Preview: Notre Dame at Villanova

Notre Dame (4-3) travel to Philadelphia to take on the nation's third-ranked team and lone conference unbeaten, Villanova (7-0).

Notre Dame faces its toughest test of the regular season as the 15-5 Irish (4-3) visit No. 3 ranked (18-1) Villanova at the Wachovia Center. Tip-off is set for 7 pm (ET) on ESPN.

At a Glance

Notre Dame: 15-5 (4-3)
  • Losses: Northwestern (Chicago Classic) and Loyola Marymount; at UConn and at Cincinnati; vs. Syracuse.
  • Best Win: UCLA and West Virginia
  • Losses for the Selection Committee's Consideration: Northwestern (neutral site); home vs. LMU; at Cincinnati.

Villanova: 18-1 (7-0)
  • Loss: at Temple
  • Best wins: George Mason and Maryland at neutral sites; Marquette twice; at Louisville; vs. Georgetown.
  • Loss for the Selection Committee's Consideration: None. The Wildcats are a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

Meet the Wildcats

Jay Wright is in his ninth year at the helm for Villanova, a program which he's guided to the NCAA Tournament in five consecutive seasons including two runs to the Sweet 16, one to the Elite 8, and last season, to a Final Four loss vs. eventual champion North Carolina.

Villanova boasts the No. 1 scoring team in the conference at nearly 85 points per game. Wright's four guard lineup ably spreads the floor for one-on-one penetration opportunities that result in ample open looks from behind the arc (38 percent as a team).

The Wildcats have started nine different players in 19 games this season and excel at putting consistent pressure on their opponents at both ends of the floor, with at least four end-to-end threats offensively and a 1-2-1-1 (diamond) three-quarter court press after a made basket.

  • Senior guard Scottie Reynolds keys the Wildcats attack. The fearless floor general has averaged nearly 22 points per game in seven Big East contests while connecting on better than 58 percent of his shots. Extremely confident and efficient in his final season, the four-year starter is at his best in big games and in crunch time as evidenced by a 36-point performance at Louisville, a comeback win in which he scored the Wildcats' final 16 points, finishing 9-10 from the field (5-5 from beyond the arc) and 13-17 from the charity stripe.

    Reynolds is the Big East's only two-time player of the week this season in conference play and has won the award three times in his career, trailing only Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody (5) for that honor among active players. Reynolds burned the Irish for 23 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and just 1 turnover in a 17-point win over ND at the Joyce Center last season. His coast-to-coast drive and score vs. rival Pittsburgh sent Villanova to its first final four in 24 seasons last March.

  • Junior Corey Fisher is second on the squad in scoring and leads the Wildcats in assists while boasting a 2.16 assist-to-turnover ratio. The 6'1' 185 junior has improved his 3-point accuracy this season (35 percent) and has improved in every statistical category from his sophomore seasone. Fisher capably mans the point though he plays off Reynolds when needed as the latter generally controls the ball when the ‘Cats need a bucket.

  • Junior guard/swingman Corey Stokes and senior defensive stalwart Reggie Redding lend toughness to the lineup. The 6'5" 230-pound Stokes averages 9 points and 4.5 boards per contest while knocking down 30 of his 83 shots from long range on the season and 90 percent at the free throw line. Redding, a Philadelphia native who missed the season's first semester due to disciplinary reasons, ranks among the best perimeter defenders in the nation. He was instrumental in last year's win in South Bend, holding guard Kyle McAlarney to a 2 of 7 shooting performance in 36 minutes. Both have the frame and body control to finish vs. opposing guards and small forwards at the rim.

  • Forward Antonio Pena serves as the squad's size and presence inside. At 6'8" 235 pounds, the junior has averaged 10.7 points and 7.5 rebounds through 18 games. He's a low volume shooter, connecting at 58 percent while deferring to the team's plethora of undersized scorers at the offensive end. Pena has just one double-digit scoring game in conference play, but began the season scoring 10-plus in 9 of 10 non-conference matchups.

