Physical Challenge

All the close losses, especially at home, means that the Notre Dame men's basketball team is going to have to steal a victory somewhere. On the continuing journey to the top 12 in the Big East, Notre Dame faces a critical road test that could swing their season's fortunes in one direction or the other.

The Irish, who have won two in a row in league play for the first time all year long, travel east to take on Seton Hall. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and ESPN Plus will carry the game on television. Notre Dame currently sits at 3-8 in the Big East, a half game out of the coveted 12th place. The top 12 teams advance to the conference tournament.

The importance of this game is not only continuing the momentum and the drive to New York City but also being aware of what awaits them on the schedule. The Irish have a road date with top-ranked Connecticut next Tuesday in what most would consider a likely loss. A defeat to Seton Hall and then to Connecticut would leave Notre Dame at 3-10 in the Big East and fighting instead for a .500 overall record.

"We know what's coming next Tuesday but we have to deal with Saturday night first," head coach Mike Brey said. "We've played well on the road. We've given ourselves chances. I have every reason to believe we're going to be in the game Saturday at the Continental Airlines Arena."

It'll be a tough challenge. The Pirates (16-7, 7-4 in the Big East) scored an upset earlier this week when they beat 11th ranked West Virginia 71-64. They held the Mountaineers to just 8-of-32 (25 percent) from three-point range. What was more surprising was the fact that Seton Hall was coming off a 42-point home defeat to Connecticut. Most teams would let a loss like that linger for a week or more. Not this Seton Hall group.

"They come after you and are resilient as heck," Brey said. "They get smoked by UCONN and come right back and beat West Virginia. West Virginia couldn't get a shot off. They smothered them."

Brey has warned his team to bring their hard hats. The Pirates are a physical bunch who rank fourth in the conference in rebounding margin. Notre Dame, known for their reliance on the three-point shot, could run into some other troubles on Saturday night. Seton Hall is third in the Big East in defending from behind the arc, holding teams to 31 percent at that long range distance. Brey had a comparison that might be familiar to Irish fans.

"Seton Hall is the Pittsburgh of old," Brey said. "They are the Pittsburgh team of the previous two years. They are unbelievably physical. They just come after you. The one thing I told our guys was that we're going to have to be a lot tougher against Seton Hall or they're going to beat us up. Their perimeter gets into you."

Kelly Whitney leads the Pirates in scoring. The 6-8 forward/center, who is averaging 15.2 points per game and just under eight rebounds a contest, is coming off a 21 point, 12 rebound performance in the upset win over West Virginia. Not far behind him is 5-10 guard Donald Copeland. The senior is racking up 15.1 PPG while fellow guard Jamar Nutter contributes 11 points a contest. Top Stories