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The struggling, but still 16th-ranked Irish entertain No. 25 Cincinnati tonight in South Bend.

No. 16 Notre Dame vs. No. 25 Cincinnati

Notre Dame (14-4/3-3 in-conference) – The Irish lost to current No. 10 Kentucky in Louisville, 72-58 on December 8; on New Year's Day at No. 4 Syracuse, 70-58; and two straight on the road, losing 79-57 at Marquette and 72-54 at St. John's on Sunday.
Cincinnati (16-2/3-2 in-conference) – The Bearcats began the season 15-0 but have since dropped two road games, both to upper echelon members of the Big East: a 72-61 defeat at #7 Villanova and most recently, a 67-52 loss at #4 Syracuse on January 15.

Tip-off: 7:00 PM (EST) ESPN2

Previous Meeting: Notre Dame hammered the Bearcats 83-65 at the Purcell Pavilion, February 4, 2010. Cincinnati had defeated the Irish three weeks prior on a last second tip-in by center Yancey Gates at Fifth Third Arena in the Queen City.

Series history: Notre Dame leads 6-3 including a 3-2 edge since the Bearcats joined the Big East in 2005. Mike Brey's Irish own a 3-0 mark over Cincinnati in South Bend.

Quality Wins: Notre Dame (Georgia, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, #9 Georgetown, #8 Connecticut; St. John's); Cincinnati (Oklahoma, Seton Hall, Xavier)

Familiar Territory: Notre Dame is 14-4 for the second consecutive season and 3-3 in conference play for the third straight year. The Irish were unranked last season with the same overall record.

Quote to Note: "We have to get back to doing what we do; slow it down, take our time. We need to get teams to beat us playing basketball, not in an athletic contest." – Senior guard Ben Hansbrough

Point Spread: Notre Dame -3.5

Notre Dame Starters and Key Contributors

  • Forward: 6'8" 235-pound senior Tim Abromaitis: Return home should signal a return to form for the Jekyll/Hyde shooter…Has knocked down an impossible 40 of 71 career three-point shots in 12 Big East home games including 10 of 17 long range offerings this season…Attempted just seven three-point shots in two-game road skid, hitting two…Collected a combined seven rebounds in pair of losses after grabbing at least seven in seven of previous eight outings…Second on the squad in scoring (15.5), three-point percentage (39.4) and first in rebounds per game (6.9)…Has attempted three of fewer free throws in five of six conference games this season…Erupted for 22 points on just 10 field goal attempts in blowout win over Bearcats last February.

  • Forward: 6'8" 232-pound senior Tyrone Nash: Has suffered a combine nine turnovers in his last three conference games after committing just four through his first trio…Failed to reach double digit points in four of last five and has attempted five or fewer field goals and four or fewer free throws in each instance…Has grabbed an aggregate 10 boards in last three games after collecting 23 in Big East battles vs. Georgetown, Syracuse and UConn…Has also run into foul trouble in last four outings, fouling out twice and committing four in another pair of matchups…Irish offense runs best when Nash catches and makes a quick decision on the low block…Has struggled in the absence of front-line mate Carleton Scott as much as any other Irish player.

  • Guard/Forward: 6'8" 219-pound senior Scott Martin: Continues to struggle from long range (28.3 percent) and from the charity stripe (an unacceptable 61.7 percent including eight misses in his last 18 attempts…Has connected on better than 50 percent of his field goal attempts in just one of six conference games this season (Conference-opener vs. Georgetown)…Just 7 of 32 from beyond the arc vs. top tier foes this season (Georgia, California, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Gonzaga and the Big East)…Had connected for double digits in six straight prior to a four-point effort Sunday at St. John's…Posted a season-best 11 boards in loss to Marquette last week.

  • Guard: 6'3" 203-pound senior Ben Hansbrough: Averaging better than 21 ppg in three Big East home games this season…Leads the team in scoring (15.9), three-point percentage (43.4) and free throw percentage (82.9) and assists (3.7 pg) while knocking down nearly 45 percent of his total field goal attempts…Two-game slump (more than half of his 18 points Sunday were posted after the game had been decided) coincides with the ugliest four halves of basketball Notre Dame has played since Thanksgiving…A much more aggressive player off the dribble in South Bend than away from the friendly confines of the Joyce Center.

