College Basketball: Why Notre Dame at Cincinnati Is the Game to Watch This Week

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2013

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17: Jack Cooley #45 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish prepares for a free throw against the Brigham Young Cougars during the consolation game of the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center on November 17, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

While the spotlight of American collegiate athletics rests on Miami for the BCS National Championship Game, one of the two schools involved in college football's biggest game of the season will participate in a Big East basketball showdown on Monday.

No. 17 Notre Dame (13-1, 1-0) at No. 21 Cincinnati (13-2, 1-1); Monday, 7 p.m. ET; ESPN2 

The final season of Big East basketball as we have all come to know it began last week, and on Monday, the conference produces a game between two of its best programs. 

The Fighting Irish will make their first true road trip of the season on Monday when they take on the Cincinnati Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena. 

The Irish have played three neutral-site games against St. Joseph's and BYU in Brooklyn, they also faced Purdue in Indianapolis this season, but they have not made a venture into enemy territory this season, which is something that could be a factor when Selection Sunday rolls around. 

The lack of road games will not hurt the experienced Irish team, who have made plenty of dangerous Big East trips in the past. 

Mike Brey's team is led by senior forward Jack Cooley, who averages a double-double 15.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. 

The other senior leader for the Irish is guard Scott Martin, who is in his sixth year of collegiate play.

Martin is joined in the backcourt by a pair of juniors, Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, as well as one sophomore, Pat Connaughton.

All four of those players provide Brey with plenty of depth to help his team during the Big East season. 

As for the frontcourt, Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman has emerged as a viable backup to Cooley, if the senior were to get in foul trouble or need a rest. 

The Bearcats are coming off of a shock 53-52 loss at home to St. John's on Saturday, and they will look to recover with a win over the Irish. 

Cincinnati also has plenty of depth when it comes to their roster, with senior guard Cashmere Wright and junior guard Sean Kilpatrick being the key players for Mick Cronin's Bearcats. 

While the guard play will be important for the Bearcats on Monday night, their defense in the frontcourt will decide who wins the game. 

The man that will be in charge of guarding Cooley will be senior center Cheikh Mbodj, who is averaging 2.3 blocks per game in 19.5 minutes this season.

If Mbodj can hold Cooley under 15 points, the Bearcats should have no trouble winning the clash between two of the six ranked Big East teams. 

Regardless of the result on Monday night, the game will give both teams a gauge of how they will do against fellow contenders for the conference title.

Both teams will want this win to help build momentum as they both face a fairly easy January schedule before taking on a bevy of ranked teams in the final month of conference play. 

Prediction: Cincinnati 71, Notre Dame 66

Monday's game will be very close with Cincinnati's extra motivation to upset the Irish after losing on Saturday and home court advantage helping them over the top. 


Who do you think will come out on top on Monday? 

Comment below or leave me a comment on Twitter, @JTansey90