Determining Stretch for Irish

The time is now. The rallying cry for the Notre Dame men's basketball team does not pertain to the NCAA Tournament. Their goal all season long has been to just earn a trip to New York City and the Big East Tournament. The bottom four teams in the 16-member conference do not receive invitations. The Irish, who are 14th in the league at 2-8 and a game a half behind Rutgers and Louisville, know the importance of the final stretch.

"There isn't a whole lot of margin of error for us down the stretch," head coach Mike Brey said. "We'll invest a lot in our preparations but we've done that every league game. Certainly our guys know we're scratching and fighting for it now. That's a daily atmosphere around our program."

Notre Dame is coming off a 90-63 win last Wednesday over Rutgers. Big games from seniors Torin Francis and Chris Quinn carried the Irish to conference win number two. More importantly, in the fight to make it to the Big East Tournament, they now hold the all-important tiebreaker over the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers currently clings to the last remaining spot in qualifying for the trip to New York City at 4-7. That's only one game back in the loss column and with home contests against South Florida, Marquette and DePaul and winnable road games versus Seton Hall and Providence, the road to the Big Apple doesn't appear to be impossible.

The Irish are in this quandary because of their own bad luck, great, clutch shots by opposing players and not making the key plays down the stretch necessary to pull out victories. Brey mentioned at his press conference on Monday that this situation of being left out of the Big East Tournament wouldn't even be a scenario if the league coaches had their way.

Before the season in the spring meetings, the conference coaches weren't thrilled with the idea of four teams not invited to New York City. Spearheaded by Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, the coaches voted unanimously in favor of sending all 16 squads to the Big East Tournament regardless of their records. The final decision, though, went to the powers to be in the Big East. Needless to say, the unanimous recommendation of the coaches meant nothing as the conference decided to stick with the 12-team format. Brey thinks this is how it's going to be for the foreseeable future.

"I don't think it ever had a chance," Brey said of the 16-team tournament idea. "Will it down the road? I don't know. What is our league format going to be in the future as far as divisions or a 16-team league? It's all new territory for this new league. All coaches want the chance to get their team into the conference tournament."

Disagreements aside, teams reap what they sow. Notre Dame has six games remaining on their schedule. The only likely loss appears to be next week's trip to top-ranked Connecticut. That leaves five games left on the schedule that could make or break the team's plans on making the trip to the Big East Tournament. It starts with tomorrow's contest against a scrappy South Florida team. The Bulls currently have no wins in conference play and a loss at the Joyce Center would devastate the March Madness dreams. Top Stories