An In depth Look at Marquette vs Notre Dame

If you are looking for an in depth analysis of Saturday's Big East showdown between Marquette and Notre Dame, look no further. The two are battling for position to get a first round bye in the Big East conference tournament in Madison Square Garden, and this game could determine who gets it. Eric Silver digs in....

 Notre Dame Preview


(All Stats for League Games Only)


Notre Dame: if there is one opponent that long-time MU fans love to beat – other than (or along with) Wisconsin – it's the Irish.  No honest Warrior fan with a sense of history will ever forget Dwight Clay's jumper from the corner at the Arena that ended MU's nation-leading, home-game winning streak or Doc Rivers' three-quarter-court prayer to send Digger Phelps's nationally-ranked team home with a shocking "L."  And any self-respecting, long-time Marquette or Notre Dame fan can remember one of the best college basketball games every played – the double-overtime thriller in which the Irish's spectacular first-team all-American guard, Austin Carr, and MU's terrific first-team all-American point guard, Dean (the Dream) Meminger, put on matching displays of offensive fireworks seldom witnessed in a single game.  As for younger fans on both sides of the Windy City, Steve Novak's last-second heroics at the Bradley Center last season most likely remains a vivid memory.


So what should Marquette's faithful expect on Saturday afternoon when the two bitter rivals meet in South Bend?  First and foremost, this will almost certainly not be a game in the 50s or the 60s.  The Irish are first in the conference in scoring at 74.6 ppg.  However, they also allow a lot of points as they rank 13th in the league at 69.9 ppg.


A look at Notre Dame's lineup shows just how talented this team is:


Senior Russell Carter, a 6'4" forward, is the leader of the Irish.  He ranks fourth in the conference in scoring at 16.2 ppg, despite playing the last few games with a hip injury.  During his last five games he's averaged only 10.8 ppg as he's been somewhat limited.  Carter is one of the most difficult match ups in the conference.  He is a tremendous athlete who combines quickness, strength, and excellent leaping ability with an aggressive, intense style of play.  He has an excellent first step and is powerful enough to finish in traffic, but he can also pull up and hit the mid-range jumper.  If a defender plays off him to take away dribble penetration, he can nail the three-pointer.  In fact, he's averaging 2.2 treys per game, good for 11th in the conference.  Carter is one of the few players in the Big East who can simply take over a game: he scored 32 points against St. John's, 26 against Villanova, and 24 against Seton Hall.  MU can not afford to let him get on a roll on Saturday.


Fellow senior Colin Falls, a 6'5" shooting guard, ranks sixth in the league in scoring at 15.6 ppg.  In his three previous years Falls was one-dimensional – a three point shooter –and not much else.  And he's still a definite threat from behind the arc.  He is averaging 3.2 treys a game – second in the conference – and is shooting 38.5% on three-pointers.  In his last two games he hit nine of 16 from behind the arc.  However, Falls no longer merely stands around waiting for a drive and kick for a spot-up jumper.  Instead, he's become considerably more active on offense.  He cuts backdoor for lay ups, he drives into the lane and puts pressure on the defense, and he moves around off-ball screens aimed at freeing him for open looks.  In general, he appears much quicker and more athletic than he did his past three seasons in South Bend.  With Carter not at 100%, Falls has taken over the primary scoring burden as he's averaged 20.8 ppg over the last five games, including outings of 26, 23, 20, 19, and 16 points.  During that time he made 32 of 61 shots from the field (52.5%).  In short, Coach Tom Crean and his staff can not focus solely on containing Carter because if they leave Falls open, he, too, can dominate on the offensive end of the floor.


As talented as Carter and Falls are, however, the key to the success of the Irish rests in the hands (and feet) of freshman point guard, Tory Jackson.  The 5'10" Michigan native has been terrific since taking over the starting job after Kyle McAlarney was dismissed from school for the semester.  The super-quick rookie ranks second in the conference in assists at 5.7 apg and second in assist/turnover ratio at 2.7/1.0.  He's not much of an outside shooter (21.4% on treys), but overall he's hitting 41.3% of his shots.  Jackson has become a decent scorer as he's averaged 11.3 ppg in the last four games.  What Jackson provides that McAlarney didn't is superb quickness on both ends of the court.  On offense he is capable of getting into the lane and either dishing underneath to one of Notre Dame's big men or kicking out for a three by Carter or Falls.  On defense he can match up with the league's quicker point guards more effectively than his predecessor could.


Up front, the Irish are considerably stronger than even the most avid Notre Dame fans could have hoped for.  Leading the way is 6'9" junior Rob Kurz.  The former Top 100 recruit is averaging 10.6 ppg and 7.7 rpg (sixth in the league).  He can score around the hoop with a number of power moves, or he can hit the mid-range jumper.  What makes him especially dangerous, however, is the fact that he can also hit from downtown.  He doesn't shot often from behind the arc, but he's made 40.9% of the treys has taken.  On the defensive end, Kurz is eighth in the league in blocks at 1.6 bpg.  He will definitely be difficult for MU's 4s to match up with.


The final starter is a second freshman, 6'8" Luke Harangody.  Though he looks more like a tight end than a basketball player, he is remarkably quick and fluid on offense.  He has a nice spin move that ends up with a sweet right-handed jump hook.  His touch is surprisingly soft, but there's nothing else soft about his game.  He is capable of sending bodies flying, teammates' or opponents'.  He is averaging an impressive 9.4 ppg and 6.1 rpg in only 21.2 mpg.  In the game against Syracuse, which Kurz missed due to injury, the former Top 100 member of the Class of '06 contributed 21 points and 13 rebounds, so he's more than capable of stepping up when he has to.


Perhaps the most surprising player on the Irish roster this year is 6'9" sophomore Zach Hillesland.  After being a limited role player a year ago, Hillesland has become a major contributor this season.  He's averaging 6.6 ppg and 4.9 rpg on 52.9% shooting.  At first sight he seems somewhat gangly, but then you watch him push the ball upcourt, accelerate past a defender, and make a nice pass to a teammate, and you say, "Where did that come from?"  A look at some of his performances during conference play illustrates how versatile he is.  He scored 14 points and had eight rebounds against Providence, 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists against Syracuse, and 12 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists against Seton Hall.  Marquette can not afford to overlook him when he's on the floor, or he will hurt them.


On defense Coach Mike Brey's team has used both man to man and zone this year.  MU will probably see some of both on Saturday although Falls may have some difficulty matching up with any of Marquette's perimeter players in man.  When the Irish do play zone, Fitzgerald and/or Cubillan must knock down some open looks, but James, McNeal, and Matthews must also penetrate into the gaps as they did against Villanova.


To win this game Marquette must not only play well on the offensive end of the court, but it must also play like tigers on the defensive end.  Notre Dame has as many weapons on offense as any team in the conference, and the Irish play particularly well at home where they are undefeated this year.  Notre Dame will have the added incentive of securing a first-round bye in the conference tournament.  With only Rutgers left on the regular season schedule after MU, the Irish will almost certainly earn the bye if they can win Saturday.  Plus, it will be senior night, so the Joyce Center will be a madhouse.


If Marquette fans are objective, they will acknowledge that a win in South Bend would qualify as an upset.  MU will have to bring its A game to get its tenth conference win.


 Anything less probably won't cut it.


Eric Silver, "Silver Warrior", of is also a contributing writer for CHN, College Hoops Network.

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