Searching for the Sweep

Wins vs. South Florida have been a given for most Big East teams in recent seasons, but the Bulls four-game winning streak and upset at Georgetown has put the upstart squad from Tampa on the NCAA Selection Committee's radar. IrishEyes previews today's matchup vs. the red-hot Bulls and future 1st Round NBA draft pick Dominique Jones.

The 16-7 Irish have an unexpected opportunity to add a quality win to their resume as 15-7 league upstart South Florida visits the Purcell Pavilion.

The Bulls, winners of four consecutive after an 0-4 start, have matched the Irish with a 5-5 conference mark as Notre Dame has lost four of its last six Big East contests. The Irish defeated South Florida 74-73 in the teams' first matchup in early January.

Below is a closer look at today's matchup between the Bulls and the Irish.

At a Glance

Notre Dame: 16-7 (5-5)
  • Losses: Northwestern (Chicago Classic), Loyola Marymount, at Connecticut, at Cincinnati, Syracuse, at Villanova and at Rutgers
  • Best Win: UCLA and West Virginia
  • Loss for the Selection Committee's Consideration: Northwestern; home vs. LMU (7-7); at Cincinnati and at Rutgers

South Florida: 15-7 (5-5)
  • Losses: South Carolina (neutral); Central Michigan; at Louisville, Notre Dame, at Syracuse, West Virginia, at Cincinnati
  • Best win: Virginia in mid-November, Pittsburgh, at Georgetown
  • Loss for the Selection Committee's Consideration: Central Michigan, Notre Dame, at Cincinnati

Meet the Bulls

South Florida has won four straight, including a 109-105 overtime win at Providence and upset wins over Pittsburgh and, most recently, at Georgetown.

  • After playing a lead role on two poor basketball teams to begin his college career, junior guard Dominique Jones is tearing up the conference for the suddenly dangerous Bulls. Jones has averages of 22.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.0 steals per game while connecting on just under 50 percent of his field goals and better than 76 percent of his free throws on the season. But after a 5-point effort in team's conference-opening loss at Louisville, the 6'4" power guard's has exploded on Big East competition, scoring 26 (vs. the Irish), 30, 28, 20, 21, 46, 28, 37, and 29 points over his last eight contests.

    Jones had his way with Irish senior guard Ben Hansbrough in the first meeting and fared well vs. Irish defensive pest Tory Jackson as well, though the Irish defensive stopper forced Jones into a tough shot in the final minute of Notre Dame's one-point win on January 5. Look for Jackson to shadow Jones from the outset today in South Bend.

  • Junior center Jarrid Famous played well offensively in the teams' first matchup, finishing 7-10 from the field (14 points) while adding 6 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. But the 6'11" 240-pound Famous and the Bulls frontcourt struggled mightily vs. Irish star Luke Harangody (36 points) and will likely do so again today as the senior power forward will be dialed in at home in this must-win contest.

  • Freshman forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick also put forth one of his best games of the year vs. the soft underbelly of the Irish defense, finishing with 13 points (4-5 from the field and 5-7 from the line) with 6 boards and 3 blocked shots. Fitzpatrick put the Bulls ahead of the Irish late, 71-69, with an authoritative offensive rebound slam, his fourth offensive board of that contest. At 6'8" 230, Fitzpatrick failed to keep Irish junior power forward Tyrone Nash off the glass in the contest (six offensive rebounds/11 points).

  • Senior point guard Chris Howard has played the best ball of his career of late, averaging 12 points and 5 boards with nearly a 5-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the Bulls last five games (four consecutive wins). He's a solid on-ball defender and like Jackson for the Irish, rarely takes a breather when the game is in doubt.

    Howard remains a shaky outside shooter, knocking down just 6-33 shots from beyond the arc in league play. While shooting guard Dominique Jones will get his points, regardless of who defends him, the Irish (namely Ben Hansbrough) must keep Howard in check in order to improve to 6-5 after today's contest.

  • Georgia transfer Mike Mercer hurt the Irish with 10 points, 10 boards, and 4 steals in the season's earlier matchup. It was Mercer's putback that gave the Bulls their final lead (73-71) with under a minute remaining in the contest. Mercer was then called for a foul in the final three seconds attempting to help defend Harangody, who subsequently knocked down the game-winning free throw.

    Though not a 3-point threat, Mercer will get his shots, averaging nearly 10 attempts per game in conference play. He's returned from an April dismissal for possession of marijuana (his second offense in a four-month span) to provide a solid compliment on the wing for the high-scoring Dominique Jones. Expect Irish junior forward Tim Abromaitis to matchup against the athletic swingman for most of the contest.

