Purdue has a chance to show the NCAA tournament selection committee what kind of team it is without Robbie Hummel in its final three games.
Notre Dame has already proven that it can win without Luke Harangody. Is the selection committee paying attention? It should be.
Harangody, the Irish's top scorer and the 2008 Big East Player of the Year, suffered a hyperextension/bone bruise of his right knee in a loss at Seton Hall on Feb. 11. The Irish fell flat by one at home against St. John’s three days later.
But then something happened at Louisville. The Irish were right there to beat the Cardinals before falling by two in double overtime on Feb. 17. They followed that by beating Pitt handily at home and stunning Georgetown by 14 in Washington D.C. on Saturday. If you toss in a two-point win over West Virginia (with Harangody on Jan. 9) then the Irish may have a tournament-worthy body of work within the Big East -- with him and without him.
"How many teams have three wins against top 12 teams?" Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said by phone after returning to South Bend, Ind., Saturday night. "We've obviously proven we can play without him. We pass the eye-ball test."
Brey said he and his staff talked about how similar Notre Dame's situation is with Purdue.
"We've had to prove it now for three weeks and won two amazing games," Brey said.
The Irish (19-10, 8-8) don't have resume-building wins in nonconference play. And Brey knows that not all Big East records are created equal. But if the Irish can at least split their final two games (against Connecticut and at Marquette) to finish 9-9 in league play, then they may be hard to turn down, especially with the amount of quality wins they would likely have without Harangody.
"If we're 9-9 we would thoroughly be in the picture, and then go to New York City and see what we can do," Brey said. "It's a great example of what could happen in one week in the Big East and how your fortunes can change."
Brey said that he's extremely hesitant to put Harangody back on the court. There is still discomfort in his knee and Brey said the fear is it could lead to a situation where he might require microfracture surgery.
"It's less than 50-50 that he would play Wednesday [against Connecticut] on senior night,’’ Brey said. "And if he can't play Wednesday then he won't play Saturday. We're not going to mess with this. He's done so much for us already. The reality is that we have played our butts off without him and we're prepared to do it again if that's the case."
The Irish have locked down defensively without Harangody. Brey won't come out say as much, but he did admit that the team's defense has improved. He also said that the Irish have slowed down offensively.
"I wanted us to limit the possessions in the game," Brey said of playing without Harangody. "I wanted us to be overly patient. I didn't want us to have to guard as many possessions. The longer offensive possessions, the better we can shoot."
Brey said the Irish are also playing with experienced players on the perimeter like Tory Jackson, Jonathan Peoples and Ben Hansbrough. Notre Dame has also benefitted from the shooting of Tim Abromaitis, whom Brey is calling one of the best fresh faces in the Big East, as well as getting contributions from Carleton Scott, Tyrone Nash and Jack Cooley.
"We're a little bit better defensively and offensively, we're more efficient," Brey said. "I can't say this is completely out of left field, but I'm a little bit surprised. I'm not shocked. I still thought we had good personnel.
"We were hoping that we could make our own luck and that's what we've done," Brey said. "We're thrilled to be in the discussion without Luke Harangody. We've put ourselves back in position."