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Men’s Basketball: Irish head into home stretch

Chris Hine | Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All season long, Notre Dame’s players have tried not to look at the Big East standings and get caught up in the speculation of who’s going to finish where. With two weeks left in the conference schedule, think the Irish have bothered to take a peek? If they did, they’re not saying otherwise.

“I think we’ve done a good job all season of not looking at numbers and letting coach [Mike Brey] deal with that stuff,” Irish guard Kyle McAlarney said. “Especially right now, I think it’s important to just handle Rutgers [on Wednesday night] first and keep improving our position and putting pressure on the committee and people above us in the standings and put ourselves in great position for [the Big East tournament in] New York.”

Added forward Luke Harangody: “We can’t control it. All we can control is the next game. We can’t look at that stuff and try to piece things together and figure out where we’re going to come out.”

But at The Observer, we have no quibbles about analyzing the standings. Here’s how everyone stacks up heading into the final few games:

Fighting for first:

No. 2 Connecticut (25-2,

13-2), No. 6 Louisville

(22-5, 13-2), No. 1 Pittsburgh (22-5, 12-2),

No. 8 Marquette (23-4,


This race at the top is everything a college basketball fan could hope for. Four great teams, all tied in the loss column, slugging it out for the title in the last few games. Marquette has the toughest remaining schedule – considering its next three games are against Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh and Connecticut still play each other one more time, this time in Pittsburgh, on March 4. Pittsburgh looks like it could win the national title right now, but if Pittsburgh and Louisville both win out, the Cardinals will hold the tiebreaker over the Panthers for the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament. (Louisville beat them 69-63 on Jan. 17).

The second tier:

No. 12 Villanova (22-5, 10-4), West Virginia


Villanova is a lock for the NCAA Tournament and if the Mountaineers take care of business, they are in as well. West Virginia’s remaining games are against Cincinnati, South Florida, DePaul and Louisville. The Mountaineers could go 4-0, but 3-1 is more likely. Worst case scenario, they probably go 2-2, losing to Cincinnati and Louisville, but that would still put them at 10-8 in conference with 21 wins overall, giving them a solid shot at making the Tournament.

Fighting for their lives:

Providence (16-11, 8-7), Cincinnati (19-8, 7-7), Syracuse (17-10, 7-7), Notre Dame (15-10, 6-8)

The top four teams may be duking it out for No. 1, but here’s where the real nail-biting will take place in the next two weeks. There’s still time for each team to make a case for a Tournament bid with a strong finish to the regular season and a couple wins in the conference tournament.

Key games down the stretch: Syracuse and Cincinnati are the only two of this group that still have to play each other. Syracuse also has to travel to Marquette, while Cincinnati has to face West Virginia at home. Providence gets Pittsburgh at home and travels to Villanova. Notre Dame has Connecticut in Storrs on Saturday and then Villanova at home next week. March Madness has come a little early for these teams.

Too bad everyone goes to the Big East tournament:

Seton Hall (14-12, 5-9), Georgetown (14-12, 5-10),

St. John’s (13-14, 4-10), South Florida (8-18, 3-11), Rutgers (10-17, 1-13), DePaul (8-19,


Under previous Big East rules, there would be a dogfight this year for the 12th and final conference tournament position, with four teams still in the running for it. But since everyone goes to New York this year, there’s no drama to speak of, just bad basketball.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Chris Hine at chine@nd.edu