Joyce Center – South Bend, Ind.
6 p.m. CST, Monday night
There are few who would argue with the claim that the Big East is the best conference in college basketball this year. As of Sunday, there are eight teams in the conference ranked in the top-25 and four who are ranked in the top-10.
Overshadowed by the overall success of the conference, though, has been the absolute slug-fest that plays out in the Big East on a nightly basis. Seemingly, there were going to be at least one very talented teams that would take some hard knocks during the conference schedule. Thus far, that team has been Notre Dame.
Despite being one of the most talented and most veteran teams in the country, the Irish have had a rough go of it lately. In the midst of a brutal five game stretch – in which they face Louisville, Syracuse, Connecticut, Marquette and Pittsburgh in succession – Notre Dame has dropped the first three in close fashion. Their most recent defeat, at the hands of Connecticut, ended the nation's longest home winning streak at 45 games.
On the other end of the spectrum lies Marquette. The Golden Eagles have remained unscathed in conference thus far and will travel to South Bend riding a nine-game win streak.
Monday night's game promises to be an entertaining one. Aside from the all the tradition that this game offers, it also pits two of the highest scoring teams in conference against one another – Marquette averages 81.5 ppg and Notre Dame is right behind them at 80.1 ppg.
Leading this potent offensive attack for the Irish is the reigning Big East POY, junior Luke Harangody. Picking up where he left off last season, Harangody is leading the league in both scoring (24.8 ppg) and rebounding (13.1 ppg) and has proven to be pretty much unstoppable for most of the season.
However, Harangody is just one of several offensive options for Notre Dame, as three other starters – Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers and Tory Jackson – average double figures in scoring. Most notabe of these three is senior guard McAlarney who helps pace an Irish team that likes to take a lot of three-point shots in transition. McAlarney is a dangerous shooter and in a 39-point effort against North Carolina earlier this year he showed just how capable he is of going on big scoring spurts.
In spite of their offensive prowess, Notre Dame really struggles at the defensive end. The Irish have been near the bottom of the league in scoring defense all season, and their inability to come up with stops during key stretches of games has really hurt them at times this season.
Another telling story line for the Irish has been the contributions of their secondary performers. It seems that teams have developed a game plan that allows Harangody to get his while limiting everyone else.
Simply put, when the Irish get noteworthy performances from others and play fair defense, they win. When they don't, they lose.
This game will undoubtedly be the Golden Eagles' biggest test to date, and many are already looking at this matchup as a barometer for Marquette's chances to contend for the league title. Expect an incredibly hostile environment and a very desperate Notre Dame side.
Given that this is a rivalry game, the fact that the Irish have lost three in a row, and that their winning steak at the Joyce Center was just broken, Notre Dame will definitely be playing with a chip of their shoulder. All in all, this game has the makings of being another classic Notre Dame-Marquette affair.
Probable Notre Dame Starters
G – Kyle McAlarney (6'0" 196 lbs.) --- (16.6 ppg, 3.4 apg)
G – Tory Jackson (5'11" 193 lbs.) --- (11.4 ppg, 5.9 apg)
G – Ryan Ayers (6'7" 210 lbs.) --- (11.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
F – Zack Hillesland (6'9" 233 lbs.) --- (5.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
F – Luke Harangody (6'8" 251 lbs.) --- (24.8 ppg, 13.1 rpg)
C – Luke Zeller (6'10" 239 lbs.) --- (5.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
G – Jonathan Peoples (6'3" 215 lbs.) --- (2.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
Head Coach – Mike Brey (178-89, ninth season; 277-141, 14th overall)