Expect a Close One

Notre Dame and Louisville both thought they'd be in different positions heading into Saturday's contest at Freedom Hall. For the Irish, it's been a heartbreak season for the ages. The Cardinals have had a rough time adjusting to the Big East after making it to the Final Four last year.

One of these teams will earn momentum and the other will sink lower in the conference standings as two struggling squads look to turn the tide of their season's fortunes early Saturday afternoon. Tip-off is scheduled for noon and the game is being televised on ESPN. Notre Dame comes into the contest losers of four in a row and seven of eight. Louisville (14-7, 2-6 in the Big East) isn't too far behind in the futility category, losing five of their past six games with the only win in that stretch coming against Cincinnati.

Notre Dame's broken record season continued on Wednesday as the Irish lost another close battle 71-70 at West Virginia. The Mountaineers were undefeated in the Big East heading into the game and were on the ropes in the final seconds. But Notre Dame's Chris Quinn missed an off-balance shot as time expired to end the upset dreams. Quinn led all Irish scorers with 24 points while Colin Falls added 18. It was the first time head coach Mike Brey had lost to West Virginia during his time at Notre Dame. The Irish lost despite shooting a blazing 14-of-26 from behind the arc but still could not find a way to win a nail biter. Notre Dame (10-9 overall, 1-7 in the league) has lost seven Big East games all by six points or less.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has had massive amounts of success at the college level. He has taken three different teams to the Final Four, topped by a national championship in 1996 with the Kentucky Wildcats. Last season, Pitino guided his Cardinal team to this elite level but lost to eventual runner-up Illinois.

It doesn't appear that there will be another Final Four appearance in the making for this Louisville squad. They're struggling just to make it to New York City for the Big East Tournament. High expectations have turned into desperate hope. A non-conference schedule that saw teams such as Arkansas State and Fairleigh Dickinson did not adequately prepare them for the rugged move from Conference USA to the Big East. The Cardinals stand at 2-6 in conference action, good for 12th in the league.

The Cardinals are led by one of the premier shooters in the conference in Taquan Dean. The 6-3 senior guard, who battled injury problems earlier in the season, leads Louisville in scoring with a 15.4 average. Dean also averages five rebounds a contest and can cause some match-up problems if he's in rhythm. David Padgett is the force down low. The 6-11 sophomore averages 12 PPG and pulls down six rebounds. Irish center Torin Francis will most likely draw the defensive assignment on Padgett and the battle between these two could determine who wins in the paint. Junior guard Brandon Jenkins is scoring 12 PPG on the strength of shooting 44 percent from three-point range. Juan Palacios, a versatile 6-8, 255-pound swingman, contributes 10 PPG and leads the team in rebounding.

The road team has to take care of the ball and that's been a problem for Notre Dame. They rank third-to-last in the Big East in turnover margin and had 10 in the first half alone in the loss to West Virginia. Louisville is fifth in the league in steals, averaging over seven a contest. The Irish, meanwhile, are not forcing a lot of turnovers as they rank 15th in the conference in steals.

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories