DePaul Blue Demons vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Saturday, February 11th, 11 a.m. Central – Notre Dame, Indiana
Television – Big East Network – WCUU – The U Too in Chicago
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Irish's road eases down the stretch
Notre Dame's chances of getting to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season and fifth time in six years are looking better with each passing game.
The Fighting Irish is as hot as any team in the Big East going into its game against DePaul on Saturday. Notre Dame earned its fifth consecutive victory when it won 55-51 at West Virginia on Wednesday. Three of the five victories were against ranked teams.
The hot streak has lifted Notre Dame's record to 16-8 overall, 8-3 in the conference. The Fighting Irish's schedule gets easier now, as Notre Dame plays just one ranked team -- No. 12 Georgetown on the road on Feb. 27-- in its final seven regular-season games.
DePaul (11-12, 2-9) was 15th in the 16-team Big East through Wednesday, ahead of only Providence. Notre Dame was third behind Syracuse and Marquette.
DePaul, which has lost three in a row and eight of its last nine games, is led by the sophomore duo forward Cleveland Melvin (18.2 ppg) and guard Brandon Young (15.0).
Notre Dame has won six straight games against DePaul, including a 83-58 blowout on the road last season. Scott Martin scored 15 points for Notre Dame, while Young had 16 points for DePaul and Moses Morgan added 10.
TRENDING: Notre Dame is 5-0 since coach Mike Brey inserted freshman G Pat Connaughton into the starting lineup. The five-game winning streak is the Fighting Irish's longest of the season. Connaughton failed to score against West Virginia, as he missed all three field-goal attempts in 29 minutes. However, he had a double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds four days earlier in a victory over Marquette.
With Irish, expect the unexpected
For most of this season, Notre Dame has been something of an optical illusion, for you never get what you expect.
After they lost their leader, Tim Abromaitis, you expected this young team to collapse, but they had earned four straight victories and were tied for second in the Big East through Feb. 5.
Then, just when it appeared they had found their niche slowing games down a walk, they went out and ran with Marquette and buried the nation's No. 15 team.
That game produced not only a surprise style but a surprise star in freshman forward Pat Connaughton, who scored 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting (5 of 8 from beyond the arc) and had 11 rebounds, three assists, a steal and three important blocks.
"What's he averaging, 2-something?" Marquette coach Buzz Williams asked.
No, but not far off -- before that game, he was at 6.1 points and 4.0 rebounds.
"I think that was a career high in almost every way for him -- minutes, points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks," Williams said. "He played really good. That's a heck of a (stat) line right there."
The style of victory, with 76 points, came out of left field after Notre Dame had won its last three games scoring 67, 55 and 50 points.
"I don't think we knew that was going to happen at all," said sophomore guard Eric Atkins, whose job is to control the pace of the game. "Breaking out offensively was a little bit of a surprise, but once you start, you might as well keep it rolling."
--Notre Dame has the top defense in the Big East and has been close to airtight lately. It has held each of its opponents to fewer than 60 points in a four-game win streak and in its last five victories has allowed only 51.2 points a game.
--Coach Mike Brey was Big East Coach of the Year in 2007 and 2008 and now, after being named Coach of the Year in 2011, is a leading candidate to go back to back again. He already has more Big East Coach of the Year awards than Jim Boeheim or Jim Calhoun, who has never won the honor.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- The number of ranked teams Notre Dame has beaten this year in Big East play -- No. 15 Marquette, No. 14 Connecticut, No. 1 Syracuse, No. 10 Louisville and No. 22 Pittsburgh.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're starting to find out who we are. We're such a young team. All those losses at the beginning of the year, we're learning how to take a loss and build off it." -- Freshman F Pat Connaugton, quoted in the South Bend Tribune, after scoring 23 points against Marquette in a 76-59 victory.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
KEY MATCHUPS: DePaul is going in the opposite direction of the Irish, having lost seven of eight while Notre Dame has won four in a row and become the Cinderella team of the Big East. Notre Dame must concentrate on F Cleveland Melvin while controlling the pace of the game, keeping it from becoming a track meet against a team that wants to play fast.
FUTURES MARKET: Freshman G Jerian Grant is following in his father's footsteps. Harvey Grant played on some pretty good Portland Trail Blazers teams, along with the Bullets and 76ers, and his young son earned the nickname "Bam-Bam" because of his fearlessness. That is something he has brought to Notre Dame, leading the Irish with 119 assists while ranking third in scoring at 12.7 (through Feb. 5). He is not playing like the average freshman, as his 37 turnovers attest.
--Junior F Jack Cooley had his seventh double-double of the season with a game-high 21 points and 12 rebounds in Notre Dame's 55-51 victory at West Virginia on Wednesday. Cooley outplayed West Virginia's Kevin Jones, who was leading the Big East in both categories and finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Cooley fell one point short of his career high of 22, which he set in a win over Maine on Dec. 8 and matched two days later in a victory over Dartmouth.
--Senior G Scott Martin continued his hot streak by scoring 12 points against West Virginia. He has scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games since being held scoreless on Jan. 4 at Cincinnati. Martin averaged 10.6 points in those eight games.
The Last Time
On February 3rd, 2011 at Allstate Arena, the Blue Demons were outmanned, outmatched and outgunned in a 83-58 loss to ninth-ranked Notre Dame.
DePaul was not able to keep up with the firepower that Notre Dame brought to the court.
Notre Dame had four players finish in double-figures. Ben Hansbrough led the Irish offensive assault with 24 points including five of eight from beyond the arc.
Scott Martin scored 15 points in the winning effort. Tim Abromaitis chipped in with 13 points and Tyrone Nash added 10 points for the Irish.
Where Notre Dame really impacted the game was by holding DePaul's leading scorer Cleveland Melvin to four points in the contest, although he did manage 10 rebounds.
The bright spot for the Blue Demons tonight was the play of freshmen Brandon Young and Moses Morgan. Young led the way for DePaul with 16 points, while Morgan scored 10 points, eight of which came in the first half.
Moses Morgan has been sidelined with a concussion after hitting his head on the floor on Monday night against Marquette. Per Coach Purnell, Morgan has not been practicing with the team and is not expected to play in Saturday's game.
Notre Dame Roster
No. Name Ht./Wt. Pos. Yr. Hometown/High School/Last College
0 Atkins, Eric 6-1/182 Guard SO Columbia, MD/Mount Saint Joseph
4 Crowley, Patrick 6-3/190 Guard SO Los Gatos, CA/St. Francis
11 Sherman, Garrick 6-10/251 Center JR Kenton, OH/Kenton/Michigan State
12 Dragicevich, Alex 6-7/221 Guard SO Northbrook, IL/Glenbrook North
14 Martin, Scott 6-8/222 Guard SR Valparaiso, IN/Valparaiso/Purdue
21 Abromaitis, Tim 6-8/236 Forward GS Unionville, CT/Farmington
22 Grant, Jerian 6-5/195 Guard SO Bowie, MD/DeMatha
24 Connaughton, Pat 6-5/206 Guard/Forward FR Arlington, MA/St. John's Prep
25 Knight, Tom 6-9/250 Forward JR Dixfield, ME/Dirigo
32 Brooks, Joey 6-6/220 Guard JR Houston, TX/Strake Jesuit College Prep
33 Broghammer, Mike 6-9/265 Forward JR Orono, MN/Hopkins
45 Cooley, Jack 6-9/248 Forward JR Glenview, IL/Glenbrook South
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