West Virginia was quicker to loose balls, was tougher around the basket and imposed its will on the visitors - all aspects that had been staples of the Irish win streak. There were stretches in the second half that saw the Irish quick-shoot it, be really sloppy with it and seemingly play with little purpose. It left one wondering, who exactly were those guys in gold?
How does Saturday’s setback impact Notre Dame’s chances of still getting a high seed in the NCAA tournament and opening in Chicago?
Losing on the road to a West Virginia team with plenty of power on its own schedule (22 RPI, 4 SOS) should barely be a blip on the Irish postseason resume.
Currently ranked eighth, if only for a couple more hours, Notre Dame might slide out of the Top 10 of the national polls Monday, and could slip from a No. 2 or 3 seed in the various Bracketology projections, but so much still remains to be decided.
Nobody knows, and won’t know until around 6:30 p.m. on March 13, what it will take to get to Chicago. Or Denver. Or Tampa. Or Tucson.
The last time Notre Dame lost, it regrouped, refocused and ran off seven consecutive wins. The Irish close with games at Providence (Wednesday), home with Seton Hall (Saturday) and Villanova (Feb. 28) before visiting Connecticut (Mach 5). Notre Dame may be favored in three of those four. Going 3-1 means a 13-5 finish - still solid enough to position itself to accomplish plenty of the goals they outlined in preseason and more than enough needed to open at United Center.
The Irish also could go 2-2 or even 1-3. Nothing this time of year is certain except uncertainty.
But don’t cancel any of those River North restaurant reservations yet.
Where should the Irish now focus their attention the last four games?
Brey and his players talked late Saturday afternoon of chasing down the regular-season league title, and they’ll remain in that mix should a break or two go their way the final two weeks of the regular season.
Instead of setting their sights on league-leading Pittsburgh, Notre Dame better glance in the rear-view mirror and realize that the pack back there has closed the gap.
The Irish remain in second place, but only one game separates them from five teams tied for third. Two games in the loss column divides second place from as low as 10th. That’s insane, but that’s the Big East, where the standings can and do look radically different after only a few hours, let alone a few days.
That’s how fragile this league is - slide now, and not only does a team lose the grasp on a double-bye, it winds up possibly having to play five games in five days to win the Big East Championship. Not exactly an ideal avenue for a team that dreams of cutting down the nets at Madison Square Garden.
The easiest solution to it is the toughest of all propositions this time of year.
23: at Providence 7
26: SETON HALL 7
28: VILLANOVA (ESPN) 7
5: at Connecticut 2
8-12: Big East Tournament* TBA
* to be played at Madison Square Garden, New YorkStaff writer Tom Noie: firstname.lastname@example.org 574-235-6153