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Men’s Basketball: In Big East, no rest for weary

Fran Tolan | Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The good news is the toughest part is over. The bad news is the easier part is also pretty darn tough. It almost seems like the Irish failed to climb Everest so they earned a chance to try scaling Mount Kilimanjaro.

After a five-game losing streak that was probably even more brutal on the Notre Dame players than the fans, the team will travel to Cincinnati Wednesday in search of its first conference win in over three weeks.

Here’s a look at the Big East after another week of in-conference cannibalism:

Still Undefeated: No. 8 Marquette (19-2 overall, 8-0 Big East):

The Golden Eagles look poised to make a run at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They got their losses out of the way in non-conference play and look like a strong bet to earn two byes in the Big East tourney. Marquette had one of the best weeks of any team in the country with convincing wins at Notre Dame and against Georgetown.

The New No. 1: Connecticut (21-1, 9-1):

After Wake Forest upended then-No.1 Duke, Connecticut inherited the nation’s top ranking Monday. The Huskies aren’t even the top squad in the Big East but they were dominant in a win at Louisville Monday night. Plus, they still get a chance to play Marquette. Unfortunately for the Irish, they have to travel to Storrs on Feb. 28 to face the Huskies, which could be pretty close to peaking by then.

Others Looking for a Top-Four Seed: No. 6/5 Pittsburgh (20-2, 7-2), No. 5/7 Louisville (17-4, 8-1), Providence (14-7, 6-3), No. 17/16 Villanova (17-4, 5-3), No. 20 Syracuse (17-5, 5-4):

The Panthers are among the best of this group but Villanova beat them Wednesday and has been coming on strong lately. Don’t be too surprised if the Wildcats – who have spent most of the season outside the top 20 – swoop in and capture a double-bye for the conference tournament. In addition to the win over the Panthers, Villanova crushed Cincinnati Sunday. Louisville, meanwhile, is still in good position despite the loss to Connecticut. The Irish will look to avenge their road loss to Louisville when the Cardinals come to the Joyce Center next week.

The Middle of the Pack: West Virginia (15-6, 4-4) Cincinnati (14-8, 4-5):

Both of these teams beat Georgetown in the past week, improving their stock while sending the Hoyas reeling. The Irish face both of these squads in the next few weeks and would actually love to seize their “middle-of-the-pack” label.

The Mighty That Have Fallen: Notre Dame (12-8, 3-6), Georgetown (12-8, 3-6)

Both the Irish and the Hoyas looked like potential top-10 teams in the beginning of the season but they have now dropped into the dreaded “others receiving votes” category. Even worse news? Neither team is receiving too many votes. The Irish garnered just seven in the AP rankings and four in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Also, since Georgetown has fallen similarly, Notre Dame’s win over the Hoyas no longer looks nearly as good.

The Bottom of the Barrel: St. John’s (12-9, 3-6), Seton Hall (11-9, 2-6), South Florida (7-14, 2-7), Rutgers (10-12, 1-8), DePaul (8-14, 0-9):

At least the Irish can still look forward to games against three of these five bottom-feeders. Still, they already lost to St. John’s and didn’t exactly blow DePaul or Seton Hall out of the gym.

Needless to say, the Irish must rack up some league wins in the next few weeks. But they no longer have any excuses to lose. The ultra-rough part of their schedule is done and they have a bunch of winnable games remaining.

Notre Dame can still scale the Big East mountain, but the team will have to do it with wins over weak opponents serving as oxygen and a few signature victories as its Sherpa.


uIrish coach Mike Brey said before practice Monday that his starting lineup against Cincinnati will be Luke Harangody, Luke Zeller, Zach Hillesland, Kyle McAlarney and Tory Jackson. This is the third different starting lineup for Notre Dame in the last four games.