Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey had a good idea of what to expect before Saturday's game against Delaware State. Brey had coached against the Hornets when he was at Delaware and still has contacts in the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference.
Brey has known Delaware State head coach Greg Jackson since Brey was an assistant at Duke and the Irish had plenty of time to scout the Hornets, so their slow-it-down style did not catch Notre Dame off guard.
Brey spent Sunday going over Savannah State tape, but there will be no way for him to determine what the Tigers will play like once they show up for tonight's 7 p.m. game at the Joyce Center.
"The one thing I know about Savannah State is they press and had Michigan down 20 at half and Michigan had to win in overtime," Brey said late last week. "Then, Georgetown won by about 50."
Brey was being kind; the Hoyas actually won by 62, beating the Tigers 100-38 on December 8, but he was spot-on with the Michigan game. Savannah State took a 39-19 lead into halftime before the Wolverines started the second half on a 15-0 run and eventually prevailed 66-64 in the extra session.
Playing as an independent, the Tigers are 7-4 on the season, having won all seven games at home while losing all four of their road games. But the splits have more to do with the level of the opponent than any amazing advantage Savannah State enjoys at Tiger Arena.
The Tigers opened the season with home wins over the NAIA's Brewton Parker, North Florida – which started the year with eight straight losses -, Coastal Carolina – which lost six of its first seven – and New Orleans – which lost its first four.
Savannah State then traveled to Clemson and got smoked 81-49 before heading to Ann Arbor. In all likelihood Michigan was looking ahead to games against Maryland and Duke before waking up just in time to pull out a victory.
The Tigers returned home and picked up what has to be considered their best win of the season, a 57-54 victory against Bowling Green, who was 3-2 at the time. But Savannah State headed back out on the road, losing to Saint Louis 55-37 before the pounding at Georgetown.
Savannah State will come into South Bend on a two-game winning streak after home wins over Kennesaw State and Texas A&M-Corpus Cristi.
The Tigers are averaging 56.6 points a game and figure to have a tough time keeping up with the Irish, who are scoring 83.4 a contest. Freshman forward Rashad Hassan and senior guard Raye Bailey each have 9.4 scoring averages to lead Savannah State. Senior forward Chris Linton is scoring 8.0 points a game and leads the Tigers with 5.5 rebounds.
The Irish should get another opportunity to work on some zone defense as the Tigers shoot just under 36% from three-point range and have only taken 131 threes in 11 games. By comparison, Notre Dame has hoisted 238 threes, making 104, in 10 games.
Savannah State will also be at a disadvantage inside. The Tigers' tallest player is junior center Glen Izevbigie, who stands at 6-foot-10, but plays just eight minutes a game and is averaging less than one point and less than two rebounds a contest. No other Savannah State player stands taller than 6-7.
If Notre Dame can come out the way it did against Delaware State it should be able to build a comfortable lead early and work on some different things that will be necessary in conference play while getting minutes for some reserves.