Chance at Payback

There are 16 teams in the Big East Conference. These squads play 16 league games. For some reason, not every school plays one another. There are a few repeat opponents on the schedule. The Notre Dame men's basketball team, riding a wave of gut wrenching losses that has pundits offering their sympathy, gets a chance to avenge one of these last-second defeats.

Irish fans can vividly remember Marquette's Steve Novak draining an off-balance shot from the right corner with a second left on the clock to win their earlier matchup back on January 20th in Milwaukee. The quirky scheduling allows Notre Dame (13-11, 4-9 in the Big East) a chance at payback. The Irish play host to the Golden Eagles on Saturday night at the Joyce Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. and ESPNU is carrying the game on television. Head coach Tom Crean's group is fresh off two upset victories over Georgetown and Pittsburgh and sit at 18-8 overall and 8-5 in the Big East. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey knows what to expect from a Crean-coached team.

"Marquette is about sets," Brey said. "They change sets throughout the season. They have five, six or seven favorite looks. A lot of it is Novak screening for someone and then someone screening for him for a three-point shot. Dribble exchange with their athletic perimeter guys. That's offensively their style. They are playing more zone since we played them last. I don't know if they are going to play us zone. They also have gritty guys on the backboard."

Marquette, like Notre Dame, can certainly put points up on the scoreboard. The Golden Eagles rank in the top-five in scoring offense and field goal percentage in the Big East. They are second in the conference in three-point field goal percentage, hitting 40 percent of their shots from behind the arc.

The main scoring threat comes from Novak. The 6-10 forward averages 17 points per game, good for seventh in the league. Novak also shoots a high percent from the field, hitting 47 percent of his shots and a deadly 45 percent from three-point land. The senior can hit the boards as well, averaging just under six a contest.

"Novak is certainly a difference maker," Brey said. "Novak gives them an amazing weapon as a second big man who is out on the floor all the time. It's a tough matchup. His overall demeanor has given their young guys a lot of confidence. They have some really talented young guys. They shoot the three-point shot as good as us. They use it just like we do."

The Golden Eagles are getting a huge spark from freshman Dominic James. The 5-11 guard can hurt opponents in a variety of manners and is a leading contender to win Freshmen of the Year in the Big East. James is the team's second-leading scorer at 15 PPG and also dishes out five assists a contest. That's good for third in the conference. James is from Richmond, Indiana and Brey missed out on him in the recruiting wars.

"I think we're all a little surprised how fast but I think we all knew he was going to be a good player," Brey said. "We recruited him hard. Certainly, Marquette recruited him hard. I don't think the Big Ten recruited him hard. I was a little surprised at that. It was us and Marquette and I don't even remember who it was at the end. I love him as a kid. He came up a couple of times. He's a tough kid physically and mentally. It's showed up this year with how he has played."


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