There will be an awful lot on the line when Notre Dame plays Connecticut at the Joyce Center tonight at 7 p.m.
With ESPN's College GameDay broadcasting from the Joyce all day, Notre Dame will be the center of the college basketball universe for at least one day. The extra attention along with the third-ranked Huskies (17-1, 6-1) give the Irish an opportunity to make a loud statement.
A win would give Notre Dame its 46th straight at home and its 21st consecutive home win in the Big East, which would break Pittsburgh's mark of 20 from 2001-04.
But most importantly, a victory would give the Irish another of those one-game win streaks that Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey is so fond of. Two weeks ago the Irish stood at 12-3 with a 3-1 conference mark, but losses at Louisville and at Syracuse have dropped Notre Dame into a tie for eighth in the league.
With 10th-ranked Marquette (16-2, 5-0) coming to town on Monday before a trip to No. 4 Pittsburgh (17-1, 5-1) next Saturday, the Irish cannot afford to let a two-game losing streak turn into a three-game skid, which could become a four or five-game slide.
The Huskies are the highest ranked opponent to enter the Joyce Center since the streak started on March 4, 2006 against DePaul and the Irish will have to earn number 46.
UConn's only loss this season came against Georgetown in the Big East opener and the Huskies have rebounded to win six in a row. Ranked third in both the Associated Press and the ESPN/USA Today polls, UConn is in position to move up to number two with a win against the Irish as top-ranked Wake Forest lost to Virginia Tech earlier in the week.
The Huskies boast a balanced attack that does not feature a scorer averaging 15 points, but includes five in double-digits. Senior forward Jeff Adrien leads UConn with 14.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per contest.
Brey said that he has been very impressed with Adrien's play this year.
"I think he's a Most Improved Player of the Year candidate a third of the way through the Big East," Brey said. "He's one of those guys you feel has been in the league 10 years. I keep going back to last year and I said, ‘C'mon, please tell me Adrien graduated.'
"He sets the tone with toughness. He certainly is a man in this league, there's a physicalness about him. What I've seen this year, I think he's really become a leader and a real vocal leader this year as a senior."
Price leads the team with 4.6 assists per contest while Dyson is handing out 3.4 and Walker is averaging 2.7 off the bench.
Thabeet is averaging a double-double with 10.1 rebounds along with his 13.2 points and is also blocking 3.7 shots per game. Thabeet has more blocks (66) than the entire Notre Dame team (47).
While Notre Dame's starting five plays 80% of the team's minutes, Connecticut has seven players who average over 20 minutes and an eighth playing almost 12.
The Huskies have shown more fullcourt press this year than they have in the past. Pressure caused the Irish problems in their losses at Louisville and Syracuse, but the Irish feel like they will be better prepared to handle it at home.
UConn is scoring 79.3 points per game while allowing just 62.6. The Irish are scoring more, 81.2, but are also allowing more, 70.2.
The Huskies are shooting better from the field, converting at a 49.6% rate against the Irish's 45.3%, but Notre Dame will try to make up for that from beyond the arc. Notre Dame has made 41.3% of its three-pointers while the Huskies have converted just 38.0% and the Irish have used the shot much more, swishing 160 trifectas against UConn's 87.
The biggest concern for the Irish will be containing the Huskies on the glass. The Irish are actually outrebounding the Huskies by .2 rebounds a game, but UConn is second in the conference in rebounding margin (+8.6) in league games while the Irish are 10th (-0.2).
"Can you hold your own on the backboard? I think is certainly a key," Brey said.
Kyle McAlarney sees rebounding and transition defense as the two biggest concerns.
"They're very big inside and defensive rebounding is going to be key," Kyle McAlarney said. "They really have great guards that push the ball up the court. They're coming into our house. Athletically, they're a superior team, but we know we can beat them."