West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said this year's Notre Dame team reminds him a lot of his Final Four squad from last season. Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey, or any other coach for that matter, would likely welcome that kind of comparison.
The eighth-ranked Irish look to match a school record with their eighth straight Big East victory Saturday when they face a Mountaineers team needing a strong finish to make a case for an NCAA tournament bid.Huggins' 2009-10 team, which defeated Notre Dame 53-51 in the semifinals of the Big East tournament en route to its first conference title, finished 31-7 after making its first Final Four appearance since 1959.While Huggins is not pleased with the Mountaineers (16-9, 7-6) being mired in a ninth-place tie this season, he is impressed with how the Irish (21-4, 10-3) have gotten off to their best start in 30 years."It's a little scary," Huggins said of Saturday's matchup in Morgantown. "... I think they're similar to where we were a year ago, probably even bigger than what we were a year ago."When they play (Ben) Hansbrough at point and (6-foot-8 Scott) Martin at (shooting guard), they've got great length and such great size and they really present problems on the offensive glass and problems defensively with their length. And then everybody they put on the floor can make shots."It's going to be a hard matchup for us."It wouldn't be the first time a Notre Dame opponent felt this way. Since back-to-back road losses to Marquette and St. John's last month, Brey's team has won seven straight to move into second place in the Big East, two games back of No. 4 Pittsburgh."They keep the game simple, easy and that's why they're No. 8 in the country and the second-best team in our league right now," South Florida coach Stan Heath said following last Saturday's 78-55 loss to Notre Dame.The Irish will try to win four in a row on the road in Big East play for the first time since a 5-0 run Jan. 27-Feb. 24, 2001. That stretch helped Notre Dame set a record with eight consecutive Big East victories Jan. 16-Feb. 14, 2001."The vibe around our group, I love," Brey said. "And we're in the mix and chasing down a regular-season title. It's a realistic thing for us down the stretch."The same cannot be said for the Mountaineers, who have lost three of four and face a brutal upcoming schedule with matchups versus Pittsburgh, No. 13 Connecticut and 16th-ranked Louisville."We've played OK, we just haven't shot the ball very well," said Huggins, whose team made 36.2 percent of its attempts in Monday's 63-52 loss at No. 17 Syracuse after falling out of the Top 25 earlier in the day."We kind of depend on some of the guys that helped score the ball for us a year ago, and they're struggling now."Junior forward Kevin Jones, second behind senior guard Casey Mitchell with 12.7 points per game, is 6 for 17 from the field with 12 points in the last two games.Jones, though, hit 12 of 17 shots in two matchups with Notre Dame last season. He scored 10 points in the semifinal victory and had 17 with 10 rebounds in a 70-68 loss in South Bend.Hansbrough, the Big East's fourth-leading scorer with 17.3 points per game, is averaging 20.9 during the winning streak.Notre Dame has lost two in a row in Morgantown, falling 79-68 in its most recent visit Feb. 18, 2009.The Irish lead the all-time series 25-11.