  • Sixth-man Anthony Crater has averaged nearly 29 minutes per game since joining the Bulls (on the court) in early January. The former Ohio State guard was to become eligible under transfer rules in mid-December 2009, but was subsequently suspended for 30 days after failing a drug test (his second offense, the first of which occurred when he was a member of the Buckeyes). Crater, who's had multiple meetings with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office during his short stint with the Bulls, missed the matchup with the Irish in January but has since provided a spark off what was formerly an extremely short and unproductive Bulls bench.

    Backup center Alex Rivas should see time in a relief role vs. Harangody while senior shooter Ryan Kardok could also make a guest appearance. Kardok can knock down the open shot from long-range.

The Last Time

Notre Dame defeated South Florida in a hotly contested battle in Tampa, 74-73. After leading by 13 with 10:30 to play, the Bulls roared back to take a 73-71 lead with just under a minute remaining. Tyrone Nash knocked down two pressure free throws to tie the score, and following a key Irish defensive stop, Notre Dame emerged with a one-point victory when Luke Harangody knocked down the first of two free throws with under three seconds remaining.

Harangody suffered through a rough start to the contest but came alive after a loose ball scramble and subsequent scuffle on the floor with Bulls guard Chris Howard. The All American then took over, dominating the South Florida front court en route to a game-high 36 points. Nash and Tory Jackson added 11 for the Irish and Tim Abromaitis had 10. Dominique Jones led the Bulls with 26 points, including eight consecutive in a crucial 8-4 run to give the Bulls a late two-point edge.

Stats and Streaks

Notre Dame's nearly spotless offensive effort vs. Cincinnati on Thursday was a boon to the team's national statistical challengers:

  • Tim Abromaitis moved back into 2nd place among the country's top three-point marksmen (48.5 percent)
  • Tory Jackson (8 assists and 3 turnovers vs. the Bearcats) and Ben Hansbrough (9 assists and 2 turnovers) again rank 2nd and 3rd nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.59 and 3.50 respectively.
  • After scoring 37 points Thursday night, Luke Harangody reclaimed No. 2 spot on the nation's scoring list (24.8 per contest). Harangody leads the nation with 570 total points (though the country's No. 1 ppg scorer, Aubrey Coleman, has played two fewer contests).
  • The Irish rank first nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio; third in assists per game; 12th in fewest personal fouls committed per game; 12th in 3-point field goal percentage; and 20th in points per contest.
  • Tory Jackson has hit just 6 of his 31 field goal attempts in Big East home games this season, including just 2 of his last 24 since the December 30 home win over Providence. Jackson has offset his awful shooting performance with 35 assists vs. 10 turnovers in that span.
  • After four consecutive games as a single-digits scorer, Ben Hansbrough has averaged 13 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds in his last four outings.
  • Tim Abromaitis is a remarkable 21-36 from 3-point range in five conference home games, averaging 23.4 points per game vs. Big East foes at the Purcell Pavilion.
  • Luke Harangody needs 29 points to move past former Seton Hall guard Terry Dehere for 3rd place on the Big East's career scoring list.
  • Today's game is the second of three rematches the Irish will play vs. Big East foes. The Irish are 1-1 vs. Cincinnati; 1-0 vs. South Florida; and 0-1 vs. Connecticut with that rematch set for Wednesday, March 3 at the Purcell Pavilion.
  • Notre Dame has been installed as a 7.5-point favorite for today's contest.

Prediction

Two players will show their wares for what should be a packed press row of NBA scouts this afternoon as Dominique Jones and Luke Harangody both attempt to guide their squads to a 6-5 conference mark at contest's end.

The key for Harangody and the Irish is an encore appearance of "Blue-Collar ‘Gody" as the Bulls can't handle the Irish senior inside. Harangody's presence and determination on the low-block will not only help the Irish on the offensive glass, but set the tone (namely, bonus situation free throws) for the final 10 minutes of both halves as Bulls defenders Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Jarrid Famous will rarely receive the benefit of the doubt from conference officials vs. the league's biggest star.

Though the Irish offense works best when it's free-flowing and up-tempo (a situation in which its acceptable for Harangody to spot up for his favorite corner jump shot), when the transition game bogs down and the Irish need a bucket, Blue-Collar ‘Gody (Brey's words) belongs on the low-block, not firing away from 20-feet.

If the Irish hold Jones (whom Brey compared to former Philadelphia 76ers scoring-guard/assassin Andrew Toney) to a sub-50 percent shooting night and a point total in the low 20s, it will be a major victory for the home team. Jackson will draw the assignment vs. Jones and the senior stopper has the ability to bother opposing shooters by crowding them as they elevate, but Jones is a rare college junior: an NBA-ready scorer that will find a way into the lane and put up 20 points with minimal effort.

But Jones won't guide South Florida to its fifth-straight win if the Irish defense can keep the rest of the pedestrian Bulls players in check and off the boards. Expect the Irish to come out smoking at home once again, with Harangody and Abromaitis both flirting with 30 at game's end.

Notre Dame 80 South Florida 71


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