Notre Dame (16-12, 7-9) is no longer in the race to finish in the upper half of the Big East, but the Irish still have a chance to finish at .500 in the league and remain confident that they can earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
Even if they do finish 9-9 in the Big East, it is going to take an upset or two for the Irish to place better that 10th in the league, meaning they probably will need at least two victories in New York to remain on the tournament committee's board.
But if Notre Dame is unable to defeat Villanova tonight at the Joyce Center, the Irish will lose their chance at .500 and will need a miraculous run at the Big East Tournament to have any shot at reaching the NCAA Tournament.
While Notre Dame is fighting a tourney berth, the Wildcats (23-6, 11-5) are still alive for a spot in the Big East's top four, although Villanova's chance at the double-bye in the league tournament took a hit with a 56-54 loss to Georgetown on Saturday.
Villanova was ranked 10th in last week's Associated Press poll and 12th in the Coaches' Poll, although the Wildcats are sure to drop when today's rankings come out. The Wildcats had won seven of eight, but have lost twice in their last five contests.
Villanova has had the kind of year that many had hoped Notre Dame would have. The Wildcats have won the games that they were supposed to win, while grabbing a couple tough ones on the road in conference and stealing a couple against the league's heavyweights.
The loss over the weekend was the worst this season for the Wildcats, whose other defeats came against Texas, Marquette, Louisville, Connecticut and West Virginia. They have wins over Pittsburgh and Marquette as well as road victories over Syracuse and Providence.
Villanova is averaging 76. 6 points while allowing just 66.4. Senior forward Dante Cunningham leads the Wildcats with 16.2 points and 7.3 rebounds while junior guard Scottie Reynolds is averaging 15.2 points and 3.6 assists. Reynolds has the ability to light up the scoreboard and put up a season-high 40 against Seton Hall before scoring 31 in the win over the Friars.
Sophomore guards Corey Fisher (11.1 points) and Corey Stokes (9.7) are Villanova's next top scorers while senior guard-forward Dwayne Anderson (7.8 points, 5.7 rebounds), senior forward Shane Clark (5.2 points, 3.8 rebounds) and junior guard Reggie Redding (7.0 points, 4.9 rebounds) join Cunningham and Reynolds in the starting lineup.
Notre Dame won the only meeting between the teams a year ago, 90-80. Kyle McAlarney led the way with 30 points while Luke Harangody had 25 points and 10 rebounds. The Irish were able to limit Reynolds and Cunningham to a combined 20 points and it will take a similar effort to win on Monday.
Notre Dame could be a man down tonight as senior forward Zach Hillesland has been listed as doubtful with a bruised sternum he suffered against Connecticut. That probably means increased minutes for sophomore forward Tyrone Nash, who has give the Irish a boost of late but needs to be better at the free throw line.
The Irish went all out to try to record a signature victory at UConn on Saturday, but came away with nothing more than a loss and a good effort. Hopefully, Notre Dame left enough in the tank for the Wildcats.