  • The Wildcats endless bench begins with Duke transfer Taylor King. The 6'6" 230-pound shooter is also a quality interior passer and undervalued rebounder for the smaller Villanova attack. He's knocked down 42 percent of his shots from beyond the arc this season and has averaged 7 points and 6 boards per game vs. Big East competition.
  • Also adding a lift off the bench are five freshman: Mouphtaou Yarou chips in 12 minutes of quality glass time per contest. He corralled 9 boards in 18 minutes in a win at Rutgers. Dominic Cheek, a 6'6" newcomer from Jersey City provides another offensive threat while classmate Isaiah Armwood ranks as Wright's best defender among the group. At 6'11" Maurice Sutton has seen his playing time decrease in-conference though the lanky frosh did log significant court time prior to the return of Redding and Yarou (illness).
  • Maalik Wayans ranks as the right successor to Villanova's decade of dominance at the guard spot. The freshman provides instant offense in just over 18 minutes of action, scoring 8.6 points and hitting double digits in five of seven Big East contests. At 6'1" 185 pounds, Wayans is extremely quick with the basketball and will pose a problem for the Irish after missed shots. More importantly, he's an impressive 14-for-14 from the free throw line in the final five minutes of games this season.

Previous Matchup

Villanova humbled the Irish 77-60 at the Joyce Center, effectively taking the Irish NCAA Tournament hopes off life support. Scottie Reynolds buried the Irish with 25 points on an 8-12 effort from the field. Reynolds destroyed the Irish with a simple top-of-the-key pick-and-roll attack as the ND defenders attempted to slide under the screen, Reynolds simply accepted the space offered by the defense to take and knock down 6 of 7 three-point shots.

The departed forward tandem of Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark combined for 31 points vs. the soft Irish interior defense. Villanova committed just five turnovers in the contest while forcing an uncharacteristic 15 from the home team.

Stats and Streaks

  • The last time Notre Dame defeated a top-10 opponent on the road in a true road contest was January 2001, a 78-71 win over Georgetown. Notre Dame's last victory over a ranked opponent on the road was during the 2007-08 campaign in a 90-80 win against No. 18 Villanova at the Wachovia Center, a game in which Kyle McAlarney and Luke Harangody combined for 55 points on just 29 field goal attempts.

    Notre Dame's last victory against a top-five team in a true road game was a 59-57 win at Ohio State in November of 1999 in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. It was then head coach Matt Doherty's first game as Irish coach.

  • Senior point guard Tory Jackson leads the nation with a 3.97 assist-to-turnover ratio. Jackson overtook the top spot with an incredible 22 assist/3 turnover performance last week in games vs. Syracuse and DePaul. Backcourt mate Ben Hansbrough ranks third nationally in the same category with a 3.81 to 1 ratio.
  • Senior All America hopeful Luke Harangody is second in the nation with 24.7 points per game while junior forward Tim Abromaitis leads the country in 3-point field goal percentage, knocking down better than 49 percent of his 115 shots from beyond the arc to date.
  • Tonight's game will be the 32nd meeting between ND and ‘Nova with the latter owning a 17-14 advantage in the series including wins in four of the last six. The teams played half of their contests with the Irish as an Independent, but in 16 regular-season Big East matchups between the schools, the Wildcats hold a 12-4 edge, winning the series first eight (conference) matchups.
  • Irish head coach Mike Brey owns a 4-6 record vs. the Wildcats in his time at Notre Dame.
  • Villanova has been installed as an 11-point favorite for tonight's contest.

Prediction

Wednesday's matchup ranks as the most difficult of the season for the Irish, who frankly would have trouble holding onto any lead to which their potential hot shooting would provide over the course of 40 minutes.

In order to pull off the upset, Notre Dame will need consistent contributions from Hansbrough and Abromaitis offensively as well as a top tier effort inside by Harangody. Villanova is a much better defensive team than are the Irish, nullifying the need to merely "stay close and steal one" as a possession-for-possession battle greatly favors Villanova down the stretch. ND has had recent success at the Wachovia Center (the Wildcats off-campus home) winning 90-80 vs. a strong Villanova squad in 2008.

Look for 30 solid minutes from the visitors, but for the nation's third-ranked team to fend off a run with another dead-eye performance from the free throw line, a place from which their guard-oriented lineup excels, knocking down 75 percent on the season including an aggregate 80 percent from its four top ball handlers.

Villanova 88 Notre Dame 76


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