Preview: Rutgers

A closer look at today's matchup between the No.8 Irish and the visiting Scarlet Knights of Rutgers.

Notre Dame‘s remaining eight-game regular season slate contains four matchups the Irish can't afford to lose in order to maintain their lofty status with the NCAA Selection Committee: today vs. Rutgers, next Saturday at South Florida, February 23rd at improved Providence, and Saturday, February 26 vs. Seton Hall in South Bend.

Today's contest with the Scarlet Knights ranks as the clear leader of the quartet. Rutgers' senior class has faltered in 29 of its 32 road tilts (1-4 this season) while Notre Dame has won 15 straight and 82 of its last 88 games in South Bend including a 36-5 mark in Big East action.

Rutgers at No. 8 Notre Dame

Notre Dame (18-4/7-3) – Notre Dame pounded DePaul, 83-58 Thursday night in Rosemont, Ill. The Irish have lost to Kentucky (in Louisville) and three true road games in conference play: Syracuse, Marquette, and St. John's.

Rutgers (12/10/3-7) – The Scarlet Knights have lost three straight including a 58-56 last-second decision vs. St. John's on Wednesday.

Tip-off: 12:00

Previous Meeting: The Irish dropped a shocker, 74-73, to then league-winless Rutgers in Piscataway late last January. Senior forward Luke Harangody missed 18 of a staggering 26 field goal attempts due largely to the inside presence of since-departed 7-foot center Hamady Ndiaye (six blocked shots). Rutgers received 24 points from senior guard Mike Rosario and placed all five starters in double digits.

Series history: Notre Dame leads 16-12 including a 9-2 mark in South Bend. The last Irish loss to Rutgers on the Joyce Center floor was a 72-70 decision in 1999 under ex-head man John MacLoed. Mike Brey is 10-5 vs. Rutgers, 6-0 in South Bend.

Quality Wins:
Notre Dame: (Georgia, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Connecticut, St. John's, Cincinnati, Marquette, at Pittsburgh)
Rutgers: (at Seton Hall, January 22)

Quote to Note: "Anything can happen in our league. Rutgers did not have a league win (last year at this time), got their first against us and turned around and got their second in Georgetown." – Irish head coach Mike Brey.

Point Spread: Notre Dame -11.5

Notre Dame Starters and Key Contributors

  • Forward: 6'8" 235-pound senior Tim Abromaitis: Broke out of a two-game offensive slump with 13 points in Thursday's win over DePaul…Has again performed well at home this season, connecting on 29 of 59 field goal attempts in contests vs. six conference opponents and including a win over NCAA-regular Gonzaga…19 of 40 from long-range vs. Big East foes on the season including 13 of 24 inside the friendly confines of the Purcell Pavilion this season…Has drilled 43 of 78 career three-point attempts in league play…Shooting percentages (FG/FT/3pt) of 43/80/39 are down across the board after an incredible 48/88/41 performance last season…Tied with Carleton Scott for the team-lead in rebounds per game (6.4).

  • Forward: 6'8" 232-pound senior Tyrone Nash: Irish are 11-0 when Nash scores at least 10 points this season including 5-0 in league play…8 rebounds Thursday vs. DePaul was his highest total since opening the conference season with 10 boards in win over then-No. 9 Georgetown…Also hit his first career three-point bucket vs. the Blue Demons…Has compiled 41 points, 23 boards and 11 assists during team's four-game winning streak…Stayed out of foul trouble during said streak, amassing between 30 and 36 minutes per contest following a four-game stretch (two losses) in which he never played more than 26 minutes due to persistent foul issues.

  • Guard/Forward: 6'8" 219-pound senior Scott Martin: Has emerged as another offensive weapon after a tough start to the season…Has produced double figures in four straight contests (14-33 from the field) and grabbed between 7 and 11 boards in four of his last seven outings…Knocked down six of 11 three-point shot attempts during team's four-game win streak after missing on 17 of his first 21 Big East shots from beyond the arc…11 of 14 from the charity stripe over the last three contests after inexplicably missing 10 of 21 to start league play.

  • Guard: 6'3" 203-pound senior Ben Hansbrough: Ranks as a first-team All Big East performer through 10 games... Leads the Irish in scoring (16.9), Big East scoring (18.7), assists (4.0), three-point percentage (42.5) and minutes per game (34.6)…Has sat out just 28 of a possible 400 game minutes vs. conference foes…Registered his eighth game with at least 20 points on Thursday vs. DePaul; the Irish are 7-1 in those contests with the only defeat a second-half no-show vs. Kentucky…Scored double figures in nine of 10 league games (0 at Marquette)… Has produced 21 assists vs. 8 turnovers during team's four-game win streak…Uncharacteristically missed four of nine foul shots Thursday at DePaul (and five of last 10) after knocking down 47 of his first 49 free throws in league play

  • Forward: 6'8" 218-pound senior Carleton Scott: Tied for the team lead with 6.4 boards per contest and also serves as the team's best free throw shooter, knocking down 37 of 41 this season…Continues streaky shooting from long range, missing all five of his deep attempts vs. DePaul after drilling a clutch 5 of 6 in upset win over Pittsburgh…Has hit 28 of 75 three-point attempts vs. 43 of 70 from inside the arc…Totaled 35 points, 24 boards, and 4 blocks in three starts since returning from a hamstring injury that kept him out of 4.5 games (Irish were 2-3 in that span).

