermott, Jonathan Kale and Jeff Xavier all start, along with redshirt junior Sharaud Curry, and senior Randall Hanke is first off the bench. That experience has helped PC to a record of 8-6 in the conference to this point.

The Friars can usually count on contributions from all their veterans. Sophomore Marshon Brooks has been a big contributor off the bench. That consistent production from multiple positions and players is something the Irish do not receive. While Harangody will get his points and rebounds, that has not been enough to carry the Irish. Ryan Ayers seems to disappear too often and Tory Jackson is not enough of a scorer to add to an attack that seems to have to score more to be effective.

At this point in time, it just seems that Providence is the better team. While the Irish showed in their win over Louisville, they can still look pretty good, this is coming on the road and they have only managed to beat DePaul away from home in conference play. They have lost at St. John’s and Cincinnati among others.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Providence 81
Notre Dame 76

Notre Dame Knows Stakes vs. Providence (Chicago Tribune)
Expect a Shootout at the Dunk: Neither PC nor Notre Dame Can Defend (Providence Journal)



Post a Comment

<< Home