Notre Dame and Providence Begin To Make Cases To Go Dancing

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IMarch 11, 2009

NEW YORK — Big East bubble talk is in full swing with two of the conference's squads notching victories on the first two days of the Big East Championships. 

Notre Dame kept its hopes alive with a hard-fought victory over Rutgers 61-50 Tuesday night and will tip-off against West Virginia in a chance to pick up a solid win Wednesday night.

Providence struggled mightily to end DePaul's attempt at a Cinderella run through the Big East Tournament. The Friars needed a 15-1 run in the second half to overcome a six-point Blue Demon lead.

After both games, coaches and players were talking NCAA chances.

"We haven't won enough games to be in discussion, but I think we're playing better and our frame of mind is better," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. The Irish coach made a good point about his team's schedule and results.

According to Joe Lunardi's latest bracketology on ESPN, ND has played six games against the current top seeds (Connecticut, Louisville, UNC, and Pittsburgh).

"Has that ever happened before with three on the road, two at home, and one at a neutral site?" Brey asked.

"We have 13 losses. Do we have a bad loss? Look at it and tell me if we really have a bad loss."

Sorry Coach Brey, but you in fact have bad losses. Losing to St. John's, who tallied just six wins in the conference, is a bad loss. Losing to UCLA by 26 points is a bad loss. The Bruins are a good team, but the selection committee won't think very highly of you if you're losing games by 26 points.

Losing to Cincinnati, the same team that opened the Big East Tournament with a loss to winless DePaul comes as close as you can to a bad loss.

Brey did admit his team's shortcomings, "We don't have enough good wins. Don't get me wrong; we've got work to do."

The Irish could use some more quality wins, but they aren't hurting as much in that department. Thumping Louisville and beating Texas on a neutral court are pretty impressive wins. With games against West Virginia and then Pitt looming, if the Irish keep winning, ND can make some noise and get back on the bubble.

If Notre Dame keeps winning, and defeats the Mountaineers and Panthers, then loses in the semifinals, there is precedent to send a 20-14 team that would then be 11-11 in conference to the NCAA Tournament.

The Irish have fixed a major weakness that could make a deep Big East run possible.

"I think we've been unselfish defensively," Brey said.

"We've rotated over and helped our teammates much more willingly and I think we've done that the last two games."

Notre Dame has held its opponents to their lowest scoring totals since playing Delaware State in December.

While Notre Dame needs to keep on winning, Providence may have accomplished enough to go dancing even if the Friars don't win another game in the tournament.

"I think we're squarely on the bubble," said Providence head coach Keno Davis.

"I know that playing Louisville, tomorrow, win or lose, I don't think it hurts us if we lose."

With bubble teams floundering across the nation, a victory over the Cardinals would make the Friars a virtual lock. Signature wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville would put Providence over the top because of its Big East play. 

Providence beat who it was supposed to (and them some with wins over Syracuse and Pitt) and lost to who it was supposed to (no bad conference losses).

Taking care of business is what Keno Davis says Providence should hang its hat on.

"They'll [the selection committee] remember those big-name games for us, but it's really these kind of games [beating DePaul] that have set us apart from the other teams," Davis said. 

At this point, Providence is at a crossroads in its relationship to gaining an at-large berth. The Friars can't really be too upset with the selection committee if they are left out because of a lack of quality non-conference wins. But they also shouldn't be shocked if they get in because of their ability to take care of business in conference.