This Saturday, the two schools will meet for the second time as Big East Conference foes and for the 107th time in their history. Notre Dame holds a dominating 43-10 record over MU at home. While the match-ups have been sparse in recent years as the two schools went their separate ways due to conference affiliations, being in the Big East will now rekindle a rivalry that is sure to catch fire. Throughout time, the Fighting Irish have played no opponent more.
But the stars haven't exactly been aligned in South Bend this season and the Irish faithful are getting restless. One Notre Dame student described the current displeasure with head coach Mike Brey, "As bad as it was with Tyrone Willingham in football when people wanted him fired." With preseason expectations slotting the Irish in the upper half of the Big East, Notre Dame currently sits at 14-11 with a 4-9 record in Big East play, good enough for fourteenth place in the sixteen team conference. The most frustrating part of the Irish's 2005-6 campaign would have to be the way they have lost their conference games. The statistics are appalling. Notre Dame has lost their nine conference games by a combined twenty seven points and their last six conference losses have all been by three points or less. Three of those last six losses have come in overtime with one of them being an 85-82 loss to Georgetown in double overtime. For those of you who are taking notes while reading this, that loss to the Hoyas came just four days after Steve Novak dropped a buzzer beater on Notre Dame to give Marquette a 67-65 victory in the teams' first meeting. You might want to scribble a side note in the margin that says, "This season has been unfortunate for Notre Dame, at best." That would be an understatement.
But for those Marquette fans who think Notre Dame is too beaten and battered to care about the game this weekend, think again. This is a rivalry game to them, too.
"This weekend will definitely be special. I have friends and relatives at Marquette and I want those bragging rights," said David Duffey, a junior at Notre Dame. "However, I think the game would definitely be bigger if we would have won a few of those close games earlier this season."
Duffey's sentiment is echoed by most under the Golden Dome. For students who enjoy a rich history in both football and basketball, it's easy to see that the Irish do appreciate tradition when it's present.
"I think most Notre Dame students see Marquette as a rival because of their tradition," said Ryan Laughlin, a junior at Notre Dame who attended Marquette for his freshmen year. Laughlin compares the Marquette/Notre Dame rivalry in basketball to Notre Dame's football rivalry with Boston College. "I feel that even their coaches can be compared. Both have done great jobs recruiting and have learned from the best mentors in the country."
Marquette's improbable jaunt through their inaugural Big East Season hasn't gone unnoticed by the Irish eyes either. As Notre Dame attempts to scratch and claw their way into some sort of post season play, Marquette is arguably one win away from putting their dancing shoes on.
"The luck just hasn't been with us this year," said Notre Dame student Greg Reyes, who hails from San Juan, Puerto Rico. "But a lot of our students have respect for Marquette. They do a good job in using their athleticism, especially with their freshmen."
Could Marquette get their all-important ninth conference win at the Joyce Center and force Notre Dame to sit on a series sweep until next season? Will Notre Dame continue their home court dominance over MU and solidify their Big East Tournament chances? Another chapter in this storied rivalry is about to unfold at the "JACC" this weekend.
This is part one of a two part series covering the rivalry between Marquette and Notre Dame. Andrew and Eric will attend the game this weekend in South Bend and report back to marquettehoops.com. If you are looking for them, try the only two gold-shirt wearing fans in the sea of green that is the Notre Dame Student Section.