Notre Dame Hoops Victim of Brutal Schedule

Irish drop fourth straight to Marquette with no schedule help in sight

It's no secret that college basketball's best conference this season is the Big East. Though there have been a couple disappointments (Georgetown's sudden defensive woes are out of character for John Thompson III's teams) there have been just as many surprises (West Virginia, Marquette). So Notre Dame must have scanned their conference schedule before the season and known the depressing truth: Surviving in the Big East is no easy task, even with an All-American forward.

Such is the case for the Irish. After last night's home loss to No. 8 Marquette, Notre Dame finds themselves at 12-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big East, trailing Villanova, Georgetown, and Cincinatti all the way down at 11th. For an Irish team supposed to compete for the conference -- and for a Final Four spot -- it's a disappoint mark brought on by four straight losses. Maybe worse, the losses aren't what's disappointing.

Look at the schedule: Notre Dame went to Louisville (as hot a team as any in the country) followed by Syracuse (ditto), and then had to host Connecticut, one of the country's most athletic and dominant teams, and Marquette. What's more, the two home games were within two days -- Saturday and Monday. Getting beat up by Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet is no way to prepare for playing Jerel McNeal and Dominic James.

Unfortunately for the Irish, there's no schedule ease approaching. Saturday, they travel to former No. 1-ranked Pittsburgh. Wednesday, they roam to Cincinatti, and then next Saturday have a weird non-conference road game at UCLA. Yikes. By the time the Irish finish the season with the easiest portion of their schedule -- "easiest" being relative in the Big East -- it might be too late. Either Notre Dame picks up a few of these tough conference wins, or they'll be a good team but not a great one. With their schedule, they needed greatness.

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