Today's game will be the 117th meeting between the teams with the Irish holding an 80-36 advantage in a series that dates back to 1913.
Winners of three of the last four against the Golden Eagles including a 2010 Senior Day overtime win at the Bradley Center, Mike Brey's Irish look to snap a 24-game home court winning streak for Marquette, currently the second longest active stretch in the nation.
"We've had some streaks snapped," said Brey of his team's own home court streak (29) snapped in early January by Connecticut. "We're going to play a place with 24 in a row, let's see if we can snap a streak."
With a win, Notre Dame will rank as the only Big East program to win at least five conference road games in three straight seasons. Its a source of pride for Brey and major departure from the mid-decade era (2004-07) when road victories a rarity.
"We've been so good at home that they talk about the road as much. I think its experience. I think its really good and experienced guards, and the ability to make big shots," he said of the team's recent successes outside South Bend. "As a matter of fact, we've played more fearlessly on the road than at home. We've 'gone for it' more. At times we get tight a little at home.
"Saturday, let's let it rip, what the heck? I think we're just looser and kind of fearless."
Big on Big?Notre Dame's 7-2 record in its last nine has been the product of more physical play, from better, more focused screens, to defensive help at the rim, to complete dominance on the backboard.
The Irish manhandled both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati on the glass over the last two contests (an 81-52 advantage). Today's foe is the Big East's best in terms of rebounding margin in conference games, and its the result of a team effort.
Seven Golden Eagles average between 3.0 and 5.0 rebounds per game, with 6'8" 290-pound dancing bear Davante Gardner leading the charge, and 6'11" senior Chris O'Tule augmenting his efforts.
For the Irish, Cooley has ranked among the nation's best over the last two seasons, this year ranking sixth at 11.0 through 28 contests. Of late the Irish have owned the glass, with 6'11" power forward Tom Knight (35 boards in the team's last five wins), and 6'10" freshman Zach Auguste (nine boards in his last outing) cleaning up missed shots.
"It's going to be physical inside, and this is a great test for our front line and our physicality," said Brey. "This is going to be a (heck) of a test."
Saturday's battle on the boards might be decided by the game's remaining combatants, as Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant will have their hands full with Marquette forward Jamil Wilson and guard Trent Lockett after a shot is released.
Constant Pressure and HarassmentWhile the new-look Irish might own a slight edge inside, its the Golden Eagles velcro on-ball defense that will test Brey's bunch on the perimeter. Junior guard Vander Blue is one of the nation's best defending the bounce, and senior point guard Junior Cadougan has earned his keep on the defensive end as well.
"We'll be ready for it. It's nothing we haven't experienced before," said Brey of Marquette's notorious ball pressure and denial.
"I think getting to the (free throw) line with our big guys screening for us on the perimeter can get them off us a little bit," offered Grant.
It's not only ball pressure, but game pressure and atmosphere that will test Grant and his cohorts this afternoon. Though only two current Irish players contributed, the team was bundled in the Bradley Center in its most recent visit, 79-57 in 2011.
"We've really been backed on our heels by the intensity of the crowd," said Brey of poor road starts. "I don't know what it is offensively. I think it comes back around to, 'Can you guard long enough to get them tired? Can you get them tired to get some stuff on offense to make you feel good?' That's kind of what happened at Pittsburgh (a 16-point comeback win).
"When (the home team) is fresh and energized and the crowd's going, we tend to play fast. I hope we can (respond to a drought) Saturday, because I think we'll be in that situation at times."
It was a situation the Irish faced throughout their 2010 victory in the building. With Marquette rolling and the student body rocking on Senior Day, Brey and the Irish overcame two extended second half scoring droughts -- zero points in six minutes followed by just two points in six minutes -- to force overtime and win, 63-60.
"That was an amazing win for us," Brey recalled fondly. "Its a good one to bring up (to the present team), because we've been in this situation for sure."
"I told our guys, forget the standings, seedings, double byes in the tournament. Let's see if we can snap a streak."
It seems unlikely, then again, so was the most recent road outing and epic comeback in Pittsburgh.
The guess here is Marquette has a bit too much mojo at home…