Preview: St. John's

No rest for the weary. Fresh off a 2-1 start to the conference season (and vs. a trio of top 10 teams), the 14th ranked Irish will tonight entertain the league's only 3-0 squad and one that has taken two of the last three matchups in the series - the St. John's Red Storm.

No. 14 Notre Dame vs. St. John's

Records: Notre Dame (13-2) – the Irish lost to current No. 10 Kentucky in Louisville, 72-58 on December 8 and Saturday at No. 4 Syracuse, 70-58.

St. John's (10-3) – Today's contest marks the second of eight consecutive matchups for the Johnnies vs. teams currently ranked in the A.P. Top 25.. They lost their season-opener to St. Mary's (an NCAA Tourney regular and now 12-2), as well as back-to-back early December games vs. St. Bonaventure and at Fordham.

Tip-off: 8:00 PM (EST) ESPNU

Previous Meeting: St. John's defeated Notre Dame at the Purcell Pavilion, 69-68. The contest marked the first of six for the Irish without star Luke Harangody, who was lost for the final third of the conference season due to a knee injury. Tim Abromaitis led the Irish with 24 points while Tyrone Nash chipped in a career-best 16.

The Red Storm put four in double figures led by Dwight Hardy's 16 – Hardy also drilled a clutch, fading, go-ahead three-point shot with 57 seconds remaining. D.J. Kennedy provided the winning points at the free throw line before Tory Jackson missed a pair of potential game-winning shots from long range.

Series history: Notre Dame leads 19-16 though the Red Storm has prevailed in 3 of the last 5. Mike Brey owns a 5-1 advantage vs. St. John's in South Bend.

Quality Wins: Notre Dame (Georgia, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, #9 Georgetown, #8 Connecticut); St. John's (Northwestern, at West Virginia, at Providence, vs. #13 Georgetown)

Quote to Note: "We really need to prepare for two good teams, especially one of the hottest teams in the league right now, St. Johns. Then we go to Marquette, and they are a great team. If we focus in and take it one game at a time, we have St. Johns first and then move on to the next game I think we will be alright." – Senior captain Tyrone Nash on the two-game challenge that awaits the Irish over a 48-hour span.

Point Spread: Notre Dame -5.5

Notre Dame Starters and Key Contributors

  • Forward: 6'8" 235-pound senior Tim Abromaitis: Has seven 20-plus point outings to his credit in 2010 while netting 20, 15, and 19 in the last trio of games – all against Top 10 foes…Uncharacteristic 4-10 FT effort Tuesday vs. UConn including two key misses with 12 seconds remaining that gave the Huskies a chance to tie in 73-70 ND win…The team's leading second leading rebounder will have his hands full vs. the athletic Red Storm tonight…Hauled in 7 caroms vs. the Huskies – the team's first game without Carleton Scott – giving Abromaitis 53 boards in his last seven outings.

  • Forward: 6'8" 232-pound senior Tyrone Nash: Will likely draw the unenviable task of guarding versatile post scorer Justin Burrell tonight…Easily the team's top defender, Nash's ability to get to the free throw line and facilitate the offense from the low post will be key over a six-game stretch that includes two vs. the Red Storm, two vs. Marquette, a home game vs. undefeated Cincinnati, and a visit to face league power Pittsburgh on January 24…No free throws – and just two points – in the first 30 minutes vs. UConn but finished with seven points and a 5-6 effort from the charity stripe by the final gun to secure the win…Also grabbed seven boards with three blocked shots vs. the Huskies.

  • Guard/Forward: 6'8" 219-pound senior Scott Martin: As the season progresses, so does Martin return to the silky form that elicited praise from his head coach and observers of his former conference – the Big 10 – nationwide…Has hit for between 9 and 15 points in each of the last six outings while continuing to find the range from out

  • Guard: 6'3" 203-pound senior Ben Hansbrough: Early season MVP for the Irish due to his leadership, competitiveness and tenacity…Has paced squad in scoring in six games and assists on five other occasions…Played one of the best games of his two-year Irish career in Tuesday's win over Connecticut, limiting the nation's leading scorer to an 8-23 shooting effort while also scoring 21 points including five key points in the final six minutes…Will likely draw assignment of defending explosive scorer Dwight Hardy in tonight's matchup and have solid defender Paris Horne hounding him on the other end of the floor.

  • Guard: 6'2" 173-pound freshman Eric Atkins: Played 39 minutes without committing a turnover in his first Big East start Tuesday night…Chipped in five assists and seven points to go with three steals despite being challenged by All-League guard Kemba Walker throughout the evening…Will have a difficult physical matchup tonight and for the bulk of the next six outings as he continues to start in Scott's stead.

