Toughness to prevail

A closer look at tonight's rematch between the No. 16 Irish and the Marquette Golden Eagles at the Purcell Pavilion.

No. 16 Notre Dame vs. Marquette

Notre Dame (15-4/4-3) – The Irish lost to current #12 Kentucky in Louisville, 72-58 on December 8 and Saturday at #3 Syracuse, 70-58. After a 3-1 conference start they've since dropped road tilts at Marquette and St. John's before rebounding Wednesday with an 8-point win over #25 Cincinnati.

Marquette (13-6/4-2) – Marquette lost to #1 Duke, 82-77; at #5 Pittsburgh, and most recently fell 71-70 at #17 Louisville, a game in which they held an 18-point lead. The Golden Eagles also dropped a one-point decision to a solid Vanderbilt squad as well as games to two previous Irish foes: Gonzaga, a 66-63 defeat and vs. current #18 Wisconsin, a 69-64 loss at the Bradley Center.

Tip-off: 7:00 PM (EST)

Previous Meeting: Marquette thrashed the Irish 79-57 at the Bradley Center on January 10. The Golden Eagles drilled 12 of 17 three-point shots (many of which were open looks) and imposed their will on the Irish perimeter, forcing Notre Dame into 12 turnovers vs. just 11 assists. Conversely, the Irish connected on just three of 16 from long range including a combined 2 for 12 effort from starters Scott Martin and Eric Atkins.

Series history: Notre Dame leads the series 78-36. The Golden Eagles rank as Notre Dame's most common opponent in the history of the program.

Quality Wins:
Notre Dame (Georgia, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, #9 Georgetown, #8 Connecticut, St. John's, Cincinnati)
Marquette: (West Virginia in the teams' Big East opener at the Bradley Center; Notre Dame).

Quote to Note: "Can you guarantee that?" – Irish head coach Mike Brey when informed Marquette would be unlikely to match its Game One 12 for 17 three-point shooting effort in South Bend.

Point Spread: Notre Dame -3

Notre Dame Starters and Key Contributors

  • Forward: 6'8" 235-pound senior Tim Abromaitis: Has ripped the Purcell Pavilion nets for an otherworldly 42 of 76 effort from three-point land in 13 career conference home games…10 consecutive double-digit scoring efforts dating back to a December 11 win over Gonzaga…Leads the Irish with 6.8 boards per game but was more effective when teamed with Carleton Scott as Abro's average dipped in the latter's five-game absence…Will be asked to cover versatile forward Jimmy Butler at times tonight, a tough matchup for the improved defender.

  • Forward: 6'8" 232-pound senior Tyrone Nash: Broke out of a three-game slump – one exacerbated by foul trouble – to score 13 points with seven boards in 30 minutes vs. Cincinnati, his longest court stint since January 1 at Syracuse…Attempted a team-high 11 shots vs. the Bearcats Wednesday night, the first such occurrence of the season…Struggled to score/convert vs. Marquette center Chris Otule in the opening matchup…Has posted double figures in 3 of 4 home conference wins and failed to reach that plateau in any of the trio of losses.

  • Guard/Forward: 6'8" 219-pound senior Scott Martin: Produced a season-high 11 boards in the first matchup but missed 11 of 15 field goal attempts including 5 of 6 offerings from beyond the arc…Coming of age in home games, hitting nine of last 19 attempts and collecting at eight boards in consecutive contests…The presence of an effective, efficient Scott Martin would nearly guarantee victory for the home court Irish tonight – if he struggles the Irish are lacking a key offensive facilitator vs. a team that can score in bunches.

  • Guard: 6'3" 203-pound senior Ben Hansbrough: The key to tonight's contest as he was completely stymied by Marquette's perimeter defense in the first matchup…Averaging 8.5 free throw attempts in (four) Big East home games vs. just seven total free throw attempts in three conference road losses…Has 15 assists vs. 7 turnovers in conference home games while averaging more than 38 minutes per contest…Defense vs. scoring guard Darius Johnson-Odom also crucial in tonight's battle.

