Par for the Course?

Par for the Course?

Notre Dame is a surprising 2-2 in league play. Or are they merely 2-2 with the bulk of the season waiting to determine their fate?

Notre Dame enters tonight's contest against Rutgers (12-4, 3-2) on the heels of consecutive defeats, 2-2 in league play after a 12-1 non-conference effort that included a win over then No. 8 Kentucky.

Considering their 12 straight wins intermixed, their preponderance of veteran talent, and sterling six-year body of work in the Big East's regular season, a .500 mark after four seems unexpected.

Then again, the home defeat came vs. Connecticut and if not for the Huskies, notorious streak snappers who've won over Notre Dame in South Bend to snaps win streaks of 45, 29, and now 17 games. In head coach Mike Brey's last 48 home games the Irish are 46-2 -- both losses came courtesy of UConn.

Their second defeat, Tuesday night in Manhattan, was to St. John's. The Red Storm have won five straight at Madison Square Garden vs. the Irish -- suffocating defense always part of the Johnnies' recipe for success.

At 2-2, not much has changed for Brey's Irish. They'll still be favored in six of their remaining seven home contests including tonight vs. the Scarlet Knights. Wins in four if not five of their remaining seven road games would rank as no to mild surprise. They're still capable of finishing among the league's top four to ensure a double bye in the conference tournament.

But winning tonight is essential to that end.

"It's been more our energy and just getting back to who we are," said Brey of his plan to regroup. "I almost feel sometimes that you've got to hit the reset button a couple of times throughout the year. Human nature kicks in…We just need a one-game win streak."

Rutgers has won two straight away from home, beating Pittsburgh 67-62, winning at St. John's 58-56, and Thursday night vs. South Florida, 70-67. The Scarlet Knights are led by sophomore guards Eli Carter's (15.9 points per game) and Myles Mack (13.0). Both are outstanding free throw shooters, both control the tempo when Rutgers is rolling, with Carter taking the preponderance of his team's shots (nearly 30 percent at one point entering this week).

Aiding the Piscataway pair is long-time "glue guy" Dane Miller. Now a senior, Miller helped upset the heavily favored Irish as a true freshman in 2009, scoring 12 points with 10 rebounds. Notre Dame slipped to 4-5 in league play with that 74-73 defeat to a poor Rutgers team (1-8 at the time). The Irish have since gone 39-17 in Big East games since that upset loss.

Miller ranks first on the team in assists (2.8), second in rebounding (5.8) and third in scoring (8.4).

Rutgers prevailed Thursday night over the Bulls with a quicker second half tempo on both sides of the court. Head coach Mike Rice noted of the victory, "I'm going to stop talking about what we are and get to the next game. If I did, I'd probably say it's a great thing. But ultimately, I have to stop thinking about it and talking with my team about it. Let's just go to the next game and whatever we are after the next 14 games ... I think we'll be satisfied if we just take that approach."

Notre Dame is 15-10 vs. the Scarlet Knights since both joined the league in 1995 with Brey holding a 12-6 edge. Rutgers is 2-11 all-time in South Bend, losing its last eight.

Notre Dame has not lost consecutive home games since the 2008-09 season (Connecticut and Marquette).

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