Searching for the sweep

A closer look at today's matchup between the No. 11 ranked Irish and three-point favorite St. John's in Madison Square Garden.

Over the first 10 years of his tenure, Brey has enjoyed seven season sweeps – four of those occurred by the end of the 2003 season, the program's last trip to the Sweet 16.

In those same seasons, Brey's Irish have been swept on just five occasions, and only once since the end of the 2006 season. (Just one of those sweeps, a 2006 double drop to Marquette, occurred at the hands of an unranked foe).

Which leaves 18 series splits through 10 seasons of home-and-home matchups in the Big East. Today in Madison Square Garden, Brey's Irish will try for sweep No. 8 at the hands of St. John's. Notre Dame rolled the Red Storm 76-61 at the Purcell Pavilion last Saturday in South Bend.

"They are very patient and they space the floor well. They have a number of talented shooters from long range that stretch the floor and utilize the bounce in a prudent fashion," said first-year head coach Steve Lavin after the loss.

"Also, with our struggles on offense we were unable to use the full-court press and they did a nice job congesting the lane area so weren't able to get much dribble penetration."

The latter sentence will be crucial today at the Garden where the Irish are just 8-13 in the Brey era. Notre Dame won two of three in the World's Most Famous Arena last March en route to the Big East semi-finals.

"We know where we stand. We definitely wanted this game really bad," said forward Justin Burrell of the first meeting. "We just have to go get this one against Syracuse (January 12) and then we are right back (vs. ND) in The Garden."

Burrell, who played a key role in last year's 69-68 upset win by the Johnnies in South Bend, was held scoreless in 16 minutes off the bench. He's mired in a three-game slump after posting a trio of quality outings, scoring 17, 13, and 13 points in wins over Northwestern, West Virginia and Providence.

Also looking to bounce back is Irish guard Ben Hansbrough. The senior was harassed for 36 minutes in a blowout loss at Marquette on Monday, hitting just three field goals and squeezing off a single three-point attempt while committing four turnovers.

Hansbrough burned Lavin's squad for a career-high 26 points in last week's Irish victory.

"He has a competitive spirit and has the ball on the string," Lavin said of Hansbrough. "He has a nice change of pace on the bounce and can drain it from long range. He's crafty and knows how to draw the foul and get his team closer to the bonus and double bonus. Coach Brey utilizes him well."

One short

Notre Dame will again be without senior forward Carleton Scott, lost on New Year's day to a hamstring injury. Though Notre Dame is 2-0 at home without their best weak side defender, rebounder, and mid-range shooter, his absence was notable in Monday's beating at Marquette.

Though handled from tip to final whistle in South Bend, the Red Storm will again possess athletic advantages with Scott out – not to mention a much clearer path to the hoop and offensive glass.

The play of explosive shooting guard Dwight Hardy – who burned the Irish for 16 points and a crunch-time three-point bomb in a St. John's victory last season – will again help determine the contest. Hardy was held to just 8 points by Ben Hansbrough last week in South Bend.

"Defending drivers was going to be the key against St. John's," said Brey of the first meeting. "I thought that for the most part we did a great job of keeping people in front of us and rotating and helping on defense."

Defense, rebounding and protecting the basketball: common themes for road success in the Big East. Rarely do all three elements come together for the Irish away from home.

Already with three wins in five conference games including two victories over top 10 foes, a win today would give the Irish serious momentum heading into a two-game home stand with Cincinnati (Wednesday) and a rematch with Marquette (next Saturday).

Look for a much more focused effort – not to mention fresher legs – from the Irish than in their last outing, an ugly affair in Milwaukee.

Still, 5 road wins in their last 19 conference tilts is a hard number to ignore. And I'm convinced Brey's group remains a player short of contention (Scott).

The Irish will need to regroup this week after their first losing skid of the season.

St. John's 69 Notre Dame 66


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