  • Guard: 6'2" 173-pound freshman Eric Atkins: Scored a career-high 15 points in the last meeting but his inability to knock down the open perimeter jump shot was a key storyline in the first half as the Golden Eagles built a lead – one that extended out of hand in an early second half run…Played 35 minutes without committing a turnover in the matchup but also finished with just two assists due to sticky perimeter defense by fellow frosh Vander Blue…A much more aggressive player at home as are his veteran teammates.

Key Reserves:

  • Forward: 6'8" 218-pound senior Carleton Scott: Returned to action Wednesday night after a five-game absence to drain two three-point shots in 15 minutes off the bench…Though unlikely 100 percent healthy, Scott's presence improves both the team's post defense and half-court offense while lending another long athlete on to the effort on the defensive glass…At full strength, Scott rivals senior point guard Ben Hansbrough as the squad's most important player…Ten day break between Monday's game at Pittsburgh and February 3 matchup at DePaul will be invaluable in his continued recovery from a New Year's Day hamstring injury.

  • Center/Forward: 6'9" 248-pound sophomore Jack Cooley: – A non-factor in the teams' first matchup, look for instant energy off the bench in the opening 10 minutes tonight…Rarely sees extended court time in the second stanza of a close contest…Has just five boards over his last three games (28 total minutes) after posting back-to-back outings with six rebounds in wins over UConn and St. John's (18 minutes per contest)...Post defense is key tonight vs. improved Golden Eagles big man Chris Otule.

  • Forward 6'6" 215-pound sophomore Joey Brooks: Will likely see his role reduced with the return of Scott but Brooks' ability to defend two positions remains key, especially tonight vs. Marquette's like-sized offensive weapons…Remains a work in progress offensively with aggressiveness his chief weapon.

Once more with the Golden Eagles

Buzz Williams Marquette squad was at its interchangeable best in the teams' first matchup – one decidedly in favor of the hot-shooting hosts.

Though the aforementioned 12 for 17 three-point barrage rightfully earned game headlines, it was the Golden Eagles relentless ball pressure and confidence to overplay the passing lanes that helped bury the tentative Irish that January 10 evening in Milwaukee.

Former JC player of the year Jae Crowder burned Notre Dame's attempt at an early zone defense, burying four consecutive three pointers in the opening stanza. Adding to the effort was a career-best 21-point effort from senior Dwight Buycks (5 for 5 from downtown) and the always solid Jimmy Butler with 15 points on just eight field goal attempts.

In addition to the Golden Eagles unlikely shooting performance was a conference-best effort by sophomore center Chris Otule, whose effectiveness vs. the Irish post defense tonight, namely senior forward Tyrone Nash, serves a key subplot to tonight's contest.

Expect a better, more aggressive game from Irish leader Ben Hansbrough (home/road splits denoted above) vs. fellow senior Darius Johnson-Odom, who helped limit the Irish sharpshooter to just one three-point attempt in 36 frustrating minutes last time.

Backup point guard Vander Blue has shown the foot speed and will to stifle ND's attempts at effective penetration.

No comparison: "Its way more mental than physical. Way more mental than physical."

Head coach Mike Brey's prescient words encapsulated the January 10 blowout prior to its tip-off. Notre Dame was beaten from start to finish, never showing the necessary aggressiveness and tenacity required to win on the road.

They're a different group in South Bend but tonight's matchup could be the season's toughest test (including games vs. Top 10 foes UConn and Villanova). The Golden Eagles don't go down without a fight – they don't suffer one night letdowns similar to those experienced by their competitors this evening.

Buzz Williams' group will bring a chip on its shoulder, 40-plus minutes of ball pressure and harassment…and reportedly at least 1,000 Golden Eagles fans, a reality that should instill additional hostility for the previously embarrassed hosts and their head coach.

Look for the most hotly contested, volatile environment of the 2011 season tonight – both on the court and in the stands. After losing by 22 points just 12 days prior, the Irish enter tonight as the favorite – a testament to the team's ability to execute in South Bend where they've prevailed in 80 of their last 85 matchups (Marquette owns one of the five visiting team victories).

Free throws down the stretch have keyed three of Notre Dame's four home wins. Tonight they'll need to hit crucial field goals after quality possessions in the game's final five minutes…I'm not sure Marquette will allow that to happen.

Prediction: Marquette 76 Notre Dame 75

Season Predictions (Major conference games only): 10-3; 8-4-1 against the spread.


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