It may quite possibly be the most overused and inaccurate phrase in all of sports, but coaches and players say it all of the time.
"We've got nothing to lose."
Yet, when the Notre Dame basketball team says it in the days leading up to their home game tonight against Louisville (18-4, 9-1), it makes a little more sense than usual.
Aside from the fact that by definition, anytime a team competes it has at least one thing to lose, the Irish have a point since they've lost so much already.
Gone is the home-winning streak, replaced with a two-game home losing streak. Gone are the Top 10 rankings and any rankings at all. And gone, at least for now, is the NCAA Tournament bid that many following the program assumed was a given. In fact at 12-10 overall and 3-7 in the league, the Irish are barely hanging on to a possible NIT invitation.
"When you say there is nothing to lose, I mean Thursday there really is nothing to lose," senior guard Kyle McAlarney said. "No one's going to pick us, so we really are just going to go out there and let it all hang out and play with reckless abandon."
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey is hoping that the reductions will mean an increase in comfort as his team takes the floor at the Joyce Center at 7 p.m.
"Streaks are gone, expectations are [gone], nobody talks about that," Brey said. "Play and go after it and let's be in position again. I'd love to be in the position we were the last two home games, we had chances to win those games against very good teams and we didn't make enough smart plays to win them."
Notre Dame has not made enough smart plays to win any of its last seven games, dating back to its last game with Louisville. The Irish's 87-73 overtime loss at Louisville on Jan. 12 was the contest that began Notre Dame's slide.
"The team that we play Thursday is the team that put us on this streak we're on," junior point guard Tory Jackson said. "It's kind of good that we play them again and try to start things back up again."
Despite the final score, Notre Dame played well and had a chance to win the game in regulation.
"They feel they let one slip away down there and had a chance," Brey said. "It was a night where we answered runs pretty darn good and they were great runs in that building by them and we came back answered them."
Junior forward Luke Harangody admitted that it is tough not to look back to that game and wonder ‘what if?' but also takes confidence from that contest.
"This is the team that started the losing streak. What would have happened if we would have gotten a couple of stops during the game and won that game? We might not even be talking about this right now," said Harangody. "We like our chances."
With their fullcourt pressure defense, the Cardinals are one of the Irish's toughest matchups in the league, but Notre Dame still had a chance.
"Obviously, it's a really talented group that's going to press us. We handled the pressure pretty good down there," said Brey. "You think back as a reference point, you really had a chance and since that one got away, we've not been able to get one obviously."
Harangody led all scorers with 28 points and hauled in 13 rebounds in the teams' first meeting. McAlarney added 19 points, but the Irish only got two points from their bench as the starters played 198 of the game's 225 minutes and ran out of gas in overtime.
Louisville's Terrence Williams led the Cardinals with 24 points and 16 rebounds while Samardo Samuels added 18 points and Earl Clark contributed with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Brey was especially impressed with the play of Williams.
"Scary, scary talent. Plays 40 minutes, kind of a coach on the court, has a great demeanor, sets the tone," he said. "Certainly a very strong Player of the Year candidate in my mind. Just a heck of a talent, I just think he plays like such a senior veteran who sets the tone."
But just as the Big East has presented problems for the Irish this year, just about every game brings an opportunity.
"It's a great opportunity for us, against a heck of a basketball team," Brey said.
The most important thing for Notre Dame at this point is to get back into its offensive rhythm.
"So much in sport is establishing your style of play and it's been hard for us to establish our style of play," Brey said. "I think you have to give credit a lot to the people we've played, who have been excellent defensively. That offensive rhythm that has been a strength of ours has been really hard to get into and I think that's kind of affected everything."
Senior forward Zach Hillesland pointed to consistency as the problem with the offense.
"We're playing against too good of competition to come down and have two good possessions and then on the next one come down take a quick shot that leads to a transition opportunity for these very talented teams that can get out and run," Hillesland said. "Either they're getting wide-open shots, layups or we're fouling them. You have to have as good a possession as you can every single time down the court or these teams will make you pay for and certainly that's what's been happening."
Hillesland even checked out the numbers to back it up.
"This team's bread and butter has been its offensive efficiency and that hasn't been there," he said. "I don't usually look at the stats, but I looked at the stats the other day and compared to the last year and everyone's points per shot were down across the board."
Harangody is ready for things to change.
‘When is enough enough? Obviously, everyone on the team is sick of it, I'm probably sick of it the most," he said. "Thursday is going to be one of those games where we're going to come out and we're going to throw punches and we're going to fight until the end.
"At this point, we're going all out, we've got nothing to lose. There's nothing more you can say other than it's going to be a fight, there's going to be punches thrown."