Now that the seven-game losing streak is in the past, Notre Dame (13-10, 4-7) has seven regular season games left to make an impression on the NCAA Tournament committee. That stretch kicks off on Sunday with a home game against South Florida (8-15, 3-8) at 2 p.m.
There are no gimme games in the Big East this year, but the Bulls would seem to be an almost perfect opponent for the Irish after their 90-57 win over Louisville on Thursday.
After Sunday's game, Notre Dame has road contests at West Virginia (17-8, 6-6) and at Providence (15-9, 7-5) before coming home to play Rutgers (10-14, 1-10). The Irish then head to Connecticut (24-1, 12-1) before wrapping up the regular season with home games against Villanova (20-5, 8-4) and St. John's (12-12, 3-9).
The schedule seems to offer just enough big wins without being as ridiculous as playing seven top 10 teams in an eight-game span. But before the Irish get a chance at proving anything they need to get past South Florida and despite the record, it may not be easy.
The Bulls started conference play by losing seven of their first nine games and their two wins came against DePaul, who is winless in the league thus far. But in their tenth league game of the season the Bulls upset then first place Marquette 57-56.
South Florida lost to Providence in its next contest, but the win over the Golden Eagles did prove that nobody can take anything for granted in the conference. The Bulls have been better at home this year, winning six of 11 versus losing seven of eight on the road.
Sophomore guard Dominique Jones who is averaging 18.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists will lead South Florida. Jones lit up Iona for 36 points and West Virginia for 35 before scoring 29 in the last game against Providence. But he scored just 15 in the Bulls' biggest win of the year over Marquette.
South Florida's high scorer against the Golden Eagles was Jones' backcourt mate, senior guard Jesus Verdejo. Verdejo is averaging 13.7 points and went off for 21 against Marquette.
Freshman forward/center Augustus Gilchrist is averaging 9.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 17 games after sitting out the first six contests of the year. Gilchrist is the highest profile recruit in the school's history, but was not eligible to play until receiving a waiver from the NCAA in December.
Gilchrist originally signed with Virginia Tech in November of 2006, but was reportedly uncomfortable going to Blacksburg in the aftermath of the shootings in April of 2007. Gilchrist then went to Maryland, but when he learned that ACC rules would prevent him from playing right away and cost him a year of eligibility, he decided to transfer to South Florida.
South Florida does have depth. Jones and Verdejo average 30-plus minutes a game along with junior guards Mike Mercer and Chris Howard. Gilchrist is playing about 23 minutes per game while Mobolaji Ajayi, Aris Williams, Alex Rivas Sanchez, Eladio Espinosa and Justin Leemow all average over 10 minutes a night.
The Bulls do not play at as fast a pace as the Irish, averaging 61.2 points while allowing 65.0 a game. South Florida is lowest scoring team in the conference, averaging just 60.4 points a game in conference. The Bulls have crossed the 70-point margin just once in conference against a team other than DePaul.
Undoubtedly, South Florida will try to slow down the game the same way it was able to against Marquette. If Notre Dame allows that to happen it could be in trouble, but if the Irish shoot the ball anywhere near as well as they did against Louisville they should be able to handle the Bulls.