Key Reserves:

  • Center/Forward: 6'9" 248-pound sophomore Jack Cooley: – Provided 18 quality minutes off the bench Tuesday vs. UConn, grabbing six boards and creating three turnovers…Presence on the defensive glass will be key vs. athletic St. John's front and a host of rebounders including Justin Brownlee.

  • Forward 6'6" 215-pound sophomore Joey Brooks: Steps up into the role of 7th man in the rotation due to Scott's absence…Played seven minutes vs. UConn on Tuesday after not appearing in a home win over Georgetown and earning just one minute at Syracuse on New Year's Day…Has the physical ability to defend the Red Storm's quartet of quality swingmen but needs to continue to grow as an offensive weapon to see up to 10 minutes of court time going forward.

  • Center 6'9" 244-pound sophomore Mike Broghammer: Possible eight contributor should the Irish need another body to bang in the paint but Broghammer did not appear Tuesday vs. Connecticut despite serious foul trouble on an already depleted front line.

  • Forward: 6'8" 218-pound senior Carleton Scott: The team's second-leading rebounder and third-leading scorer is likely out through January due to a hamstring injury suffered in a New Year's Day loss at Syracuse.

Meet the Red Storm

New head coach Steve Lavin inherited a developing, talented, but disjointed group that has improved greatly after three years of growing through the struggles of the Big East.

The bulk of the current Johnnies were college basketball neophytes – but rotation regulars nonetheless – in a January 2009 upset of the Irish. D.J. Kennedy, Paris Horne, Justin Burrell (and backup Sean Evans) have all had consistent success against the Irish. Guards Dwight Hardy and Malik Boothe starred on the offensive and defensive end, respectively last season. (Boothe limited Tory Jackson to 1-10 shooting last February).

Now the group is mature, confident, dangerous…and accomplished, beating Georgetown last week as part of its 3-0 conference start.

"They look like the team that beat us last year and beat us two out of three," Brey noted when asked about the new look Red Storm. "They're us times two: we have five seniors, they have 10…Steve (Lavin) has done a really good job of putting his personality on the group, getting them to believe.

"I do think they're a confident bunch. They feel it's their time. And I told our team after the win on Tuesday, ‘We're playing the hottest team in the league on Saturday and a team that beat us in our gym last year."

Athletes + Guidance = ? Hardy leads a deep rotation with more than 33 minutes and 16 points per game and was unstoppable vs. the Irish in the second half of last year's win in South Bend.

Strong forward Justin Brownlee (14.4 points, 5.0 boards, 55 percent shooting) and enigmatic post scorer Justin Burrell (20 minutes, 7 points and 5 boards) round out a trio of difficult one-on-one matchups for the short-handed Irish. Burrell's low post and mid-range game proved difficult to stop in last year's matchup with 12 points off the bench despite foul trouble.

Guard Paris Horne has bothered Notre Dame guards over the past two seasons and could provide another presence today vs. Hansbrough and even Abromaitis on the perimeter. Should Boothe return from a hamstring injury for the Red Storm, his matchup with ND point guards (either Hansbrough or Atkins) will highlight the half-court contest – Boothe completely stifled since-graduated Tory Jackson's penetration in last year's one-point win at the Purcell Pavilion.

Senior swingman D.J. Kennedy (11 points, 6 boards, 1.5 steals per game) always plays well vs. the Irish, last season providing 12 points and the winning free throws in the final seconds. Kennedy has compiled 47 points, 22 boards and 7 steals in his most recent three games vs. Brey's Irish.

The improved Red Storm catch the Irish at a good time as Brey's group predictably responded well to their first game without Carleton Scott in Tuesday's win over UConn. The challenge, of course, is consistently answering the bell without the team's best rebounder, mid-range player, and weak side defender.

The next 48 hours will prove a true grind for the veteran Irish – a trip to Marquette awaits Monday night. Tonight's foe has played with supreme confidence – not to mention superior athleticism – vs. the Irish in consecutive seasons. Now tey're finally doing the same vs. the rest of the conference.

Look for the Irish to intermix a bit more zone looks, defensively and for that tact to challenge the group on the defensive glass and in ensuing scramble situations vs. a veteran. focused group.

Prediction: St. John's 67 Notre Dame 64

Season Predictions (Available point spreads only): 7-2 straight up; 5-3-1 against the spread


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