#1 Pivotal Game NineSaturday's game between Notre Dame and Marquette marks the 116th of the series. Over the most recent eight matchups–a span of five conference seasons–both teams have won four games with both taking one on the other's home court. Three of the last six have been decided in the final minutes with the Irish winning each.
Notre Dame holds a 46-22 advantage over Marquette in South Bend (79-36 overall) between the schools have produced the following. Today's contest is the only meeting between the schools this winter – the winner thus holding the head-to-head tiebreaker should the teams finish tied in conference play at season's end.
If the Irish prevail they'll stand even with Marquette in the loss column (three apiece). If the Golden Eagles leave South Bend victorious they'll likely inch closer to the nation's top 10 and at 9-2, would be difficult for the thus 6-4 Irish (not to mention the bulk of the league) to catch over the final month.
Which leads us to the next point of interest…
#2 Go 1 and 1 and it's DoneBy "it's done" I mean the chase for an NCAA Tournament berth. If the Irish can beat either Marquette Saturday or win at West Virginia on Wednesday (their next two games), they'd thus emerge through Game 11 of the Big East schedule at 7-4: likely among the league's top five teams while easing into the brief but admittedly soft underbelly of the schedule.
Home games vs. DePaul, Rutgers, and Providence remain, with only a February 22 rematch vs. West Virginia posing problems (on paper) in South Bend. The Irish also have two winnable road games at Villanova and St. John's remaining; with February 27 trip to D.C. posing a major road block vs. current No. 14 Georgetown.
Marquette is a better team than West Virginia, but Saturday's game with the Golden Eagles might be the "easier" win for the Irish over their next two contests, simply because of the location and trappings that accompany home cooking. If Notre Dame prevails in either, you can make a reservation with your couch to watch the ultimate underdog Irish in mid-March.
But there's one major stumbling block to scoring a mild upset over Marquette…
#3 Happy to Burn "The Burn"A crucial element of Notre Dame's surprising 6-3 start is Mike Brey's expert utilization of his "Burn" offense. The tactic has limited possessions by both teams (helping the athletically challenged Irish control tempo), provided a confidence boost to the team's guards, Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, both of whom excel at the drive and find in half-court play, and generally exasperated the given opponent that simply doesn't have the patience – or footwork – to play disciplined defense for nearly 35 seconds each trip down the floor.
Couple the latter development with an opponent that might have missed three of its last four scoring opportunities and you can see why "The Burn" is a brilliant strategy to limit most foes.
The Golden Eagles will be happy to put the clamps on Notre Dame for 35 seconds on the defensive end. They'll be happy to work for a good shot on the other end, and head coach Buzz Williams will embrace the challenge The Burn presents.
Marquette is the league team best equipped to handle the tactic (just as was Old Dominion in the 2010 NCAA Tournament upset of the Irish).
Still in Notre Dame's favor? A likely parade to the charity stripe in South Bend as the Golden Eagles have been forever foul prone on the perimeter, at least since Williams' ascent to the first seat on the bench.