Fighting Irish On the Bubble: 'Nova Victory Would Be Huge

Ed LeiserCorrespondent IJanuary 26, 2010

NEW YORK - MARCH 11:  Luke Harangody #44 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish dunks the ball against the West Virginia Mountaineers during the second round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 11, 2009 in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

A terrific opportunity exists for the Notre Dame basketball team, but it is an opportunity that will make some very, very nervous.

It's a trip to Philadelphia to take on the No. 3 Villanova Wildcats.  At 9-0 at home, the Wildcats are as tough as anyone to take down.

Their 7-0 conference record is tops in the brutal Big East, which features six ranked teams, three in the top ten.

But Notre Dame will come into this game above .500 in the league (4-3), surprising to some who had the Fighting Irish ranked somewhere in the back half of this league in the preseason.

But their overall record of 15-5 doesn't feature any impressive non-conference victories, making this already-big game that much bigger.

The Fighting Irish can only boast victories against Saint Louis and UCLA this non-conference season, but that's not the UCLA were accustomed to.

They actually have more bad losses than impressive wins, with an embarrassing loss to Loyola Marymount, and another to Northwestern, a team that figures to be on the bubble come tourney-time.

But the upset victory over then-No. 8 West Virginia in early January gives Notre Dame a glimmer of hope that this season can end on a happy note.

If the Irish can somehow shock Villanova and steal a victory, they could potentially rattle off a long winning streak. 

The Irish won't face another ranked team until Feb. 24 when they host Pittsburgh.

Before the game against the Panthers, it will be Rutgers, Cincinnati, South Florida, Seton Hall, St. John's, and Louisville for Notre Dame.

That's hardly a murderer's row-type of lineup facing the Irish, and you'd have to believe they can win at least five of those games.

Those five victories, plus a hopeful upset of Villanova, would give Notre Dame 21 wins on the year, and then they'll be square in the hunt for an NCAA bid.

With a tough end of the season (Pitt, Georgetown, UConn, Marquette) Notre Dame would be wise to beat up on the little guys while they can.

But it all starts against the Wildcats, and a win in Philly would be just the type of victory that could propel Notre Dame into the national attention.

It's the type of resume-builder that only comes around a couple of times a season, and the Irish need to take advantage of it.