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Men’s Basketball: Irish, MU battle for fourth seed

Joe Meixell | Friday, February 23, 2007

Riding a three-game winning streak and looking to sew up a bye in the Big East tournament, No. 23 Notre Dame will take on No. 16 Marquette at the Joyce Center Saturday.

The Irish (21-6, 9-5 Big East) and Golden Eagles (22-7, 9-5) are tied for fourth place in the conference and in the race for a bye in the tournament in New York that goes with it.

Notre Dame can clinch a bye with a win and a Syracuse loss to Providence Saturday, while Marquette needs a win and two losses by the Orange to bypass the first round of the Big East tourney.

“There’s a lot on the line,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “I think our guys will be ready to play. Marquette and Notre Dame brings back a lot of memories.”

The Irish are also looking for their fourth straight victory after defeating Providence, Cincinnati and DePaul in a six-day stretch earlier this week.

“We’re going into the big game on Saturday feeling good about ourselves,” junior forward Rob Kurz said.

Notre Dame has a chance to finish 18-0 at the Joyce Center this season with a win Saturday. The Irish set the school record for home wins in a season with 17 in their win over the Blue Demons Tuesday.

“We have a chance to do something really impressive Saturday and finish undefeated at home,” senior guard Colin Falls said.

The Golden Eagles come into Saturday’s matchup after losing three of their last four, but Brey said he thinks Marquette’s 80-67 win over Villanova Monday gave them their confidence back.

“They’re back in gear,” he said. “They’re really, really talented.”

The Golden Eagles are led by sophomore guards Dominic James, Jarel McNeal and Wesley Matthews, who are averaging more than 40 points per game this season. Because all three are quick, they present match-up problems for the Irish.

Freshman Tory Jackson and senior Russell Carter will probably man-up two of them, while Falls and forward Zach Hillesland will most likely rotate on the third.

Inside, Marquette is weaker, with junior Ousmane Barro leading the big men with 8.4 points per game. Irish forwards Rob Kurz and Luke Harangody will look for the ball early and often on offense and will try to clog the lane against the quick guards of the Golden Eagles on defense.

With Notre Dame’s advantage in the low post, Brey said he wants to make Saturday’s contest a physical struggle similar to the 66-63 Irish victory over Villanova Jan. 27.

“It’ll be really physical, probably Villanova-like,” he said. “The two teams are going to go at it on Saturday.”

Brey said after the DePaul game that he wanted his team to relax in the days leading up to the showdown with Marquette. He gave the team Wednesday off and scheduled light workouts Thursday and today to make sure they were fresh for Saturday.

“Our guys are pretty good now,” Brey said. “We can pace them and be smart about it.”

In order to keep his team loose, Brey said he downplayed the importance of Saturday’s game despite the high ranking of the two teams. The Irish are still likely to make the NCAA tournament , he said, and can still get a bye at the Big East tournament even with a loss.

“It’s not the end of the world,” he said.