Apparently it's time to start paying attention to Notre Dame

With flawless execution of the high pick-and-roll, Mike Brey's Irish posted one of the most impressive road victories of anybody in college basketball last night. The win, their third in a row, allowed them to snag sole possession of fourth in the Big East, which pretty much means they are one of the top 10 or 12 teams in the land. And after years of floundering in mediocrity, it finally looks like this Notre Dame team is legit.

The players in question make up an unusual cast of characters. Hopefully you already know that Ben Hansbrough is a name to keep an eye on the rest of the way. Gritty kid. But people, let's try and refrain from stuff like this, eh? Big man Carleton Scott needs to stay healthy first and foremost, but performances like yesterday (16 pts, 9 rebs) show why he's so valuable at both ends of the floor. And despite a Houdini-like disappearance from the scoring column, Tim Abromaitis is a valuable shooter and rebounder 95% of the time. You also can't say enough about the trio of Eric Atkins, Scott Martin and Tyrone Nash, the three unsung heroes who provide the heart and soul on most nights. The underlying theme here is that Notre Dame has serious depth. More of it than you think.

But the true reason Brey's bunch commands your eyeballs is because of how unbelievably favorable their schedule is the rest of the way. After last night, the Irish have already been there and done that for the most difficult games on their schedule. You can cross Georgetown, Syracuse, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Marquette, St. John's and now Pittsburgh off the list. With the obvious exception of Villanova and a second meeting with UConn to cap off their 2010-11 slate, the Irish have seven straight winnable games in the month of February. Take a look:

Date Opponent (KenPom Outcome)
2/3 @ DePaul (W, 78-64)
2/6 Rutgers (W, 70-60)
2/9 Louisville (W, 73-70)
2/12 @ South Florida (W, 65-59)
2/19 @ West Virginia (L, 69-65)
2/23 @ Providence (W, 78-73)
2/26 Seton Hall (W, 72-60)

 

It's not impossible to win every last one of these games if they play up to their capabilities. Or really, if they come even remotely close to what we saw last night. The one stumbling block, initially, was the road game with West Virginia in a hostile environment with those flying batteries and such. But now that leading-scorer Casey Mitchell is suspended, WVU is down to eight healthy players to close out the season. By February 19th they might have even less. Hell, Bob Huggins might skip the track suit and try to give them 20 minutes a night in the post (he could do it).

The Irish are 17-4 and 6-3 in conference play. Winning a only five of the above seven games would put them at 11-5 in the Big East before they even had to deal with 'Nova and UConn. Owning a non-conference resume that is highlighted by wins over Wisconsin, California, Gonzaga and Georgia, with the only blemish coming to a very, very good Kentucky squad, is a major plus with the selection committee as well. The Badgers could very easily end up with a top-5 seeding come March and might just win the Big Ten for all we know, so the win over Bo Ryan is absolutely huge.

They shocked the world last night, but don't expect Notre Dame to wave goodbye to the spotlight over the next month like they did so swiftly in past seasons. The schedule seems to indicate that the Irish are here to stay. Deal with it.

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