It's only understandable for so much attention and focus to be on Wednesday's three huge matchups between teams ranked in the top 11 of the latest coaches poll. The outcomes will have an immediate impact on ACC, Big 12 and Big East standings, not to mention playing a role in the seeding for this year's NCAA Tournament.
If there's one drawback to having the trio of marquee games – Duke at North Carolina, Kansas at Baylor and Georgetown at Syracuse – it's that other crucial contests that are equally important in the grand scheme of things get overlooked. One such clash that finds itself taking a backseat on the Hump Day slate is Notre Dame visiting West Virginia.
The first of two battles between the Fighting Irish and Mountaineers will tip at Morgantown's WVU Coliseum a few minutes past 9:00 p.m. (ET), with television coverage provided by ESPNU. Early college basketball betting lines had WVU favored by 5½ with 127 for the total.
This game is far more important to Notre Dame and West Virginia than the other three tilts we've mentioned since we know those six teams are going to the Big Dance whether they win or lose on Wednesday. That's certainly not the case for the Irish or Mountaineers who, barring some run all the way through the Big East Tournament a la Connecticut last year, might be out of the NCAA Tournament picture with a defeat on Wednesday.
Mike Brey has three Big East Coach of the Year honors to his credit already, including last season, but this might be his best job at Notre Dame ever. The loss of Tim Abromaitis just two games into the schedule appeared to doom the team to bottom half of the conference and an NIT invite at best. The Irish struggled through their non-conference slate, including blowout losses to Missouri and Gonzaga, and all but dropped off the national map with an 8-5 record at the Christmas break.
But a funny thing happened once Big East play started. Brey's bunch got things rolling with an upset of then-No. 22 Pittsburgh and pulled off another upset at Louisville on Jan. 7, a 67-65 double-overtime win as 12-point road 'dogs against the then-No. 10 Cardinals.
Two losses followed (to UConn and Rutgers). but Notre Dame has since been on a roll with four consecutive wins and four pointspread covers, each as the underdog. Three of the four wins have come against teams that were ranked at the time of the games, including then-No. 1 Syracuse in South Bend, the only defeat on the Orange's ledger. Last Saturday's win over a very good Marquette team was a convincing 17-point advantage at the final buzzer thanks to Pat Connaughton's double-double (23 points, 11 rebounds).
While the Irish have been cruising the past couple of weeks, Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers have struggled. The broke a 3-game losing skid on Sunday with an 87-84 escape in overtime at Providence. West Virginia failed to cover the 5½-point chalk, the fourth time in five games that those holding Mountaineers tickets failed to cash in. All four of those ATS losses have come as favorites, with the only spread cover coming in a 63-61 defeat to Syracuse as 9½-point underdogs.
Defense has been part of the recent problem for WVU; five of the last six opponents have shot 45 percent or better from the field and the Mountaineers are surrendering nearly 69 points per game in Big East play, 11th most in the conference.
The Irish and Mountaineers bring conflicting trends on the totals side into the contest. Notre Dame is 13-4 'under' on the season while West Virginia is 14-7 'over.' What's interesting about those records is the NCAA odds seem to recognize those trends only to have the two teams continue to go 'under' or 'over' anyway. Notre Dame's totals in Big East play have been in the 121-133 point range while West Virginia's have been 10 points higher from 131-143.
This series has been anything but conflicted when it comes to totals, however, as the 'under' has been the winner each of the last 10 meetings. Five conference road tilts for the Irish have recorded a 4-1 'under' mark, the only 'over' in that span being the double overtime win at Louisville that just went a half-point above the 131½ total.
West Virginia and Notre Dame will meet again in a little more than two weeks when the Mountaineers trek to South Bend on Feb. 22. Up next for WVU is Saturday's home date with Louisville. The Irish will be back home at the same time vs. DePaul.