Notre Dame an Early Favorite To Win NIT after Loss to West Virginia

Travis MillerAnalyst IFebruary 18, 2009

Hear that collective sigh of relief? It's finally over.

Barring a truly unbelievable run, Notre Dame can officially be crossed off the list of undeserving teams which might sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

Luke Harangody, his $8 haircut (mine costs $13), and his fadeaway jump shots will not be causing bracket headaches next month after the Irish suffered their eighth Big East loss, this time at the hands of West Virginia, 79-68.

The couches will be burning in Morgantown tonight.

You might be saying, "Travis, we knew Notre Dame was done like two weeks ago."

I agree, but Nathan B's article published a few days back scared me and put some irrational thoughts in my head.

At 5-7 in-conference coming into tonight's game, this was one of the more likely upsets the Irish needed to stay in contention, the others being at UConn, at Providence, or vs. Villanova.

Having the Irish in my bracket would be a scary situation. They have the talent and experience to cause some real havoc, but I'm not ready to even advance them past the first round unless they're playing N.J.I.T.

Notre Dame (14-11, 5-8) shot 56 percent from the field in the first half, but the Mountaineers tightened up their defense considerably in the second half as the Irish finished at 46 percent overall.

Harangody (or "Kyle McAlarney," as John Sanders called him multiple times) had his normal diet of 20-something shots, making half of them, scoring 26 points, and pulling down 13 boards.

He also gave us the poor man's version of DeJuan Blair/Hasheem Thabeet, as he tackled West Virginia's Cam Thoroughman to the floor when the game was out of reach.

People who don't like to start trouble might tell you they were fighting over the ball.

Alex Ruoff led the Mountaineers (18-8, 7-6) with 24 points, as Da'Sean Butler complemented him with 19. Kevin (non-Hokie) Jones contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, and Devin Ebanks scored 11.

There wasn't anything pretty about the game, with Notre Dame making only half of their free throws and the Mountaineers making 18-of-27.

The teams combined to go 15-for-49 from beyond the arc, led by McAlarney's 2-of-8, Butler's 2-of-10, and Darryl Bryant's 0-for-5.

Notre Dame made the first basket of the game about 40 seconds in and led until the final seconds of the half, when West Virginia took a two-point lead.

The Mountaineers extended it to as many as 12 midway through the second half, but Notre Dame cut it to four before West Virginia put them away for good.

McAlarney only scored three of his 12 points in the second half, going stone cold from the floor.

When you've only got two primary scoring options in such a talented conference, it's tough to win games. Ryan Ayers is the best bet for Notre Dame to step up as the third option, as he has shown glimmers of hope, especially scoring 19 against Louisville, but it's just too late.

As for the couch-burners, they climbed to within a half-game of Providence, which lost at Louisville, 94-76.

West Virginia is tied for seventh place in the Big East with Syracuse and Cincinnati. The Mountaineers hit the road for three straight games—at Rutgers, Cincinnati, and South Florida—before returning home to finish the season vs. DePaul and Louisville.

Winning two of the three road games would put West Virginia in great position for the Big Dance.

Ah, the Big East. At least it's not the Big Ten. 38-33? Are you serious?