West Virginia is the only team in the Big East at 3-0 and bring an eight-game win streak to South Bend to face Notre Dame. Tip-off on Tuesday is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. and ESPN2 will have the television coverage. The Mountaineers vaulted into the top-25 at No. 21 in both polls on the strength of their fast start. On the year, West Virginia is 13-1 with the only loss to Arkansas, the same Razorbacks team that beat Alabama over the weekend by 27.
Notre Dame (13-2) gets no cupcake as they look to rebound from their second loss of the year. Georgetown whipped the Irish in every way imaginable, holding them to 48 points. That's 40 points underneath the season scoring average. Junior forward Rob Kurz did not hit a field goal in the contest. In addition to having trouble putting the ball in the hoop, Notre Dame let the Hoyas shoot 58 percent from the field.
The loss earlier in the season was to Butler in Indianapolis by two points. Russell Carter actually had a shot at the buzzer to win the game. The Georgetown defeat was a humbling experience. With so many young players on the roster, how do they respond to the first taste of adversity? The one benefit is the home court of advantage. To be a big-time player in conference action, teams must protect their house. The comfort of the familiar environment should help this team overcome an emotional hangover.
The Hoyas were No. 2 in the Big East in scoring defense. Tuesday's opponent, West Virginia, is No. 1. The Mountaineers, led by head coach John Beilein, employs a 1-3-1 zone defense. It's caused havoc this year for opposing offenses. West Virginia has surrendered 60 points or more in just three of 14 contests. The main reason is their three-point defense. The Mountaineers are first in the league in defending the three-point shot, allowing teams to shoot a paltry 25 percent from behind the arc. Notre Dame, in contrast, is second in the conference in three-point percentage and this matchup could determine the game.
West Virginia also shoots the ball from long distance quite well. They are third in the Big East from behind the arc. The Mountaineers are led by Frank Young. The 6-5 senior forward leads the team in scoring at 14.6 PPG. Young shoots 44 percent from three-point land. 6-2 junior guard Darrin Nichols is coming off his best game of the year, totaling a career-high 20 points in a 73-46 victory over St. John's on Saturday. For the season, he averages 10 points a contest.
An area that Notre Dame could attack is down low. Despite having the best defensive unit in the Big East, West Virginia is dead last in rebounding. The 1-3-1 defense creates problems for teams to score but opportunities to get offensive rebounds. If the Irish can find a way to get the ball down and crash the boards, Kurz and Luke Harangody could both be a handful for the Mountaineer defenders.
Another player to watch is 6-8 sophomore Joe Alexander. The 210-pound forward averages 12 PPG, which is second best on the team. 6-6 sophomore forward Alex Ruoff and 6-7 freshman Da'sean Butler both chip in nine PPG. All of the West Virginia players take care of the basketball. The Mountaineers are first in the Big East in turnover margin and second in assist-turnover ratio.