  • Guard: 6'2" 173-pound freshman Eric Atkins: Still plays relatively error-free ball – a godsend for a freshman point guard starting ahead of schedule – but inability to beat St. John's guards off the dribble hampered the offense in Manhattan…Dared to shoot from long range vs. Marquette and failed to make the Golden Eagles pay on a consistent basis…Has 22 assists and 10 turnovers in six Big East games but 5 of 17 effort from long-range needs improvement in current stagnant Irish offense…Better defensively expected through first third of conference season…31 points over last three games ranks third on the squad (Hansbrough 53; Abromaitis 32).

Key Reserves:

  • Center/Forward: 6'9" 248-pound sophomore Jack Cooley: – Logged a combined 19 minutes in two road blowout losses after earning 36 minutes of court time in home wins over UConn and St. John's the previous week…Did not connect on a field goal and had just five total boards in two-game road skid following a pair of six-rebound games vs. Huskies and Red Storm in South Bend…Needs to be a bit more aggressive after the catch in the post as he's gone more than a month without an assist (Cooley's a good passer, but double teams have become an effective defensive weapon as of late)…Brings consistent energy at the Purcell Pavilion where he's appreciated by the home crowd.

  • Forward 6'6" 215-pound sophomore Joey Brooks: Logged a career-high 24 minutes in loss to St. John's…Has been much more aggressive with extended court time, earning 16 free throws over an aggregate 50 minutes in last three contests…Similar to the bulk of his teammates, Brooks has struggled from the charity stripe, hitting just 8 of those 16 freebies…Still struggles to finish on most forays to the hoop, but comfort will come with game experience…Four defensive rebounds vs. the Johnnies – a welcomed addition as the team's seventh man in Scott's absence…Continued court time will depend on his ability to somewhat stress the opponent's defense and defend two positions off the pine.

  • Center 6'9" 244-pound sophomore Mike Broghammer: Earned two minutes in both road games last week – Two more per half couldn't hurt a team that has softened after a strong opening stretch…Irish need another body to deter penetration and clean the backboard defensively…Hard fouls would be a welcomed plus.

  • 6'8" 215-pound swingman Alex Dragicevich: Creeping his way into the rotation with a combined seven minutes in last two games but a shooter needs rhythm to contribute off the bench.

  • Forward: 6'8" 218-pound senior Carleton Scott: Likely out through January due to a hamstring injury suffered in a New Year's Day loss at Syracuse.

Meet the Bearcats

Fifth-year head coach Mick Cronin announced he'll consider lineup changes this week after featuring the quintet of Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright, Ibrahima Thomas, Rashad Bishop and Yancey Gates for the bulk of the season.

Each of the five has competed at least twice vs. the Irish over the last two seasons; Bishop netted 18 in two meetings last winter while current backup guard Larry Davis scored a career-high 21 in a February 2009 win over the Irish in the Queen City.

A three-year contributor to the Bearcats attack, Dixon leads the way with 12.8 ppg. He's a capable if inconsistent three-point marksmen, knocking down 6 of 11 vs. Syracuse in the Bearcats last outing after beginning the Big East season just 2 of 19 from long range.

Key to tonight's contest is the healthy presence Gates in the middle; the massive junior averages just 6.7 boards per game but has collected 22 in two wins over the Irish over the previous two seasons. His status is in doubt due to an ankle injury suffered on January 15 at Syracuse though most Bearcats insiders expect the intermittently dominant big man to play.

Possessing similar athleticism to Notre Dame's previous two foes, the Bearcats can rotate 8 to 10 defenders to stress the already struggling Irish perimeter. Cincinnati ranks fourth in the Big East in field goal percentage defense (just over 39 percent) and fourth nationally in scoring defense (56 ppg). They've limited foes to under 30 percent accuracy from long-range (fourth in the conference) and managed to hold Villanova to 72 and Syracuse to 67 points in road losses.

Conversely, the Bearcats have struggled to score for the better part of Cronin's tenure, a storyline we expect to play out tonight as the Irish return home in desperate need of a conference victory to maintain the ever-important national perception of a Top 20 team and remain among the top half of the conference with one-third of the season in the books.

Look for an early blitz by the Irish and a late knockout blow thanks to a major advantage in both free throws made and attempted over 40 minutes. Like his team's opening trio of conference home victories, Mike Brey's crew will hold its own on the boards in South Bend vs. the more athletic, physical Bearcats.

As did the Irish in Marquette last Monday, Cincinnati catches Notre Dame at the wrong time tonight. They'll join the Irish at 0-3 in the road in the brutal Big East.

Notre Dame 75 Cincinnati 64

Season Predictions (Major/conference games only): 9-3 straight up; 7-4-1 against the spread


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