Key Reserves:

  • Guard: 6'2" 173-pound freshman Eric Atkins: Has seen his court-time reduced to 22 minutes per game over the last three contests after playing more than 37 minutes per game in Carleton Scott's absence…Has been solid from long range (9 of 22) in league play despite a 1-6 mark on relatively open shots in a loss to Marquette…Also netted 21 of 27 league free throw attempts and has hit 18 of his last 30 field goal attempts…Suffered just 14 turnovers in 10 conference games this season while dishing out 33 assists…Committed just one turnover in his last 65 minutes (all played as the team's sixth-man).

  • Center/Forward: 6'9" 248-pound sophomore Jack Cooley: – Scored three points with three fouls, a board and an assist in seven aggressive minutes vs. DePaul…Not a major factor in the four-game winning streak but showed he belonged after Scott's injury, totaling 12 boards in 36 combined minutes in wins over UConn and St. John's in South Bend…Defensive presence on the low block – even for 10 minutes per night – will be crucial in Notre Dame's upcoming tournament runs.

  • Guard/Forward: 6'5" 215-pound sophomore Joey Brooks: Continues to search for an offensive identity though a pair of free throws at DePaul should help his confidence, as Brooks' best offensive weapon is aggressiveness toward the bucket…Just two field goals in league play this season but improving upon a 10-21 effort from the charity stripe in those games hold the key to future playing time as he averages a free throw attempt every 3.4 minutes played in Big East action.

A new regime at Rutgers

First-year head coach Mike Rice guided Robert Morris to two NCAA tournaments over a three-year run with the Colonials. He's brought defensive accountability to Piscataway with the Scarlet Knight's holding foes to 64 points per game including efforts in which Rutgers limited Connecticut to 67, Seton Hall to 60, Pittsburgh to 65 and St. John's to 58 over the last three weeks. Rice's charges rank third in the Big East in field goal percentage defense (39.2%) and fifth in steals (8.1 per game) though the back line of their defense misses former eraser Hamady Ndiaye to clean up opponents' penetration.

Today's Joyce Center visitors struggle to score, ranking 15th of 16 league teams at 66 points per contest and have hit just over 65 percent of their 400 free throw attempts – by far the lowest total in the Big East. (Rutgers has hit just 263 foul shots; 60 fewer than any other league team and a staggering 153 fewer than the Irish.)

Starters and key reserves

Forward Jonathan Mitchell leads the squad in scoring (13.6) while ranking second in three-point shots (32), offensive boards (45), and rebounds per game (5.8). The lefty senior leader is a two-year double-digit scorer and has hit for 20-plus points in four league games this season as well as in a non-conference matchup vs. North Carolina.

Mitchell hit 8 of 9 shots including 4 of 5 from long range in a near upset of St. John's on Wednesday. He'll likely draw solid defender Tyrone Nash's attention from the outset.

Though not an outside threat, smooth forward Dane Miller (9.5 points, 6 boards, 2 blocks per game) possess a problem for the Irish frontcourt as well. Miller corralled five offensive boards (10 total) in an upset over Notre Dame last January. The 6'7" sophomore has 72 offensive rebounds in 28 career league contests and has totaled 45 points and 25 boards over his last four outings and is a quality passer at the small forward spot.

Senior point guard Mike Coburn has faced the Irish on four occasions with limited success. Coburn has 10 assists vs. four turnovers in Rutgers' last two contests – a pair of two-point losses vs. Pittsburgh and St. John's.

Coburn's backcourt mate and fellow senior James Beatty hit 21 of his first 44 shots from long range in Big East play but has since misfired on 14 of 17 from beyond the arc. His ability to provide perimeter offense serves as a key storyline in the visitor's upset aspirations in South Bend.

Freshman big man Gilvydas Biruta rounds out the Rutgers starting five. The 6'8" 230-pounder from Lithuania has produced 12 double-digit scoring games in his first season including five vs. Big East foes. Mitchell, Miller and Biruta have totaled 141 offensive rebounds this season (Notre Dame's top rebounding quartet of Scott/Abromaitis/Nash/Martin just 130).

Lanky freshman guard Mike Poole, sophomore backup pivot Austin Johnson (6'8" 250) and the return of transfer forward Robert Lumpkins has provided Rice with an eight-man rotation in recent weeks.

Beware the sandwich

A road game after a nine-day layoff ensured focus. So too does Wednesday's upcoming battle vs. fellow top tier foe Louisville in South Bend. But Super Bowl Sunday noon games vs. a perennially bottom-dwelling foe generally indicates sluggishness will ensue for a heavily favored home power.

Today's contest is the quintessential sandwich game – a can't miss on paper that can turn into an on-court struggle vs. a team that's not going to back down.

Unranked (4-8) Seton Hall lost by just two to No. 7 Connecticut yesterday. Lowly (and winless) DePaul by only four at No. 13 Louisville. A 3-8 Providence squad fell by just a bucket at No. 14 Georgetown.

Nothing's easy in the nation's most competitive conference.

It won't be a walk-in-the park tonight, but the senior-laden Irish are too dialed in for a complete meltdown at home. Look for the Irish to shoot at least twice as many free throws as the visitors en route to their fifth consecutive victory.

Prediction: Notre Dame 72 Rutgers 58

Season Predictions (vs. major conference opponents): 11-5; 9-6-1 against the spread. Top Stories