Then No. 22 Marquette comes to town the following week before the Irish hit the road again, this time to the program's recent house of horrors, Morgantown, for a matchup with likely peer squad West Virginia.
Yes, Monday night's game at 10-8 Rutgers (2-3 in Big East play) appears as close to a must-win for Mike Brey's Irish (11-7/3-2) as any mid-January conference game reasonably could.
"We were exhausted, but our demeanor was ‘darn…didn't get it,'" Brey offered of his team's post-game response to Saturday's home loss vs. Connecticut. "And I reinforced, ‘tough luck,' but we don't have time to dwell on it. We're 3-2 in the league and we have to get a tough road win against a team that's beating people," he continued of Rutgers. "It's tougher to win at The RAC this year…because they're really good."
The Irish have already bounced back from league loss, going into Louisville and outlasting the #10 Cardinals in double overtime. Adversity struck Brey's squad early and often and he believes they're better for it.
"This is a team that took some monster punches in November and December. We were drowning there at times," Brey admitted of five non-conference losses, three ugly in manner. "I talked to them about being resilient in league play and staying together better than other teams through two months. That's what our program has done. That's why we've had regular season consistency."
They'll have to bounce back this time vs. much-improved Scarlet Knights group.
"Their young guards are really scoring the ball," Brey said of Eli Carter (13.7 ppg), Miles Mack (10.4), both true freshmen. "They defend the heck out of you; we're going to have to really move them around. They're going to try to speed us up; we're gong to have to control tempo," he added.
"They shoot the ball really well in The RAC," Brey said of the famed Louis Brown Athletic Center. "And they shoot it fearlessly, so we're going to really have to defend the arc and control the tempo a little bit so they can't get into their run-out phase. They're a confident group."
Notre Dame lost its last trip to Rutgers, 74-73, in what was a major upset by the then (league) winless hosts in late January 2010. Brey is 3-4 in seven career games in the building. He was asked Saturday what makes The RAC such a tough place to play.
"The structure of the place is kind of straight up; they're right on top of you," he began. "And its ‘Jersey' I guess. You know: its Jersey people. They're just on your back. I hear some of the greatest lines about me, and my mock, and my family when I come out of the tunnel. They really have some good stuff. It's like the Sopranos are sitting behind our bench, man," he joked.
The Scarlet Knights have already dismissed #8 Connecticut and #10 Florida in home games this season. And after a 24-point road loss vs. West Virginia Saturday, look for the hosts to come out firing vs. the very vulnerable Irish.