Bubble Talk

The Notre Dame basketball team sits at 18-6 overall and 6-5 in the Big East. This is good for sixth in the conference and they're a game and a half behind Louisville for the the fourth spot. Remember, the top four teams in the league get a bye in the Big East Tournament in New York City. There is one pressing question for the Irish as they head into the final five regular season contests.

Is this team on the bubble? This is a tricky question. If the NCAA Tournament started today, Notre Dame probably would be in. Respected bracketologist Joe Lunardi had the Irish as a ten seed in the West Region playing Missouri Valley stalwart Creighton in the first round in his latest mock draft. A few weeks ago, it was a possibility that Notre Dame could have a good enough seed to possibly play their first and second round contests in Chicago because of the pod system implemented a few years back.

But unless there is a furious rush to the finish line, the Irish are fighting to save their tournament lives. The committee has shown in the past that 9-7 in the Big East is an automatic qualifier to the Big Dance. And the league is not as strong as it has been in years past. Don't expect eight teams like the conference was granted last year. With five games left, anything less than 3-2 would make winning a game or two in the Big East Tournament a must.

Notre Dame catches a break where they haven't been very good this season. The Irish have two road games left at Cincinnati and at Rutgers. Both these teams are at the bottom of the Big East. A loss to either won't impress the tournament committee. The game against the Bearcats might the scarier of the two even though Cincinnati is dead last in the conference at 1-9. They've beat West Virginia at home and given huge scares on the road to both Syracuse and Providence. The Bearcats would love nothing more than to spoil Notre Dame's tournament hopes by scoring an upset this Sunday.

The Irish must take care of business on Thursday night at home against Providence. The Friars have some top-line talent in Herbert Hill and Geoff McDermott and have the ability to pull off the road upset. A loss here by Notre Dame, where they are 15-0 this year at the Joyce Center, would continue to downward spiral and make confidence a question mark. Remember, home dates with No. 13 Marquette and a rematch versus DePaul await the Irish in the next few weeks. Protecting the home court down the stretch is vital for the NCAA Tournament hopes.

Notre Dame's RPI is 51st and they have four wins over teams ranked in the top-50. But losses on the road to South Florida and St. John's, both under .500 in the league, in addition to a non-conference schedule ranked 294th, makes the resume look a little shaky. Irish fans should be rooting for Maryland and Alabama. The first two teams were Notre Dame's best non-conference wins and the struggles of both the Terrapins and the Crimson Tide have diminished the significance of the wins just a bit.

As stated above, if the tournament started today, the Irish probably would be in. But it's best they take fate into their own hands and finish the final five contests on a high note and win a game or two in New York City. If this doesn't happen, Notre Dame fans should be rooting against mid-major conference tournament surprises that'll take away an at-large bid from a power conference team. For instance, if Bradley or Northern Iowa, teams that won't get an at-large bid, run the table in the Missouri Valley Tournament, that'll leave a team like a BCS conference power team on the outside looking in. Rooting for Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic Association, Memphis in Conference USA, Butler in the Horizon League and Nevada in the Western Athletic Conference also are required for Irish fans.

This is what life is like on the bubble. Teams have to depend on what other teams do. A 4-1 regular season finish would alleviate some of this tension. Another outing like DePaul, St. John's or South Florida will continue this nerve-wracking discussion all the way to Selection Sunday.

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