The Problem with Providence

Grant and Atkins after a major 2012 upset

Notre Dame's loss at Providence Saturday wasn't upsetting. The manner in which the team performed was. Can the Irish respond tonight at Pittsburgh as heavy underdogs? Recent history suggests Mike Brey's crew could answer the bell.

Saturday's no-show effort by the Irish at Providence isn't representative of what Notre Dame fans should see from head coach Mike Brey's crew as the season winds down.

The Friars were rightly favored in that contest, due not only to their recent surge (now winners of four straight) and overall quality of play at home in Big East games this season, but also as a result of Notre Dame's recent outings: three overtime games, with eight overtimes played in a 14-day span.

The Irish had dead legs and it showed. More troubling than an expected lack of early energy was the apparent lack of a heartbeat, but sometimes the mind is willing and body is weak.

One road blowout loss won't hurt the team's tournament chances, but it is going to greatly inhibit their resumed goal of a top four finish in the Big East, and thus a double-bye in the conference tournament. Not only because of the extra mark on the wrong side of the W-L ledger, but because of the unfortunate truth that Saturday's game ranked as the team's fourth toughest of its remaining six.

Tonight at Pittsburgh. March 2 at Marquette. The following weekend at Louisville for the Cardinals' senior day. Each would qualify as a major road steal, though unlike winning at Providence, each would greatly benefit the Irish on Selection Sunday (odd but accurate college basketball logic).

To avoid sweating the selection process, Notre Dame simply cannot lose its two remaining home games to Cincinnati and St. Johns, two teams both capable of winning in South Bend.

But the loss to the Friars puts the Irish are in a position where they need to steal one of the three aforementioned roadies to guarantee a top eight seed and single bye for the Big East Tournament.

On tap tonight, Pittsburgh at the Petersen Events Center. The Panthers have been installed as favorites of 10.5 points, marking the eleventh time Brey's bunch has been underdogs of nine points or more over the last four seasons.

The team has fared shockingly well as such heavy underdogs:

at Syracuse Jan. 2013 (-9): Syracuse 63 Notre Dame 47

at Connecticut Jan. 2012 (+9): Notre Dame 50 Connecticut 48

Syracuse Jan. 2012 (+9): Notre Dame 67 Syracuse 58

at Louisville Jan. 2012 (+12.5): Notre Dame 67 Louisville 65 2OT

vs. Indiana (in Indianapolis) Dec. 2011 (+9): Indiana 69 Notre Dame 58

at Gonzaga Dec. 2011 (+11.5): Gonzaga 73 Notre Dame 53

at Pittsburgh Feb. 2011 (+10.5): Notre Dame 56 Pittsburgh 51

at Georgetown, Feb. 2010 (+10.5: Notre Dame 78 Georgetown 64

at Louisville Feb. 2010 (+11.5): Louisville 91 Notre Dame 89 2OT

at Villanova Jan. 2010 (+10): Villanova 90 Notre Dame 72

Can Notre Dame register its sixth upset in 11 chances as underdogs of nine or more tonight in the Steel City?

A game preview is forthcoming...

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