NCAA Basketball

College Basketball Preview: Louisville vs. Notre Dame

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(13)Louisville Cardinals @ (8)Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center – South Bend, IN
Wednesday, Feb. 9th, 2011
Time: 7:02 pm EST

Louisville, without their leading scorer and senior leader Preston Knowles on Saturday, struggled to defeat an awful DePaul team. They may have been looking ahead to Wednesday night’s opponent, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. This is a huge game for the Cards as they all are, but a win in South Bend and Louisville is in no worse than a two-way tie for second place in the BIG EAST. A loss could drop them all the way to eight place in the conference.

The Irish have won five strait games and currently find themselves alone in second place, a half game up on the Cardinals and Villanova. Mike Brey’s squad has only played twice since its January 24th win at conference leader Pittsburgh, a dismantling of the Blue Demons Louisville struggled with, and at DePaul, and a hard fought win over Rutgers at home on Super Bowl Sunday.

Brey has seen nothing but success since becoming the head man in South Bend 11 seasons ago. He is the third-longest tenured coach in the BIG EAST, behind only Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) and Jim Calhoun (Connecticut). Brey stands sixth all-time in career BIG EAST victories (both regular-season and tournament) with his 112-81 (.580) mark and he is one of only eight coaches in BIG EAST history to record 100 conference wins.

The Irish bring an extremely balanced offensive attack to the court, with five different players leading the team in scoring this season. Ben Hansbrough has led Notre Dame in scoring a team-best 13 times, which included one tie with Tyrone Nash. Tim Abromaitis has led the Irish in points on six occasions, while Carleton Scott has done so three times, including one tie with Eric Atkins, who has posted a team-high point total twice this season. With so many names and weapons, it’s easy to get dizzy just thinking about who you need to shut down in order to have a chance against this squad.

I suppose one would start with senior guard Ben Hansbrough, who is averaging a career-best and team-high 16.9 points per game so far this year. Hansbrough also has a team-best 93 assists (4.0 apg) and a team-high 28 steals (1.2 spg). Even when Ben’s out of the game however, you have to deal with his Freshman back-up, Eric Atkins. Atkins boasts a team-best 2.68 assist-to-turnover ratio, which ranks 23rd nationally and first in the BIG EAST. He is second on the team with 79 assists (3.5 apg).

Hansbrough’s fellow senior Tim Abromaitis is Notre Dame’s second leading rebounder (6.4 rpg) and second leading scorer at 14.0 points per game. Abromaitis is one of the top perimeter shooters in college basketball and has a versatile inside-out game that allows him the ability to score from any spot on the floor. At 6′ 8″ toe-to-head, Abromaitis should present a very difficult match-up problem for the Cardinals.

Another pair of seniors, both Scotts, also provide double digit scoring outputs for the Irish. Forward Carleton Scott and guard Scott Martin are averaging 11.5 and 10.1 points a game, respectively. Carleton Scott is the Irish’s leader in rebounding with 6.6 boards a scrap and also leads the squad in blocks, rejecting 1.7 shots a game.

Yet another senior, forward Tyrone Nash, is fifth on the team in scoring and is just short of giving Notre Dame five players (all seniors) AVERAGING double figures a game as he scores 9.7 points a contest. That double digit number seems to be a big player in the Irish’s success: Notre Dame is 12-0 this season when he scores at least 10 points. Nash is a high-energy player who is one of Notre Dame’s top defenders and post players. He also possesses uncanny passing abilities for a player his size (6′ 8″, 232lbs), and is third on team, averaging 2.7 dimes a game.

Notre Dame is not very good at defending the perimeter, ranking 14th in the 16 team BIG EAST in 3-point field goal percentage defense at 34.8 percent. Louisville, one of the best three ball shooting teams in the nation has to be salivating at their chances from 20.9 feet away from the rim and beyond.

The Cardinals may find some extra motivation behind memories of their last trip north to South Bend… They lost by THIRTY-THREE POINTS(!), 90-57 to the Irish in the 2008-2009 season, a loss that propelled them to 13 strait wins before falling in the Elite Eight to Michigan State. Even so, that won’t be motivation enough to leave The Joyce Center with a win. The Irish emerge victorious, but Louisville’s RPI should get a boost from a Top 10 road game played regardless of the outcome. I hate the RPI system.

In another system that doesn’t get near the publicity it should, Notre Dame has recorded a perfect score of 100 percent in each of the last three Graduation Success Rate (GSR) figures released in 2008, 2009 and 2010 – and is one of just 12 schools to earn a perfect 100 percent score in each of the last three years. The 11 other schools include Binghamton, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Colgate, Holy Cross, Davidson, Loyola of Maryland, North Carolina-Wilmington, Utah State, Wake Forest and Western Kentucky.

Notre Dame 74, Louisville 69