Preview: Irish vs. Red Storm

Notre Dame makes its first of two trips to Manhattan over the next two weeks for a matchup with middling St. John's. Today's visit to Madison Square Garden will serve a dual purpose for Mike Brey's contending Irish...

"I love the fact that when we're in game situations, we've really been good. We feel like its going to come up a lot the rest of the regular season, and if you want to keep playing in March and in tournaments, it's going to come up again. That identity, that they almost love seeing the under-four-minute media timeout as ‘It's our time.' That's a heck of a thing."
– Irish head coach Mike Brey on his team's killer instinct.

Planting a Seed

Nine straight wins, half by double digits. Four straight wins on the road during the streak with another three victories during the run over ranked teams, including undefeated #1 Syracuse, who hasn't lost since.

The Irish have ascended to the mantle of Big East royalty of late and with a win vs. 5-11 St. John's today at the World's Most Famous Arena, can clinch a double bye in the upcoming conference tournament, too boot.

But that's not the sole focus of today's matchup vs. the Red Storm.

"Playing well on that floor, because we'll be back there in two weeks to try and win a championship," said Brey of what he expects from the first of two road games over the next 54 hours. "We need to play well in The Garden. The (double) bye stuff will take care of itself."

Playing well would likely be enough to subdue a scrappy but youth-filled St. John's group (see below). And if the Irish can't self motivate for this, their potential 10th straight victory, Brey has an ace up his sleeve in preparation.

"We can go back and show a little bit of that (game) last year where they toyed with us," said Brey of a 15-point defeat on January 8 at MSG. "(They) pressured us and beat us up."

St. John's hammered then No. 15 Notre Dame last January, 75-61, though no Red Storm player from that Garden Party returns for today's contest.

The Irish improved greatly over the two months that followed that defeat, winning 12 of their next 13 games before dropping an overtime decision in the Big East semi-finals vs. Louisville.

Brey's 2012 group, however, ranks as his most improved over the course of a single season during his 12-year run at the helm.

"I still think we're getting better," Brey noted Wednesday night following a win over West Virginia. "We always talked about, even in the tough times of November and December, getting better for New York. Not this time, the second time, the Big East Tournament. We still can get better."

St. John's is getting better as well, though the Red Storm's improvement is measured in baby steps during a trying last five months.

What a difference a year makes

One year ago today, St. John's featured a 10-deep rotation, was in the midst of eight wins in nine contests, had an 11-5 in-conference mark, and nationally ranked. They finished the season among the Vegas favorites to take the Big East Tournament on their home floor.

The Red Storm tournament run instead lasted two games and the #6 seeded Johnnies dropped an opening round NCAA game to Gonzaga, 86-71, thereafter. Nine of their top 10 players graduated or otherwise defected prior to the season; the tenth, Malik Stith, recently transferred.

Fast forward to February 25, 2012 and the 12-16 (5-10) Red Storm operate with a 12-man roster containing nine freshmen and without their second-year head coach. The all-freshman starting lineup, aka, "The Fresh Five," is backed by first-year forward (junior) God'sgift Achiuwa to round out the six-man rotation.

Head coach Steve Lavin told ESPN's Scott Van Pelt he expects to return next season. Lavin continues to recover from October prostate cancer surgery, but he was in attendance for his team's win over UCLA in Madison Square Garden last week.

"I'm going to continue to focus on recruiting. I still come in and watch film with the players, and I'm obviously involved in game preparation," Lavin told redstormsports.com following his team's recent win over UCLA, a school Lavin coached as an assistant from 1991-95 and as head coach from 1996-2003.

"I meet with the kids individually and make sure to get a meal with them every couple of weeks. They get to spend time with my wife, because she's more inspiring than I am in terms of their spirits. We're on track to be back next year."

Assistant coach Mike Dunlap has handled the bench duties in Lavin's stead.

After dropping four straight by a total of 87 points, St. John's has rebounded to win a pair: the aforementioned contest vs. UCLA and a league win at home Monday vs. DePaul.

Storming of Late: A quintet of Red Storm freshmen buoyed the team's two-game winning streak:

  1. Big man Moe Harkless scored 10 points and added 12 rebounds with six steals in a 66-63 win over UCLA. It was the 10th double-double this season for the freshman forward.

  2. Freshman D'Angelo Harrison scored 22 points vs. the Bruins – his 10th game in excess of 20 points this season.

  3. Freshman forward Amir Garrett recorded a career-best nine boards to go with 18 points in Monday's win over DePaul.

  4. Sir'Dominic Pointer played an excellent all-around floor game vs. the Blue Demons, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds, while dishing out four assists with three steals. The defensive stopper had 13 points in the February 18 win over UCLA.

  5. Point guard Phil Greene has scored in double digits in seven of his last 10 outings.

ND Notes

Tip-off is set for noon (ET) on ESPN2. The Irish haven't won against St. John's in Madison Square Garden since 2004, and Brey is 2-5 in the building, tournament games or otherwise, vs. the Red Storm. He's 7-6 vs. the Johnnies overall.

  • Notre Dame has been installed as a 6-point favorite, their fourth straight game as the heavy and second straight on the road. The Irish have covered eight of their last nine outings after beginning the season 0-5-2 against the spread vs. non-conference teams and 3-3 in their first Big East games prior to the streak.

  • The Irish hold a 20-17 edge in the series history with St. John's including an 11-9 mark during Big East play (since 1995-96). Today's game also marks Brey's 200th in the Big East (124-75).

  • The Irish have won four straight road games in conference for the first time since 2001. A win today would tie the best effort of the Brey era set in his first season. The team's 12-3 start is its best in 17 years as a Big East competitor.

  • Notre Dame has never won six Big East road games in one season but can accomplish that feat with a victory today vs. St. John's or Monday at Georgetown. The Irish have won 12 of their last 18 road games in Big East play. Prior to that run of success, Notre Dame had lost five straight and 14 of 17 away from South Bend.

  • The Irish are 33-9 in their last 42 Big East games, including tournament play, dating back exactly two calendar years. The mark stands as the best in the conference, 1.5 games ahead of Syracuse at 31-10. Notre Dame has won 30 of its last 37 regular season Big East battles and 23 of their last 27 during.


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