GAME NO. 31: NO. 19/13 NOTRE DAME (23-7; 12-5) VS. NO. 8/7 Louisville (23-7; 11-6)
-- Date: March 4, 2017
-- Place: KFC YUM! Center, Louisville, KY.
-- Time: 2:00 pm (ET)
-- TV: CBS
-- Opponent Nickname: Cardinals
-- Head coach: Rick Pitino (767-266 overall; 414-138 at Louisville)
-- Location: Louisville, KY
-- 2015-16 record: (23-8; 12-6 in the ACC)
-- 2016 Post-season: Did not participate due to self-imposed ban
-- Point spread: Louisville is favored by 8
ON THE LINE
Today’s contest marks the 13th between Irish head coach Mike Brey and Louisville Hall of Famer Rick Pitino over the last eight seasons. Brey’s squads have prevailed in seven of those matchups as members of both the Big East and ACC. Six of the 13 contests have gone into overtime with both teams winning three among them.
The most recent iteration remains the most relevant – a 77-70 Irish victory over the Cardinals in South Bend, though even that seems in the distant past after both teams embarked on a 15-game gauntlet since.
“It really does feel like it was last season,” said Brey of the team’s matchup on January 4, two games into conference play. “I remember a little bit of it, not much of it.”
The stakes are clear: today’s winner locks up a double bye in the forthcoming ACC Tournament – maybe more. It’s a prize that Brey believes affords a squad the chance to take home the crown on Saturday night.
“You have a real shot to get to Saturday night (ACC Championship) if you get the double bye,” said Brey. “If you don’t get the double bye, it’s really, really hard to do that.”
After losing in seven consecutive trips to Freedom Hall/YUM! Center between 1989 and 2010, the Irish have exited the premises victorious in two of the last three.
CONSTANT PRESSURE AND HARRASSMENT
When Louisville makes a basket, the fun has just begun.
Pitino dubbed it his “Mother-in-Law” defense in the late 1980s (constant pressure and harassment) and it remains an omnipresent element of his attack today.
Louisville loves to apply pressure all over the confines of 94 x 63, especially on its home hardwood.
“They press a little bit more and pressure you more down there,” said Brey. “So taking care of the ball (is key).”
Fortunately for the Irish junior Matt Farrell ranks as the quickest/best point guard with the ball to beat a press since Chris Thomas graduated in 2005.
Farrell finished the team’s first meeting with four turnovers but led all scorers with 22 points, penetrating and finishing at the rim against the Cardinals extended pressure. In nine ACC road games, the Irish junior committed just 23 turnovers. (Of note: six of them against a pressure defense in Florida State.)
But Farrell can’t play all 40 minutes.
Look for Louisville to take advantage of his understudy, freshman T.J. Gibbs, in pressure situations. Gibbs has been stripped of the ball three times in one-on-one forays up the court this season. Off-guard Rex Pflueger is vulnerable in that regard as well.
(Steve Vasturia remains Notre Dame’s second-best ball-handler vs. pressure.)
The Cardinals rank seventh nationally in defensive efficiency according to Kenpom.com, though that number is comparatively low to the Louisville squads of the recent past (No. 2, No. 5, No. 5, No. 1, No. 1, and No. 5 over the previous six campaigns).
They boast a defense that limits foes to 39 percent shooting from the floor overall – just 30 percent from beyond the arc.
Undefeated (8-0) in home conference play this season, Louisville held Virginia to 53 points, Duke to 69, Clemson and North Carolina State to 60 apiece, Miami to 66 and Syracuse to 68 in ACC home wins to date. But Pittsburgh (an 85-80 Cardinals win) and Virginia Tech (94-90 victory) have breeched Pitino’s defense on the road in recent weeks.
But Notre Dame’s offensive efficiency ranks fifth nationally. For the sake of comparison, Duke leads the nation in that regard while Syracuse ranks sixth.
“Now we face a team that could pound us on the backboard when we’re playing small,” said Brey. “We did here (Notre Dame out-rebounded the Cardinals 38-35 in South Bend). But if we’re playing smaller longer, can we not get beat up on the backboard?
“But I think we’re hard to guard if they’re playing two big guys so you’re trying to balance what’s being effective for us.”
STATS AND STUFF
-- Prior to Wednesday’s fall from grace (2-for-9 in a loss at Wake Forest), Cardinals sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell had connected on 25 of his 44 field goal attempts – including 16 of his 26 attempts from long range – over a three-game span. Mitchell had scored in double digits nine straight prior to Wednesday night (7 points) averaging 22 per game in that span.
-- Irish senior swingman V.J. Beachem has connected on 20 of his last 40 three-point shots in road contests, a six-game span. Conversely, classmate Steve Vasturia has hit just three of his last 19 over the last four road outings – that after nailing a combined 7 of 11 during the squad’s three-game January road trip (Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida State).
-- Notre Dame junior big man Bonzie Colson has hit 52 of his last 83 field goal attempts (62.6%) during the current six-game winning streak. He’s augmented that soft touch with 62 rebounds in that span.
-- Irish junior point guard Matt Farrell enters the contest a robust 48 for 100 on three-point offerings over the 17 ACC games played to date. He’s produced 56 assists against 27 turnovers since committing six of the latter (against 7 assists) in a road loss at Florida State on January 18
-- Senior captain Steve Vasturia might have rediscovered his shooting stroke in Wednesday’s win over Boston College. Vasturia connected on 2 of his 6 shots from long range after missing 16 of his previous 19 over a four-game span (all Irish victories).
Vasturia has made good on just 3 of his last 19 three-point field goal attempts on the road. Prior to that five-game stretch, the senior had nailed 10 of 18 from beyond the arc over a four-game road span.
-- Quote of Note: “I told them, I don’t want anyone talking about a double bye,” said Brey. “I want us to try to share the regular season championship. If we win on Saturday, we’ll root for the Blue Devils on Saturday night and we’ll see where we stand.”
O’Malley/Prister Prediction: Louisville 75 Notre Dame 68