Constant Pressure and Harrassment

IrishEyes offers a preview of tonight's contest vs. Louisville at Freedom Hall.

The shell-shocked Irish travel to their basketball house of horrors (see Stats and Streaks, below), Freedom Hall, tonight to take on the Louisville Cardinals.

Notre Dame (6-7 in conference and on a two-game skid) is expected to be without the services of All American Luke Harangody for the second consecutive outing. Harangody suffered a bone bruise on his right knee at the 8:42 mark of last Thursday's loss at Seton Hall.

Harangody did not take part in Monday's practice, instead attempting to remain loose on the stationary bike. He will be a game-time decision tonight.

Louisville will attack the Irish with constant full-court pressure and defensive harassment...its "Mother-in-Law defense" a phrase coined and an approach utilized by head coach Rick Pitino in his days at Providence in the mid-to-late 80s, and then perfected during his NCAA Championship run with Kentucky in the mid-90s.

The Cardinals are 5-1 this season in Big East home games with the lone loss a 92-84 decision vs. current No. 3 Villanova.

Below is a closer look at tonight's matchup between the Cardinals and the Irish.

At a Glance

Notre Dame: 17-9 (6-7)
  • Losses: Northwestern (Chicago Classic), Loyola Marymount, at Connecticut, at Cincinnati, Syracuse, at Villanova, at Rutgers, at Seton Hall, and vs. St. John's
  • Ranking Notre Dame's best wins: West Virginia, at South Florida; vs. South Florida, Cincinnati and UCLA (at home)
  • Loss for the Selection Committee's Consideration: Northwestern; home vs. LMU (7-7); at Cincinnati, at Rutgers, at Seton Hall; home vs. St. John's

Louisville: 16-9 (7-5)
  • Losses: at UNLV; Charlotte and Western Carolina at home in December; at Kentucky, vs. Villanova, at Pittsburgh, at Seton Hall, at West Virginia, at St. John's.
  • Ranking the Cardinal's best wins: at Syracuse, Connecticut, South Florida, Cincinnati, Arkansas (season-opener)
  • Loss for the Selection Committee's Consideration: Multiple, especially Western Carolina at home, but if the Cardinals finish 10-8 in conference play they're a shoe-in for the NCAA Tournament, regardless of their performance in the Big East Tournament.

Meet the Cardinals

Its Year No. 9 of Rick Pitino's return to the college ranks and the fifth season for the future Hall of Fame head coach in the Big East (Louisville was a member of Conference USA for Pitino's first four seasons, the last of which ended in a Final Four appearance in 2005). The Cardinals have made back-to-back Elite Eight appearances and, prior to this season, improved each year under his guidance, finishing 6-10, 12-4, 14-4, and 16-2 in Big East play.

Prior to a brief and unsuccessful flirtation with the Boston Celtics, Pitino guided the University of Kentucky to two Elite Eight appearances, a Semi-Final loss, a Championship game loss, and a National Championship (in 1996).

Pitino had previously guided the Providence Friars to the NCAA Final Four in 1987.

  • Sophomore Samardo Samuels should find room in the lane tonight. The 6'9" 260-pound post presence has the ability to carve out space and will face an undersized opponent in Tyrone Nash and, likely, a green freshman in 245-pound backup, rarely used center Jack Cooley.

    Samuels leads the Cardinals in scoring (15.4) and rebounding (7.4) while connecting on better than 52 percent of his field goal attempts. Look for the space-eater to draw at least six fouls on Irish post defenders tonight.

  • Enigmatic senior guard Edgar Sosa is averaging a career-best 13 points while leading the Cardinals with 4.2 assists per game. At a shade under 39 percent, Sosa must be accounted for behind the arc as the four-year contributor has squeezed off 524 three-point shots in his Cardinals career.

    Sosa has been a constant source of frustration to Pitino due to his inconsistent defensive effort. The Irish have held him in check over the course of his career (25 total points in four previous matchups).

  • Senior shooting guard Jerry Smith delivered a trio of deflating three-point buckets vs. the Irish last season at Freedom Hall, including a pair of treys in a 50-second span that twice gave Louisville the lead after the Irish had briefly seized momentum early in the second half.

    The 6'2" senior has hit just 26.7 percent of his three-point offerings this year (better than 41 percent last season) but Smith's an aggressive player that must be accounted for on the glass and kept out of the lane by ND guards Tory Jackson, Ben Hansbrough and Jonathan Peoples. Smith ranks third on the squad with 8.6 points and 3.6 boards per contest.

  • Preston Knowles rounds out the Cardinals three-guard starting lineup. The 6'1" junior has struggled as a shooter at Freedom Hall this season, connecting on just 4 of 24 shots from beyond the arc, though Knowles hit 48 of 111 three-point offerings last season.

    Knowles could return to a sixth-man role with the return of Reginald Delk (below) to Coach Pitino's attack.

  • Forward Terrence Jennings has yet to score in double figures in a conference game this season. The 6'10" 240-pound sophomore offers and presents an issue for the undersized (and likely undermanned) Irish tonight and could see an increase in court time (Jennings has averaged just over 15 minutes per contest over Louisville's last five outings).

    With a plethora of weapons already available to the home team, the Irish cannot afford to let the passive but sophomore to emerge tonight.

    Reginald Delk brings a defensive lift to the Card's attack. The 6'5" swingman can matchup vs. either Tim Abromaitis or Ben Hansbrough and bother both with his combination of length and athleticism. Delk is a capable finisher and should return to the Cardinals lineup after missing the Syracuse upset with back spasms. Expect Delk to shadow Abromaitis from the outset.

