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Preview: Youngstown State @ Notre Dame

The Irish should benefit down the road from an ambitious scheduling approach in November-December. Notre Dame sits No. 36 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

Game 11: Youngstown State (5-7) @ Notre Dame (7-3)
Date: Dec. 21, 2015
• Place: Purcell Pavilion; Notre Dame, Ind.
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN3
Opponent Nickname: Penguins
Head coach: Jerry Slocum (123-197 in 11th year at YSU; 704-514 in 41 seasons overall)
Conference: Horizon League
Location: Youngstown, Ohio
2014-15 record: 11-21 (2-14 in Horizon)

Notre Dame concludes its pre-Christmas schedule Monday night when the Irish host Youngstown State (5-7) of the Horizon League.

The Irish are coming off a brutally difficult loss after Indiana overcame a 16-point second-half deficit by scoring 40 of the last 57 points Saturday to claim an 80-73 victory at the Crossroads Classic in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Penguins – better known for their football prowess – are a bottom-feeder in the Horizon. They finished last in the nine-team league a year ago and only project ahead of conference newcomer Northern Kentucky this season.

Youngstown State has victories over North Dakota (79-69), at Niagara (88-70) and Robert Morris (65-58), but one-sided losses to Toledo (100-78), at Purdue (95-64) and at Michigan (105-46).

Six-foot-10 senior Bobby Hain is the only returning starter from last year’s 11-21 team. He averaged 14.6 points and 7.4 rebounds a year ago and continues to pace the Penguins in both categories at 13.4 ppg. and 6.8 rpg. He enters Monday’s game with 1,187 points. He scored a season-high 29 points against North Dakota.

Junior college transfer Matt Donlan, a 6-foot-7 junior from Australia, averages 12.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

The Penguins are yielding a high 77.7 points per game.

BOUNCING BACK

Saturday’s come-from-ahead loss was a tough pill to swallow for the Fighting Irish, who were shooting for a clean sweep against the Big Ten with previous victories over Iowa in the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando and at Illinois the first week of December.

Indiana’s frantic style of play – running the court, crashing the boards, pressuring the basketball in a zone in the second half – ultimately took a toll on Notre Dame’s short bench. While the Hoosiers were connecting on 6-of-11 three-pointers in the second half, the Irish managed to make just 2-of-9 over the final 20 minutes and 5-of-18 for the game.

Another huge differential came at the free-throw line as Bonzie Colson – who finished with a career-high 24 points – missed a pair with the score tied at 73 with 1:15 remaining. Those were the only two free throws attempted by the Irish while Indiana made 13-of-15 in the second half.

The Hoosiers also took advantage of 20 offensive rebounds (to Notre Dame’s 14), which included three straight offensive caroms with less than six minutes remaining that Indiana ultimately converted into a basket and kept the momentum streaking in the Hoosiers’ favor.

Irish guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia combined to shoot just 7-of-26 from the field, including 0-of-8 from three-point range. They entered the game a combined 31-of-71 (43.6 percent) from three-point range.

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

The Irish have two more non-conference games remaining – Youngstown State and Liberty (Dec. 29) – before opening conference play at Virginia on Jan. 2.

The next two games will negatively impact Notre Dame’s RPI rating. But through 10 games, the Irish currently sit No. 36 in RPI, which could prove to be a deciding factor come NCAA tournament selection time if the Irish are in the 10-8, 9-9 range within ACC play.

The Irish were fairly ambitious in their non-conference scheduling with games of note against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Monmouth, Iowa, Illinois, Stony Brook and Indiana. What was considered a bad loss at the time to Alabama may work in Notre Dame’s favor with the Crimson Tide (7-2) currently sitting No. 20 in the RPI.


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