Notre Dame went into the January 6th meeting against Georgetown with a full head of steam. The Irish had won 12 games in a row, including two over ranked opponents. The Hoyas whipped them 66-48 in Washington, D.C., holding Notre Dame to 30 percent shooting and 40 points underneath their season average. On Wednesday, the Irish will have another chance to earn a true road win when they face Villanova (12-5, 1-3). Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.
"We need to do a better job on the road than we did against Georgetown," head coach Mike Brey said on Tuesday. "Our guys have taken a lot of pride in that. They didn't feel good about the Georgetown performance. It's been more of let's take this game and establish a better road identity and not look at our resume and what it means. It's been more focused on the single identity on the road."
Nothing went right in the loss to the Hoyas. Russell Carter, the conference's third leading scorer at 18 points per game, shot just 5-of-15 for the game, good for a team-high 12 points. He was the only Notre Dame player in double figures. Junior forward Rob Kurz didn't make a shot from the field. As a team, the Irish hit only 4-of-22 from three-point range. They turned the ball over 15 times to just eight assists. The biggest downfall might have been the start. Georgetown raced out to an 18-2 lead and never got any closer than 11 points.
"If you look overall, we have been pretty good on the road because we've gotten off to good starts," Brey said, which wasn't the case against the Hoyas. "I talked to our group about that. Defensively, we need to be good on transition defense, which I didn't think we were good at against Georgetown. Also, I thought the visiting crowd made us play too quick on offense. We talked about that yesterday in practice. This will be the most intense atmosphere we've been in to date."
Villanova comes into Wednesday's contest at 12-5 overall but just 1-3 in league play. In their last game, the Wildcats lost on the road to Syracuse 75-64 despite getting 24 points and 12 rebounds from Curtis Sumpter. After last season's run to the Regional Final in the NCAA Tournament, where eventual national champion Florida beat them, Villanova lost its talented trio of guard in Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry.
Every time it appears this group is ready to make a run, a stumbling block shows up. A loss to Xavier ended a three-game winning streak. A defeat to Drexel snapped a five contest win streak. In the Big East, they've lost three of four to start off and are in a desperation mode to stay afloat early in league play. The Wildcats will try to get back on track against a hot Irish team.
"We're going to get the Georgetown preparation," Brey said about Villanova. "Georgetown was really lining up for us for a week. They had fallen off the map a bit but delivered a big blow to us. Villanova is cornered and 1-3. That's the punch we're going to get.
"But I think the thing for us, there is a little bit of an edge to us because of our last road performance. This group has pretty high standards for itself. They don't feel good about that. Their body of work, they feel like they're doing a good job. They don't like the taste of what happened in D.C. I've hit that. It's time for us to be better in that area. It's a new challenge for us."
Some of the reasons for the slow start might be traced to their defense. The Wildcats are fourth to last in the conference in scoring defense, third to last in field goal percentage defense and dead last in three-point percentage defense. They do protect the ball well. Villanova is third in the league in turnover margin and like to attack the offensive glass. The Wildcats average 13 offensive rebounds a game.
It all starts with Sumpter, one of the premier players in the Big East. The 6-7 senior forward can hurt teams from the inside and outside. He's second in the league in scoring, averaging 18.8 PPG. Sumpter also pulls down 6.8 RPG and his athleticism and versatility will be a challenge for the Notre Dame defense. He's had to endure two major knee injuries in his Villanova playing career. After tearing his knee in pre-season practice last year, Sumpter, who possibly could have been ready for the 2006 NCAA Tournament, decided to come back to school for another go-around with the Wildcats. It's paying off for both parties.
"He's getting his money's worth this year," Brey said. "He's a great story. Here's a kid who has had nothing but bad luck and you feel good for him. But he presents matchup problems. He's a third perimeter guy. Now, he's bigger than your perimeter guys. He can post them and play the second big spot. Is he too quick for our bigs to guard him? We certainly feel with Kurz, (Zach) Hillesland and Carter that we have a number of guys that can help. But it has to be team defense. He's a guy that can go off and a talented young man."