Point guard Chris Thomas (6-1, 185) is the show for the Irish, averaging 18.8 points and 5.6 assists per game. Quite simply, Thomas is a threat anytime he has the ball in his hands.
Joining Thomas are guards Colin Falls (6-4, 200) and Chris Quinn (6-2, 185). Quinn has reliquished his starting role to Falls in the last four games, but has been a huge boost off the bench, averaging 18.3 points per game as a sub. With that move, the Irish have an outstanding three guard rotation that has sparked a four game winning streak.
On the front line, towers of power Torin Francis (6-11, 250) and Jordan Cornette (6-9, 240) are strong, fundamental players who just do a lot of things right. Both are solid post players who can score in the land, and are intimidating presences on the defensive end of the court. Francis is quickly becoming one of the top inside players in the country, as he averages a double double with 16.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
The fifth starter is Torrian Jones (6-4, 200) who averages 7.9 points per outing. Senior Tom Timmermans (6-11, 279) and Rick Cornett (6-8, 255) add even more bulk to the imposing Irish frontcourt. Both of those players have missed a few games this year due to injury, but with them back on the floor the Irish can play a front court that would rival many offensive lines.
Typically we highlight a head to head battle here, but the story of this game may well be told on in how well WVU's zone defense is able to contain Notre Dame's point guard.
|Wed 1/7 7:00 p.m.|
WVU 7-3, 0-0
ND 6-3, 0-0
WVU - 72
ND - 173
|Margin: WV +4|
Look for the Mountaineers to try to force Thomas to one side of the floor and make him give the ball up, and then play a ball-denial scheme in an attempt to make the other Irish perimeter players win the game.
Thomas, of course, is a handful to deal with, as he can pop a three or take the ball to the basket with equal efficiency. WVU will likely try to deny penatration first and foremost, but the Mountaineers can't afford to let Thomas shoot from long range without a hand in his face either.
No matter what defense they play, WVU will be seriously outsized up front. The Mountaineers will be giving up several inches and even more pounds to the massive Notre Dame front court, which is likely anticipating a game of volleyball on the offensive boards as they attempt to wear out the smaller Mountaineers.
In order to prevent that, WVU must try to force quick shots from the patient Irish, and not allow them to get into a grind it out style that allows to get their big men established in position near the lane. On the flip side, of course, the Mountaineers must be patient on their own end of the court, and try to dictate the offensive tempo. Melding those two strategies is an almost impossible task, but if the Irish are allowed free reign in establish the post position, WVU is likely to be looking at a seriouis deficit in both the rebounding column and the scoreboard.
Looking for the hidden factor in the game? Search no further than Jordan Cornette. Although the big forward is averaging just 6.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, he's the type of strong frontline player that WVU has trouble matching up with. Don't be surprised to see Cornette with a double-double by evening's end.
The Irish are allowing opponents to hit 40.7% of their three point attempts so far this year. In order to get a win, the Mountaineers will likely have to equal or exceed that rate, and take at least 18-20 threes. WVU leads the Big East with a 41.1% mark from three point range through ten games.
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Drew Schifino's streak of 48 consecutive games in double figures is the WVU record. He passed all-world Jerry West's mark of 45 against Florida on December 20. Should Schifino continue his streak through the end of his career, he has a chance of catching Chris Brooks as the Mountaineers' all time leader in double figure games. Brooks, with 92, and West, with 89, hold the top two spots on that list.
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West Virginia will have to play smart defense and keep the Irish off the free throw line. As a team, Notre Dame averages 78.7% from the line, and has three players over the 80% mark.