Take The Fork Out of Notre Dame: Irish Begin a Magic Carpet Ride

Nathan BitnerSenior Analyst IFebruary 12, 2009

One win does not a season make. One loss does not a season break.

But if a single win has the potential to transform devastation into elation, Notre Dame's (13-10, 4-7 Big East) 90-57 blowout of No. 5 Louisville (18-5, 9-2) may just do the trick.

Don't think for a minute that I'm jumping back on the Irish bandwagon. I touted them and Georgetown as preseason Big East title contenders and they have both done everything possible to (help) make me look like an idiot since December.

The proverbial fork wasn't just unceremoniously jammed into Notre Dame; it was twisted, pulled out, covered in ricin, and driven back in. In a neutral assessment, I'm asserting that Notre Dame still has a valid shot at the NCAA tournament and it all started tonight with their unlikely victory over the Cardinals.

Notre Dame really doesn't have to pull off anything too extraordinary; in fact, they likely will only need to win one or two games that they would not be already favored in.

In recent weeks, the Fighting Irish have dropped seven straight games, with all but one of the losses being to ranked teams (most of them top 15). The seventh loss was to a solid Cincinnati squad (17-8, 7-5). Combined with a loss to St. John's, the Irish seemed destined for an NIT bid at best.

However, with the worst of their nightmarish schedule behind them, it might not be so hard for the Irish to make a case in the beastly Big East after all.

It is relatively safe to assume that if Notre Dame climbs to .500 in league play and can get one win over the two remaining ranked opponents they face (at Connecticut or, more likely, home against Villanova), it will be a matter of winning the games they are supposed to and taking a couple of games against similar-strength opponents.

Notre Dame's remaining schedule looks like this:

Home: South Florida (Feb. 15), Rutgers (Feb. 25), Villanova (Mar. 2), St. John's (Mar. 6)

With the exception of Villanova, the Irish will be favored by significant margins. Notre Dame should be plenty motivated for the final game against St. John's, since the Red Storm started their downward spiral in the first place and it will be the last game of the regular season.

Away: at West Virginia (Feb. 18), at Providence (Feb. 21), at Connecticut (Feb. 28)

Providence has lost three of four, the only victory in that span being at South Florida (8-15, 3-8). It hasn't been pretty for the Friars; they have lost by an average of 21 points and the defense has been awful in recent weeks. The offensive firepower Providence displayed against Seton Hall, Syracuse, and Villanova seems to have tapered off as well.

West Virginia has lost three of four as well (the lone win being against the aforementioned Friars). Though defensively stronger than Providence, the Mountaineer offense seems to have gone into hibernation. They were only able to put up 59 points in their most recent loss at Pittsburgh and have been averaging in the low 60s in the last couple of weeks.

Since Notre Dame needs to go 5-2 to reach .500 in Big East play, they would need to win the three "easy" home games and split with WVU, Providence, UConn, and Villanova.

Their overall record would be 17-12, nothing to write home about in some conferences, but not devastatingly bad in the Big East.

It certainly would be helpful if one of their wins came against either Villanova or Connecticut, but wins over West Virginia and Providence instead may very well land them on the right side of the bubble.

The Irish would likely need a couple wins in the Big East tourney to seal the deal if they go this route, however.

Luke Harangody continues to post Player of the Year numbers, tallying 32 points and 17 rebounds against Louisville tonight, in the largest-ever margin of victory for Notre Dame over a Big East opponent since they joined the conference.

But Harangody can't carry this team on his back all by himself. Tonight, he had significant support from Ryan Ayers (19 points) and Tory Jackson (14 points), and the entire team turned up the defensive intensity several notches.

It remains to be seen whether this game was a defensive anomaly for Notre Dame or a sign that they have begun to turn their season around.

Looking at the remaining schedule, it's fair to say that we might have to pull that fork out of the Irish at least one last time.