The relevance of the day and time? The Irish could again earn two days of rest while 12 other Big East squads battle it out Tuesday and Wednesday for the right to advance to the quarterfinals round. Standing in Notre Dame's way is suddenly potent Providence (15-15, 4-13); winners of two straight including a 72-70 win in Rhode Island vs. defending champion Connecticut on Tuesday night.
The Friars had previously dropped five straight and nine of 10 prior to a pair of two-point victories vs. fellow cellar dweller DePaul and then the struggling Huskies, who fell to 7-10 in conference and 11th place in the conference standings with one game remaining.
Irish head coach Mike Brey sees a squad led by first-year head coach Ed Cooley playing loose, and with nothing to lose.
"They have scoring guys. They have really good offensive guys," he offered. "(Victor) Council controls the whole thing; he's playing as well as any point guard in the league he just happens to be on a team that hasn't won many games."
A sophomore, Council averages 16 points, 4 boards, and 7.4 assists, the latter mark best in the Big East.
"And then they have some young guys that can put some numbers up. Those two guys last night, (Bryce) Cotton and (LaDontae) Hinton, they'll be all-rookie team guys," he continued, notably of Cotton who scored 16 second-half points in Tuesday's win over the Huskies.
"I think their best position is to be down. They certainly have nothing to lose overall. But then when they're down, they're even more fearless," Brey offered. "So when they fire they fire with even more confidence. That barrage scares me (of UConn) and it's the barrage that beat Louisville by (a shocking 90-59 domination in January). They just did it for 35 minutes instead of seven minutes.
"If you look at their scores, they're battling right to the end," Brey said of a Friars group that lost close games to Marquette (13-4), South Florida (12-5), and West Virginia (in overtime), the latter pair on the road. "They'll come in here riding high."
Notre Dame (20-10, 12-5) has been installed as an 11-point favorite in tonight's contest.
Senior DuoTonight's contest could mark the last for captains Scott Martin and Tim Abromaitis on the Joyce Center Floor.
"We're going to honor them both and maybe we're going to have 1 or 2 guys to have the first back-to-back senior days, so it is a little unusual.
"We could not get either back but I think Scott's (Martin) case has more of a chance than Tim's so I kind of look at it as a night for Tim. To honor Tim for all he's done for our basketball program. It's been a tough year for him but I think we've hurt for him more than he's hurt for himself. A very well-deserved (ceremony) for everything he's done for our program."
Abromaitis will be in warm-ups but not so much as partake in lay-up lines as Brey noted he's still in the rehab stage of his recovery.
As an active player in 2009-10 and 2011-12, Abromaitis won 16 of 18 Big East games he played in South Bend, and 27 of 41 over a two-year period including two semi-finals runs in the Big East tournament.
Brey noted the Irish expected to receive a decision regarding a potential sixth season of eligibility for Martin to come from the NCAA by mid-March (though no hard deadline has been set).
The sticking point in Martin's case is that he was not injured twice, but rather a transfer (first) prior to suffering a torn ACL that caused him to miss the 2009-10 season. Martin sat out his sophomore season (2008-09) due to NCAA transfer rules after leaving Purdue for Notre Dame.
"Part of his transfer is that his dad came down with a rare eye cancer the end of his freshman year at Purdue," Brey explained. "While sitting out the next year–and Valparaiso (Martin's hometown) is closer to (South Bend) than (it is to) West Lafayette–he was sitting out, not traveling with us.
"His practice schedule was less strenuous so he was kind of the man of the house while his dad was getting treatment in Chicago. He has a younger brother that I think needed some guidance. He had a mom that needed some support, and he took his dad for a lot of those treatments. There'd be days where I'd say, ‘Don't be at practice. Do what you have to do,'" Brey stated.
"Under that circumstance, then you get the injury (pre-season 2009-10), I think we have a very strong case to (ask) ‘What's fair to this kid?' We're hopeful we can get a positive ruling."