Outlook for Irish

The first 17 games of the season have been as good as one could have imagined for the Notre Dame men's basketball team. The Irish sit at 20th in the Associated Press and Coaches poll with a 15-2 record, including 3-1 in the Big East. They've defended their home court, going 13-0 on the season at the Joyce Center. The upcoming schedule is favorable in continuing the blazing start.

For college basketball enthusiasts, Ken Pomeroy is the god of statistics. His website, kenpom.com, provides b-ball lovers with tons of information and analysis. The numbers look good for Notre Dame. Ranked 35th in the RPI, Pomeroy has predicted, through his statistical models, the outcomes of the remaining contest. Last week, he had the Irish ending the season 25-4 heading into the Big East Tournament in New York City. This would mean a 10-2 end of the year.

A 25-4 record would mean a few things for Notre Dame. First, it would more than likely get them a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. With the new pod system that keeps teams close to their home campus, the Irish could get slotted in Chicago, Illinois at the United Center if their winning ways continue. One issue holding them back: the Big East is currently seventh best league according to the RPI. Another positive is that by finishing in the top four in the conference, Notre Dame would get a first round bye in the Big East Tournament. It's always a bonus to rest an extra day and face a team that's already played a contest the day before.

But is 25-4 possible? One has to look at the schedule and determine if it's favorable for this outcome to occur. Of their 12 remaining games, seven are on the road and five are at home. So far in the Big East, road teams are 11-19 in conference play. Notre Dame might have lucked out a big on the schedule. Of the seven road games, the combined league record for these teams is 9-17.

Two road games should be pinpointed. On Wednesday, the Irish travel to Philadelphia to face Villanova. The Wildcats are just 1-3 in the conference but Notre Dame has yet to win a true road game this year. On January 30th, they'll travel to the Carrier Dome to battle Syracuse (14-4, 3-1) which could mean a lot for seeding purposes in the league tournament. It's tough to win on the road in the conference and the Irish failed miserably the first this year at Georgetown. Wednesday against the Wildcats should tell a lot about this Notre Dame team.

As for the home dates, South Florida, Villanova, Providence, DePaul and Marquette all will travel to South Bend. As stated above, Notre Dame is unbeaten at home and currently have a 15-game winning streak at the Joyce Center. The Friars and Golden Eagles pose the biggest home threats while Villanova and DePaul have the talent and potential to pull the road upset.

What works in Notre Dame's favor is who they don't have on their schedule. The best team in the conference right now is Pittsburgh, ranked No 6 in both the AP and Coaches poll. The Panthers are at the top of the Big East at 4-0 and 16-2 overall but the Irish and Pittsburgh will not battle one another this year. Another team that's not on the slate is Connecticut. The Huskies are 13-3 overall and 2-2 in the league. They're young, with their top 12 players minute-wise all freshmen or sophomores. But they're also talented. UCONN not being on schedule is another plus.

To go hand-and-hand with this, Notre Dame faces South Florida (1-3, 10-8), DePaul (2-2, 11-7) and Villanova (1-3, 11-5) each twice. It's more favorable to face the Bulls another time than the Pittsburgh or the Huskies. 25-4 is a possibility. But this story of the Notre Dame basketball team still has a ways to go. The seven remaining road dates should help explain just how good this Irish squad can be.

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