There are certain games in a college basketball season that will be featured on a team's NCAA Tournament résumé no matter the outcome. Notre Dame has already had two such games this season.
The Irish's 81-80 victory over then-seventh-ranked Texas in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational is their best win of the season so far. Notre Dame's 102-87 against top-ranked North Carolina in the Maui title game could never be deemed a critical loss, but could factor into seedings.
No. 7 Notre Dame's next opportunity to build its Tournament résumé comes today when the Irish (6-1) take on unbeaten Ohio State (4-0) in the Hartford Hall of Fame Showcase at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis at 4 p.m.
Ohio State is coming off its biggest win of the season, a 73-68 victory at No. 21 Miami on Tuesday. Sophomore guard-forward Evan Turner leads the Buckeyes with 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists. Turner leads all Big Ten performers with 3.5 steals and sophomore forward Dallas Lauderdale is tops in the conference with 4.5 blocks a game.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey will talk to his guys about the matchup with the Buckeyes as a game with a tournament feel to it, especially with Lucas Oil as the setting for the NCAA South Regional.
"I think you've got to lay it on the line with old guys like, ‘Here's the deal and there's a regional here and first game at Lucas Oil,'" he said. "And an Ohio State team that had a big win (against Miami). Now that becomes a potential great win for us.
"We'll use that as something to help us focus."
With a veteran team, the Irish have experience playing in domes.
"I don't think they're going to be as wide-eyed because they've been in a situation like that before," Brey said. "The last time this group was in the Carrier Dome they scored 103, maybe I should show that film."
Notre Dame guard Kyle McAlarney said that the Irish need to take a one-game-at-a-time approach.
"I'm not saying we should beat Ohio State, I mean we should," he said. "We need to take care of our business. All of this talk about us getting far into the tournament and being ranked so high, we need to prove. We need to beat Ohio State."
But he understands that this game could mean a lot to Notre Dame.
"We've just got to be ready to play. They're a great team, we've watched them," he said. "We can't let our guard down at all. It's going to be a pretty hostile environment in there, it's going to be a fun atmosphere. We just need to approach it and say to ourselves, ‘One game at a time.' This could really help us come March and we know that, we're a very mature group."
Notre Dame guard Ryan Ayers is looking forward to the setting.
"New Colts Stadium, heard a lot of great things about it. It's going to be a great environment," he said. "Two close state rivals. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Brey said that he is not sure if forward Luke Harangody, who has been sidelined for the past two games with pneumonia, will be able to go. Harangody is feeling better and lifted weights and did some shooting on Wednesday and Thursday. The next step is to practice and the staff will evaluate him after Friday.
"I think it's day-to-day with him. We're kind of going on our preparation like we're not going to have him. I think that's how we have to prepare and how we have been preparing," said Brey. "If something jumps up and surprises us in the next 48 hours then we'll deal with it that way."
But Ohio State coach Thad Matta is preparing as if Harangody will be in the lineup.
"We're preparing that he will play," Matta said. "Luke brings something to that team with his inside presence and rebounding, but they've obviously done very well here in the last two games without him, which I think speaks volumes of how good they can really be."
Ohio State has pressured opponents with a fullcourt-zone press, something Notre Dame has not seen yet this season.,p>"Against their press, we're going to have to be good with it. I thought we did a good job against Texas' swarming, man-to-man and that's similar," Brey said. "But Ohio State has turned people over and we have not played against a press for the whole game, a zone press. So this is a new challenge."
It will be a good test for Notre Dame, especially since the Irish are currently ranked first in the country with a 1.9-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"We just should be a single-digit turnover team," said Brey. "With our experience and our feel for the game, we shouldn't be turning that thing over double-digits."
Ohio State has forced 71 turnovers in four games, but Matta joked that they would use superstition to get the ball away from Notre Dame.
"Keep our fingers crossed," he laughed. "I don't know if you've seen to many teams at this stage, when they're seven games into it, that have a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio."
Brey estimated that his team has played man-to-man defense about 75% of the time this season, but that it practices man-to-man and zone evenly and will play more zone against the Buckeyes.
"With an older group we're able to go game-to-game and be able to pick it up and adjust to scouting reports better," he said.
The Gonzaga-Indiana game will start the Hartford Hall of Fame Showcase with a 1 p.m. tip on the Big 10 Network followed by the Notre Dame-Ohio State game which can be seen on ESPNU.