  • Per usual, Rick Pitino boasts a deep, defensive-minded group of bench athletes, one that will likely attempt to wear down the Irish through consistent full-court pressure and an active perimeter zone over the course of 40 minutes.

    6'8" 220-pound forward Jared Swopshire contributed 10 points and 5 boards in 17 efficient minutes Sunday in an upset of the then No-4 ranked Syracuse Orange. Swopshire has posted seven rebounds in seven separate conference games this season.

    6'5" freshman Mike Marra must be accounted for tonight. Marra hit 4 of 12 three-point shots vs. the Orange zone at the Carrier Dome on Sunday. Though he's struggled as a shooter in sporadic minutes this season, Marra will be a weapon as an upperclassmen from beyond the arc.

    Rakeem Buckles, a 6'8" freshman forward has seen his minutes increase over the last two contests. He could give the Irish trouble on the offensive glass. Sophomore guard Kyle Kuric, and freshman guard Peyton Silva will also make significant contributions off the bench. Both can knock down the long-range shot.

  • Whom to Foul?: Sosa (64.5% on 76 free throw attempts); Jerry Smith (67.6% on 71); Delk and Jennings (Both 60% on 20 and 35 attempts, respectively).

    Preston Knowles is the player to avoid in late-game situations as he's connected on 20-22 free throws this season after hitting just 10 of 19 last year. Samuels has connected on 69% of a team-leading 171 free throws attempts.

Previous Meetings

Notre Dame played one of its best games of the decade, blowing out the No. 7 ranked Cardinals, 90-57 at the Joyce Center. The win snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Irish who were led by Luke Harangody's 32 points (14-21 from the field) and 17 rebounds. Kyle McAlarney chipped in 21, Ryan Ayers 19, and Tory Jackson 14 as the Irish connected on 53.8% of their shots and 10-18 from beyond the arc while outrebounding the shell-shocked Cardinals, 46-25.

Exactly one month prior, Louisville contributed the first blow to the aforementioned seven-game skid, defeating the Irish 87-73 in overtime. The Irish had a chance to win with the final possession but point guard Tory Jackson's penetration was a step too deep and the Cardinals stripped the junior, nearly defeating the Irish with a sprint-out dunk deemed just after the buzzer.

The exhausted Irish (four starters played between 39 and the full 45 minutes) were destroyed by a 16-2 margin in the extra session.

Stats and Streaks

  • Notre Dame has won just 3 of its last 15 conference road games dating back to the beginning of last year's Big East season. The Irish are just 1-8 at Freedom Hall vs. Louisville and 11-33 all-time in the building including games played vs. the Cardinals, Kentucky Wildcats, and Michigan Wolverines (an NCAA Tournament loss).
  • Notre Dame's last win at Freedom Hall was a 67-61 win over #2 Kentucky in 1980 (you know its been awhile when Kelly Tripucka is reference as the Irish player that provided the clinching free throws). Its last victory over Louisville in the arena was more than 52 years ago, a 61-53 victory in December of 1958.
  • Senior forward Luke Harangody has had great success vs. Louisville in his storied career. In his last three games vs. the Cardinals, Harangody has totaled 115 points and 48 rebounds while connecting on 50 of 88 shots from the floor. The Irish are 2-2 vs. the Cardinals (with both losses occurring at Freedom Hall) during the Harangody era.
  • Notre Dame committed just 16 turnovers in two home wins vs. the Cardinals since the 2007 season. Conversely, the Irish have turned the ball over 31 times in the two losses at Freedom Hall in that same span.
  • Tory Jackson has committed 12 turnovers in two losses to the Cardinals in his career while backup point guard Jonathan Peoples has lost the ball on four occasions in just 16 minutes facing the Louisville pressure.
  • Jackson has knocked down 22 of his last 34 (64.7%) road field goal attempts (a four-game span – all Irish losses).
  • Junior Tim Abromaitis has struggled on the road in-conference this season, hitting 23 of 62 (37%) shots from the floor. Abromaitis is an incredible 47 of 81 (58%) from the floor in seven conference home games, including a 27 of 44 effort (61%) from beyond the arc.
  • Louisville has been installed as an 11.5-point favorite for tonight's contest.


Less than 10 days ago this contest appeared to be Notre Dame's best shot at an impact road victory, one considered as a point in their favor by the NCAA Selection Committee. One injury and two deflating losses later (by a total of four points) and it seems that tonight's matchup vs. a deep, suddenly confident Louisville squad is the one remaining battle in which Mike Brey's Irish have little chance.

Notre Dame can compete and possibly steal a decision late if the guard trio of Tory Jackson, Ben Hansbrough, and Jonathan Peoples not only protects the basketball, but is able to then attack the holes in Louisville's active zone. Hansbrough, Tim Abromaitis, and likely Jackson and Peoples will have to knock down open three-point shots at a near-50 percent clip and junior forward Tyrone Nash will have to repeat his strong performance from Sunday's 69-68 loss to St. John's.

That's a lot to ask for a team that has relied on Harangody to do the bulk of the heavy lifting (100 points and 42 boards total in his last three outings vs. the Cardinals over a two-year span) vs. this common opponent

If the Irish can keep the turnover total near 10 and bump the assist total back toward 20-plus, they have an excellent chance vs. the still inconsistent hosts.

History, both distant and current, tells me that won't be the case.

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