Irish earn second-place, seed

After earning a Double Bye with a second-place conference finish, Notre Dame begins what it hopes is a three-game Big East Tournament run, Thursday at 7 PM.

The best regular season for the Notre Dame basketball program (25-5) in three decades has concluded. Now two tests, at least one of which will stay with the team and its fan base through the off-season, await.

Notre Dame received a coveted "Double Bye" with its second-place finish: 14-4, a game behind champion Pittsburgh whom the Irish defeated in late-January.

That is, while eight conference teams will toil away on Tuesday, and with the four winners then meeting the "Single Bye" teams on Wednesday, the Top Four teams: Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Syracuse, earned the right to rest and bear witness to the tournament's carnage until later in the week.

Tuesday pairings

Both afternoon contests will be televised on ESPN2. The evening matchups will be shown on ESPNU.

#9 Connecticut vs. #16 DePaul: The Huskies dropped to ninth-place with back-to-back losses vs. West Virginia and Notre Dame in the final week. Connecticut finished 9-9 in-conference, but undefeated vs. a challenging non-conference slate that included wins over Michigan State, Kentucky, Texas, and Tennessee.

A winless DePaul squad earned a first-round upset two years ago over then-#9 seed Cincinnati. Don't expect a lighting to strike twice.

Tip-off: Tuesday, Noon EST

#12 Seton Hall vs. #13 Rutgers: After losing to Notre Dame in late February, Seton Hall upset #15 St. John's and Marquette, at the Bradley Center. Rutgers defeated Seton Hall 66-60 in late-January.

Tip-off: Tuesday, 2:00 EST

#10 Villanova vs. #15 South Florida: Villanova dropped its last four, all vs. ranked foes: #20, #25, #7 (ND), and #4. South Florida earned a first-round upset win over Connecticut in last season's tourney, but that was a much more dangerous Bulls team led by since-departed all-league guard Dominique Jones.

Tip-off: Tuesday, 7:00 EST

#11 Marquette vs. #14 Providence: The Golden Eagles unexpectedly entered Bubble Territory with back-to-back losses to Cincinnati and Seton Hall last week. A loss to the Friars could send Marquette to the NIT, rendering the Big East with 10 NCAA qualifiers.

Providence will again rely on scoring-machine Marshon Brooks and the penetration of point guard Vincent Council to pull off the mild upset.

Tip-off: Tuesday, 9:00 EST

Wednesday's Pairings

Four teams that finished #5 through #8 in the conference standings await the results of Tuesday's contests. All Wednesday games will be televised on ESPN.

#8 Georgetown vs. UConn/DePaul: The Hoyas lost point guard Chris Wright (broken wrist) and since dropped three straight to conclude the season. Connecticut beat Georgetown with Wright in the lineup, 78-70, in mid-February

Tip-off: Wednesday, Noon EST

#5 St. John's vs. Seton Hall/Rutgers: A Red Storm/Pirates rematch would lend some spice to Wednesday's afternoon session. Seton Hall upset St. John's last week, costing the recent toasts of the town a Double Bye. Red Storm coach Steve Lavin was ejected late as was petulant senior forward Justin Burrell after a cheap hit on the fast break, well after the game had been decided.

St. John's won nine of its final 11 games.

Tip-off: Wednesday, 2:00 EST

#7 Cincinnati vs. Villanova/South Florida: The still-unranked Bearcats (24-7/11-7) won five of their final six to rocket to a 7th-place finish; three of Cincy's victories in that span occurred vs. Top 17 teams. Villanova handled Cincinnati, 72-61, in early January, but both teams have undergone transformations since.

Tip-off: Wednesday, 7:00 EST

#6 West Virginia vs. Marquette/Providence: The Mountaineers won the Big East Tournament last season – a two-point victory over Notre Dame in the conference semi-finals part of their three-game run. Bob Huggins' alma mater hammered Providence, 93-63, but dropped a 79-74 decision at Marquette this season. Both games were played before mid-January.

Tip-off: Wednesday, 9:00 EST

Thursday's Pairings

All games televised on ESPN.

#1 Pittsburgh vs. Georgetown, UConn, or DePaul: Not an easy opening matchup for the conference champions, though the Panthers defeated each this winter (Pitt's three losses came courtesy of Notre Dame, St. John's, and Louisville).

Tip-off: Thursday, Noon EST

#4 Syracuse vs. St. John's/Seton Hall/Rutgers: A regional battle awaits the Orange, regardless. Jim Boeheim's crew split with Seton Hall (a 90-68 loss included), hammered St. John's in The Garden, and narrowly escaped at Rutgers in overtime this season.

Tip-off: Thursday, 2:00 EST

#2 Notre Dame vs. Cincinnati/Villanova/South Florida: The Irish beat the Bearcats, Wildcats, and Bulls by an aggregate score of 267 to 185 this season. Only the Bearcats played the Irish close, dropping a 66-58 decision in South Bend. Notre Dame and Cincy have split their last four contests over a three-year span, with both teams earning 2-0 marks on their home floor.

Tip-off: Thursday, 7:00 EST

#3 Louisville vs. West Virginia/Providence/Marquette: The Cardinals lost a heartbreaker at West Virginia on Saturday, fouling 80-feet from the bucket – with the score tied – to afford the Mountaineers game-winning free throws on Senior Day. Louisville split the season series with West Virginia, defeated Marquette by one-point in mid-January, and was upset at Providence, 72-67 on January 22.

Tip-off: Thursday, 9:00 EST

Friday's Semi-Finals

The Irish have never advanced past the semi-final round in Big East play, earning two trips to Friday Night's Lights over their last four appearances. Both games will be televised on ESPN.

Thursday afternoon winners: Tip-off at 7:00 EST

Thursday evening winners: Tip-off at 9:00 EST

The winners of Thursday night's matchups will square off at 9:00 Saturday Night for the Big East Championship.

The Big East announced Saturday that the 2011 Tournament has sold out in advance.

Note: Irish Eyes will have its tournament predictions on Monday, updating daily as inevitable misses occur.


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