If there is anything that makes Notre Dame's current five-game losing streak a bit more acceptable it is the fact that all five games came against teams ranked in the nation's top 10 and the Irish had a decent chance at winning four of those contests.
But a five-game losing streak is never acceptable especially for a squad with the high aspirations that Notre Dame had coming into the season.
The Irish have a chance to snap that streak tonight when they play at Cincinnati at 7:30 p.m. in a game that can be seen on ESPN360.
The Bearcats (14-8, 4-5) are far from a top 10 team, but they have played fairly well in conference and with Notre Dame's recent fall, Cincinnati is only a small underdog in Vegas.
The Bearcats were able to shake off a 0-3 start in conference play to win four of their next five games before losing to Villanova 71-50 on Sunday. Cincinnati's five conference defeats have come to the league's best teams: Marquette, Providence (twice), Connecticut and the Wildcats.
Accordingly, three of their four league wins have come against the worst teams: Rutgers, DePaul and St. John's. But Cincinnati did record a respectable 65-57 victory over Georgetown, who is in a similar slide to the Irish.
Junior guard Deonta Vaughn, who is averaging 15.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists, leads Cincinnati. Freshman forward Yancy Gates has provided a boost with 10.0 points and 6.0 rebounds a contest and junior forward Mike Williams is contributing 9.7 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
The Bearcats are relatively deep with eight players averaging over 16 minutes per game.
The biggest issue for Cincinnati this season has been scoring the ball. The Bearcats are averaging 69.1 points a game, but are allowing only 64.0. They are shooting 41.9% from the floor, 33.1% from three-point range and 67.8% from the free throw line.
There have been a number of times this season when Vaughn has been the Bearcats' only true offensive threat. Aside from the games against Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the Notre Dame defense has been a strength of late and if the Irish can contain Vaughn it should be solid again tonight.
The Bearcats have a +0.6 rebounding margin in the Big East, better than Notre Dame's –1.9, but not enough to be the difference in the game. Although Cincinnati is third in the conference with 14 offensive rebounds per game and that could be troublesome for the Irish.
Still, this is one of those games where if Notre Dame is able to play its game and get its offense running the way it was in the first half of the Pittsburgh game, the Irish should be able to control this one.
This game is as close to a must-win as there is the first week of February and if the Irish can get it they can begin to put the latest stretch behind them and concentrate on finishing strong.