Another Close Loss Means Fight to the End

All was looking good for the Notre Dame men's basketball team. The Irish had catapulted into the top-12 of the Big East with a convincing win over South Florida. Notre Dame was then looking to score a monumental upset over fourth-ranked Connecticut. The Irish held a two-point lead late in Hartford and maybe the team had turned a corner.

Unfortunately, Notre Dame missed the turn and continued on the same road they've traveled all season long. A Marcus Williams tip-in with under 10 seconds left sent the game into overtime and in the extra session, Chris Quinn's floater was off the mark as the Irish once again lost a nail biter. Notre Dame is now 13-11 overall and 4-9 in the conference. The loss hurt in more ways than one. The defeat sent the Irish to 14th place in the Big East, a half game back of St. John's and Rutgers in securing a trip to the league tournament. The bonus: with three games to go in the final week against Marquette, Providence and DePaul, Notre Dame controls their own destiny.

"It's a huge week for us," head coach Mike Brey said. "In a lot of ways, our tournament starts on Saturday (against Marquette). Our guys know the deal. I haven't put up on the board records. The fact that we have control over our own destiny…it's a huge week for us. They are aware of the tiebreakers."

A win over Connecticut would have made for an interesting scenario down the stretch. If Notre Dame had pulled the upset, the possibility of running the table to 17-10 could've been realistic. A win or two in the Big East Tournament might have put them on the bubble. But now, unless a miracle occurs, the Irish are sharpening their game for a run in the National Invitational Tournament for the third straight season.

"It's an honor to play in the post-season," Brey said. "You want to play in the NCAA's and fight for that. If not, you want to play in the post-season."

The NIT is not going to be same tournament that fans have seen in years past. The old format was that a team had to be .500 or better to qualify. Not so this year, according to Brey. This no longer applies, which appears to benefit major conference squads with losing records at the expense of teams from smaller leagues with solid marks. Also, the regular season winner of a conference is automatically invited if they do not make it into the NCAA's.

Notre Dame is a lock for the NIT and a win in one of the last games of the year will make the new rule a moot point. The first chance is this Saturday at home against a Marquette team who has recently beaten both Georgetown and Pittsburgh. The race for those last few spots to the Big East Tournament makes the chase an fun one to watch.

"Marquette would just be a big win," Brey said. "Marquette is in the top 30 in RPI. It's going to get interesting. I don't know if there has ever been a league with so much attention paid to the bottom seven teams the last week of the season. People aren't talking about the Big East tourney locks. They're saying how is this thing going to work out."


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