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January 28, 2013

And then there were 11

Notre Dame's 73-65 victory over South Florida was a much-needed boost in its quest to land an NCAA tournament bid after losing three out of four, including two at home.

The Big East field came back to the Irish a bit last week with Louisville shockingly losing three straight and Syracuse falling to Villanova. Notre Dame is just one-half game behind third place Pittsburgh (5-3) and St. John's (5-3).

The Irish would finish 10-8 in the conference if they could win six of their remaining 11 games. But six of the final 11 games are on the road. Notre Dame currently is 2-1 in Big East play on the road after going 5-4 each of the previous two seasons.

Here's a game-by-game look at Notre Dame's remaining schedule.

Villanova (Jan. 30, Wed.) - The Wildcats (13-7, 4-3) are on fire with a pair of home victories over No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse in overtime. Ryan Arcidiacono's three-pointer with 2.2 seconds remaining sent game into overtime against the Orange. Darrun Hilliard scored a career-high 25 points. The Wildcats responded after losing three in a row to Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Providence. It's time for a Wildcat letdown, although they're 6-3 at Notre Dame since the Irish joined the league. Prediction: Irish by 5

@ DePaul (Feb. 2, Sat.) - It's the same old, same old for the Blue Demons (10-9, 1-5), who have lost four in a row to Connecticut, Cincinnati, St. John's and Pittsburgh, including Saturday's 93-55 loss on the road to the Panthers as DePaul shot 27.7 percent. Cleveland Melvin again leads the way at 17.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while guard Brandon Young chips in with 16.5 points per game. But the Blue Demons are last in the Big East in points allowed, last in defensive field-goal percentage, and last in three-point percentage. Prediction: Irish by 8.

@ Syracuse (Feb. 4, Mon.) - The Orange (18-2, 6-1) had their eight-game winning streak come to a close in overtime at Villanova when they shot just 33.3 percent from the field and four of five starters logged at least 41 minutes. Syracuse scores at a furious pace (77.1 ppg.). The Orange is sparked by the dynamic backcourt of Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams. Triche averages a team-leading 14.9 points per game while Carter-Williams averages 12.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 8.9 assists and 3.0 steals. The loss of No. 2 scorer James Southerland due to academic issues is a big blow. Prediction: Syracuse by 7.

Louisville (Feb. 9, Sat.) - The Cardinals (16-4, 4-3) find themselves in a five-way tie for fifth in the Big East after ranking No. 1 in the country. They've lost three straight to Syracuse, at Villanova and at Georgetown. Rick Pitino didn't start Russ Smith - the Cardinals' leading scorer at 18.4 -- in Saturday's loss to the Hoyas while point guard Peyton Siva was held scoreless in 23 minutes of action. It gets no easier for the Cardinals, who host Pittsburgh and Marquette this week. Prediction: Louisville by 5.

DePaul (Feb. 13, Wed.) - This will be the 104th meeting between Notre Dame and DePaul with the Irish holding a 36-14 advantage in South Bend, including five straight at Purcell Pavilion. Prediction: Notre Dame by 14.

@ Providence (Feb. 16, Sat.) - The Friars (10-10, 2-6) won just four Big East games in each of the previous three seasons, and appear destined for a spot in the bottom portion of the conference standings again. They've lost eight of their last 10 games overall, although they did defeat Villanova before the Wildcats played giant killer against Louisville and Syracuse. Bryce Cotton can score at will with a 21.7 average and an impressive 41.8 shooting percentage (61-of-146) from beyond the arc. But they have the third worst shooting percentage and second worst field-goal percentage defense in the league. Prediction: Notre Dame by 3.

@ Pittsburgh (Feb. 18, Mon.) - The Panthers (17-4, 5-3) won just five Big East games last season, and their 38-point victory over DePaul gives them four in a row and matches last year's conference victory total. You knew Jamie Dixon's program wouldn't be down long. After falling to 1-3 in the Big East with an overtime home loss to Marquette, the Panthers have claimed road victories at Villanova and Providence, and an eight-point home victory over Connecticut. Pittsburgh is doing it with tempo/defense, allowing a league-best 54.5 points per game. Prediction: Pittsburgh by 6.

Cincinnati (Feb. 24, Sun.) - It was a challenging week for the Bearcats (16-4, 4-3) before last week's bye. They defeated Marquette at home by two to hand the Golden Eagles their first loss in the Big East, but then fell to Syracuse on the road by two. Sean Kilpatrick isn't shy about letting it fly (18.4 ppg.), but Cincinnati shoots it poorly from the field and at the free-throw line, which leads to problems on the road. They lost to St. John's and Notre Dame at home to start the conference slate. This will be a pivotal game for the Irish at this stage of the Big East season. Prediction: Notre Dame by 4.

@ Marquette (March 2, Sat.) - The Golden Eagles (14-4, 5-1) lost a ton of firepower with the departure of Darius Johnson-Odom (18.3 ppg.) and Jae Crowder (17.5 ppg., 8.4 rpg.) from last year's team. But Buzz Williams has Marquette sitting a half-game behind first-place Syracuse with a chance to tie tonight with a home victory over South Florida. The top free-throw shooting team in the Big East isn't the threat from behind the arc that it was with Johnson-Odom. But Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan have picked up the scoring pace, and Davante Gardner is a load up front. Notre Dame has, for the most part, struggled at the Bradley Center. Prediction: Marquette by 9.

St. John's (March 5, Tues.) - Notre Dame has lost five in a row to St. John's (13-7, 5-3) in Madison Square Garden. But the Red Storm has lost six of the last seven to the Irish in Purcell Pavilion. The one exception was a one-point loss in February of 2010 when Luke Harangody went down with an injury. Steve Lavin is building the Red Storm back to the level it was in 2010-11 when they won 12 Big East games. JaKarr Simpson, who had a big game against the Irish, scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds in a 12-point victory at Rutgers as the Red Storm shot 59.1 percent from the field. D'Angelo Harrison had 20 points. Dir-Dominic Pointer posted an incredible line against the Scarlet Knights: 13 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and six steals. Prediction: Notre Dame by 3.

@ Louisville (March 9, Sat.) - The Cardinals' loss at home to Syracuse was one that shouldn't have gotten away, and then it carried over on trips to Villanova and Georgetown. The number of overtime games in this series in remarkable. Heading into the Feb. 9 tilt at Notre Dame, five of the last seven and seven of the last 12 have required at least one extra session to determine a winner. Prediction: Louisville by 10.

If the Irish can win their last five at home and claim a road victory at DePaul or Providence, a 10-7 Irish team heading into their game at the KFC Yum! Center might not be that crucial. One loss at home with a sweep of DePaul and Providence on the road would accomplish the same thing.

In recent years, Notre Dame has won on the road against DePaul (2011), Syracuse (2007), Providence (2009, 2011), Pittsburgh (2011), Marquette (2010), and Louisville (2012).

If the Irish can win six of their final 11 games, a 10-8 record in a Big East that is beginning to show its depth from years past should be enough to get the Irish into the NCAA tournament. A 9-9 mark makes it possible to land a bid, but would leave the Irish at the mercy of the selection committee.

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