NCAA Tournament Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers - Notre Dame Fighting Irish

West Virginia and Notre Dame renew an old Big East rivalry when the teams collide in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament

SCOUTING THE FIGHTING IRISH

Notre Dame's 3-point attack is powered by V.J.Beachem (F, 6-8, 200 lbs.), Matt Farrell (6-1, 200 lbs.) and Steve Vasturia (6-6, 210 lbs.). They combine to help the Irish shoot 38% from distance, which has resulted in 972 points on the year. None are volume rebounders, but each chip in with 3-4 per game in support of Bonzie Colson (6-5, 225 lbs.), who has been a tower of strength inside. While he can step out for the occasional three, he does a lot of damage in the lane and around the rim, where he averages 17.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest. He has been hampered with a sprained ankle of late, but will still be a major match-up problem for the Mountaineers.

Farrell provides a dual threat with his distribution capabilities, as he has dished out 190 assists against just 87 turnovers. He can score on jumpers or drives, and is also deadly from the free throw line, as are many of his teammates. Notre Dame makes almost 80% as a team, which means that WVU must not pile up fouls and put the Irish in the bonus. Rex Pflueger (6-6, 200 lbs.) holds down the fifth starting spot, but has been just a spot contributor with 4.8 points per outing.

Notre Dame makes its living on efficiency. The Irish pass the ball well and protect it even better, having suffered just 327 giveaways on the season. They have forced 444, giving them 117 extra possessions. That, like West Virginia's advantage built on offensive rebounds and turnovers forced, is a key element in their success.

So too is the maturity of the Irish. Head coach Mike Brey mentioned this in response to several questions during his Friday press conference, noting that Notre Dame's experience allows it to weather most any sort of adversity. It's hard to imagine the Irish collapsing under West Virginia's pressure, having weathered NCAA storms to get to Elite Eights in each of the past two seasons. ND will push the pace if it can, but if that doesn't pay off early, will set into a more measured pace and force teams to defend for the duration of the shot clock.

GAME OUTLOOK

Like Bucknell, Notre Dame can shoot the ball. That leads to at least a few similarities in preparation for WVU, and in defensive keys for the Mountaineers.

WVU (27-8) vs. ND (26-9) Sat Mar 18 12:05 PM EST
KeyBank Center Buffalo, NY Series: ND 27-12
SEED: WVU - 4 ND - 5 TV: CBS Sirius/XM: 

On the perimeter, the match-up of Jevon Carter and Matt Farrell should be stellar. Both are pace- and place-setters for their respective offenses, and both will also be charged with trying to slow their opposite numbers. WVU head coach Bob Huggins noted that while Farrell is very good with the ball, like many of the outstanding Big 12 point guards the Mountaineers faced during the season, he is even better without the ball. He draws defenders, sets up passes, and makes creates opportunities for the rest of the Irish offense. Carter's knee issues are a troubling point here -- he will have to cover Farrell tightly from almost the moment he crosses halfcourt, as he is a very long distance shooter who plays off that ability to create on the drive.

Inside, there's another very intriguing match-up, as Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson provides a challenge for the Mountaineers' inside trio of Elijah Macon, Brandon Watkins and Sagaba Konate. Colson, although shorter than most inside scorers, is a double-double machine, and after WVU allowed Nana Foulland to gash it for 18 points and seven rebounds on Saturday, there is concern about what Colson can do. West Virginia assistant coach Erik Martin noted that even though WVU has a height advantage in the match-up, he still wants his players to front Colson as much as possible to prevent the ball from going in to him. Both Martin and Macon complimented Colson on his ability to create angles and space for his shot inside, and slowing that ability will be important for West Virginia.

Finally, a note from Notre Dame's first round game with Princeton is worth a mention. The Irish took just 11 3-point shots against the Tigers, making just four. That's far below their average of 24 per game, and if WVU can hold them to anywhere near their Princeton totals, it will have a huge advantage in the contest. That shot amount was more a function of the pace of the game, as the teams combined for just two fast break points, but it's a goal the Mountaineers will have to shoot for if they hope to advance to the Sweet 16.

PRESS POINTS

Notre Dame has gone nine consecutive games without committing double digit turnovers. It had just six in the first round win over Princeton.

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West Virginia will break its all-time single-season scoring record sometime on Saturday. The Mountaineers need 12 points to top the record of 2,884 set in 1959 by the Jerry West-led squad that was ranked #1 in the nation.

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Notre Dame's senior class is gunning to set a pair of program records. The Irish final-year players have won 97 games in their active careers, including seven NCAA Tournament games. Both of those are tied for the best marks in Notre Dame history.

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WVU is hoping to continue a perfect record in Buffalo. The Mountaineers are now 3-0 all-time in NCAA Tournament action in the City of Good Neighbors.


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