You cannot say that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team is not battle tested. While they had a memorable five overtime win against Louisville on February 9, the team was also in an overtime game just a week earlier and again four days after. In an 11 day span, it was as if the team had played an extra two and a half games.
Notre Dame would pay the ultimate price two days ago in a 71-54 loss at Providence where it seemed as though the exhaustion had finally kicked in.
“I think they are the most underrated team in our league, quite frankly,” Irish coach Mike Brey said after the game to reporters. “They’re really hard to guard. I think Ed’s done a fabulous job with them. I don’t know if it was as much about us not playing great as it was them really playing well.”
Notre Dame did however persevere in that five overtime victory against Louisville. In the weekly Big East teleconference Brey noted that with such a stressful and mentally grueling atmosphere it really was all about fun.
“It was such a special night and I’m glad we somehow got mentally past that to get a win [against DePaul],” Brey said. “I was very concerned about that. To be in that moment was really enjoyable. We just needed to be really loose and have fun with it. It probably kept the guys from realizing how fatigued they were because they were exhausted. I really was enjoying it, it was one of those special moments in my coaching career.”
Leading the team in points and rebounds is their senior forward Jack Cooley who has 14.6/11.2 – a double double. The Panthers big men will have one of their toughest tests when they face the 6-foot-9 Cooley.
The Irish are ranked 25th in both polls while the Panthers are 20th in the Associated Poll and 22nd in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.
In talking to Brey before the Panthers 10 point loss to Marquette, he thought very highly of them.
“They’re the hottest team in the league right now, I love how they’re playing,” Brey said. “They’re so good with the basketball, know who they are and then you get that usual Pitt defense which is physical, in position and they try to crush you on the backboards. Playing in the Pedersen Events Center is really difficult, so that is an extremely hard challenge for us. If you’re going to win in the Pedersen Events Center, against maybe the hottest team in the league, you’re going to have to play great.”
This game is a part of ESPN’s Big Monday and will tip off at 7 p.m. Sean McDonough will do play-by-play while Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas will be analysts.
The game truly is big in the conference as with a win one of these teams will be in line for a double bye for the Big East Tournament, while the loser will fall to seventh place in the conference.
Against Pitt, Brey is 10-8 in his career. Both teams are 20-6 overall and 8-5 in the Big East.