Cagers Preparing For Two Different Teams

As Ohio State's men's basketball team prepares for Notre Dame this weekend, the Buckeyes do not know what lineup the Fighting Irish might utilize. Regardless of who plays for Notre Dame, however, turnovers figure to go a long way toward determining who wins Saturday.

Thad Matta's young Ohio State team has plenty of things to prepare for this weekend. The Buckeyes will be taking part in the Hartford Hall of Fame Showcase. OSU will be facing Notre Dame in the second game of a doubleheader, following a match-up between Gonzaga and Indiana in what Matta said will be an "NCAA Tournament-type of atmosphere."

Add to that the fact that the Buckeyes will be preparing to face one of two potential Notre Dame teams: One with junior guard Luke Harangody and one without.

Speaking with reporters Dec. 4, Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said he is not sure if he will have Harangody ready to go for his team's game against the Buckeyes (4 p.m., ESPNU).

Harangody lifted weights and shot some baskets Dec. 3, and the plan was for more of the same the following day.

"Maybe he practices a little bit (today) down there," Brey said. "I think it's day-to-day with him. We're going on with our preparation like we're not going to have him. I think that's how we have to prepare.

"If something jumps up and surprises us in the next 48 hours, then we'll deal with it that way."

The team's leading scorer and rebounder at 22.6 points and 11.2 boards per contest, Harangody has been sidelined for the last two contests after being diagnosed with pneumonia shortly after returning from the Maui Invitational, held Nov. 24-26. Harangody has since missed his team's next two games, blowout victories against Furman and South Dakota.

In his final outing, Harangody had 13 points in his team's 102-87 loss to No. 1 North Carolina in the championship game of the tournament.

Asked if he was preparing to face Harangody, Matta said they are expecting the 6-8, 255-pounder to be available.

"I haven't heard otherwise," Matta said. "Luke brings something to that team with his inside presence and rebounding, but they've obviously done very well in these last two games without him which, I think, speaks volumes to how good they can really be."

In the two games without Harangody, the Irish have scored an average of 97.5 points and won by an average of 26 points per contest. Against South Dakota, senior guard Ryan Ayers exploded for 35 points and classmate Kyle McAlarney added 27 as the two Irish players in double figures. One game prior, the two flip-flopped top scoring honors as McAlarney had 32 from his guard spot and Ayers finished with 19.

Through his team's first seven games, McAlarney is second on the team with 20.7 points per game. Senior forward/center Luke Zeller has assumed Harangody's place in the starting lineup for the last two games. In those contests, he has 11 points and 14 rebounds.

But given how OSU has played this week, Brey said Harangody's status is important to his team's chances for success.

"That makes it interesting and difficult against an Ohio State team that is growing up pretty quick, especially after an impressive win against Miami on the road," Brey said.

With or without Harangody, the Buckeyes will have their work cut out for them in trying to earn their second consecutive victory away from home against a ranked foe. The Fighting Irish are shooting 42.6 percent from beyond the three-point arc, and McAlarney is leading the way with a 39-for-76 performance (51.3 percent).

In addition, Notre Dame is just short of a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio with 140 assists against 71 turnovers. The OSU defense is the opposite, having forced 71 turnovers while allowing just 36 assists.

Citing his team's experience, Brey said he expects the Fighting Irish to be a single-digit turnover team every time they take the court.

The team that wins the turnover battle figures to have a significant advantage in Saturday's game. Matta joked that he will "cross his fingers" that the Irish turn the ball over.

"All the guys on the floor have the ability to pass and find the open man," Matta said. "The challenge for us is to try and distract them as much as we can and know where guys are at all times. You've got to space (out) and be with them every step of the way."

With or without Harangody, it appears.

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