Notre Dame has identified this week as the week when it can ‘make a move.'
Fresh off of consecutive home wins over Louisville and South Florida, Notre Dame's next tests come on the road against West Virginia (17-8, 6-6) tonight and Providence (16-9, 8-5) on Saturday afternoon.
Mike Brey and his players are correct, a pair of wins over teams ahead of them in the Big East standings would give the Irish a four-game winning streak and probably boost them back into the league's top eight.
The Mountaineers also find themselves in a position to make a move and with a relatively weak schedule down the stretch, they have no reason not be focused solely on tonight's contest. West Virginia wraps up the regular season with road games against Rutgers (10-15, 1-11), Cincinnati (17-9, 7-6) and South Florida (8-16, 3-9) before returning home for dates with DePaul (8-18, 0-13) and Louisville (19-5, 10-2).
West Virginia has been a much better team at home than on the road, winning 10 of 12 at the Coliseum, including an impressive 93-72 win over Villanova on Friday night.
"It's always a tough place to play. I know they get real excited when we come to town," Brey said. "It is a great college basketball atmosphere. They have super fans."
The win over the Wildcats represents the Mountaineers' best conference win of the season with the other league victories coming against Seton Hall, South Florida, Georgetown, St. John's and Providence.
While the resume may be short on signature wins, West Virginia does not have a real bad loss. Their six losses include road defeats at Marquette, Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh along with home losses to Connecticut and Pitt.
The Mountaineers are scoring 73.0 points per game, while allowing just 61.4. Junior forward Da'Sean Butler leads the Mountaineers with 18.3 points and 5.8 rebounds while senior guard Alex Ruoff is scoring 15.9 points with 3.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
"Butler is going off and is so confident right now," Brey said. "Ruoff obviously can get them going. The young guard, I thought has done a great job for them."
The young guard that Brey speaks of is freshman Darryl Bryant, who along with freshman forward Devin Ebanks, is giving the Mountaineers a real boost. Bryant is averaging 10.0 points while Ebanks is scoring 9.1 points and pulling in 6.6 rebounds. Brey sees Ebanks as a player who has a chance to play on the next level.
"He's an NBA prospect just the stuff you watch. He's a young guy who has the chance to go off every night," Brey said. "An amazingly talented young man."
The Mountaineers go seven deep with junior forward Wellington Smith, freshman forward Kevin Jones and sophomore forward John Flowers all playing more than 18 minutes a contest and contributing about 16 points per game combined.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins likes to have his team play an aggressive style of defense and get in opponents' faces when they cross halfcourt.
"That's been Bob's philosophy to really smother defensively really no matter who's out there. They pressure the ball even if big guys are out handling the ball," Brey said. "We're going to have to go without the basketball early in the possession."
The Irish will also try to negate that pressure by being solid on the defensive end and getting open looks in transition. Notre Dame held Louisville and South Florida to just 57 points apiece and it is very likely that that if the Irish are going to win their third game in a row, it will be because of another stellar defensive effort.
With such little margin of error left, every game remaining is crucial for Notre Dame, but this one maybe more so because it could be the one that proves that the Irish have straightened things out and are peaking at the right time.