Notre Dame begins a three game rod trip just as WVU completed their own trio of road contests. The Irish are off to their best start since the 1985-1986 season.
The key to ND's success this year has been balance, both offensively and defensively. Four Irish starters are in double figures in scoring average, led by powerful forward Ryan Humphrey at 20 points per outing.
Humphrey is joined up front by forward David Graves, who is scoring at a 16 points per game clip, and 6-9 freshman Jordan Corneet, who has played solidly in place of the injured Harold Swanagan, who sprained an ankle earlier this month. Swanagan has provided a powerful punch off the bend in Notre Dame's three forward offense since his return, and appears settled in his reserve role.
The Irish are even stronger at guard, with freshman Chris Thomas taking the early lead for rookie of the year honors in the conference. The precocious freshman is putting up 17 points per game, but even more impressive is his three to one assist to turnover ratio.
Steady Matt Carrol provides more solid play at shooting guard, and alogn with Graves and Thoms, form Notre Dame's three point threat.
Overall, Notre Dame issimply a team that plays fundamental basketball and doesn't beat themselves. The Irish protect the ball, take good shots and play tenacious defense. To many observers, they probably play "boring" basketball. Two hand chest passes, bounce passes, screens and picks abound in the Irish offense. It's not flashy, but it results in wins.
WVU's Chris Moss vs. Notre Dame's Ryan Humphrey
Moss' lackluster effort against St. John's may have been understandable, but those types of performances won't get it done for the Mountaineers in Big East play.
WVU 0-1, 7-5
ND 0-1, 10-3
|Wed 1/9 7:00 PM|
|Line: ND -5.5|
Notre Dame will likely collapse on Chris inside, with either Graves or Swanagan doubling him at any opportunity. Moss will have to shoot sometimes even when he's doubleteamed. Additionally, during those times that he absolutely can't get a shot off, he has to find the open man and pass the ball to him crisply, not throw a lackadaisical lob back out front.
Against Humphrey, Moss figures to have his hands full on the defensive end as well. Humphrey is a bit bigger and stronger than Moss, and will move anwhere from fifteen feet in on the offensive end to get a shot off.
Moss will also have to concentrate on keeping Humphrey off the boards, especially on offense. A tough assignment? Yes. But as his team's best and most consistent player, Moss will draw these types of assignments from every game here on out.
WVU: Jonathan Hargett (Knee) Probable
Jay Hewitt (Ankle) Probable
ND: Harold Swanagan (Ankle) Probable
on the surface, this matchup doesn't look good. A well-disciplined and fundamentally sound team facing one still searching for an identity usually spells trouble for the team in distress. However, as Gale Catlett has often said, "There's magic in the Coliseum." To win this game, WVU will need a Harry Blackstone sized dose.
The Irish are not going to beat themselves, even on the road. Notre Dame is already road tested this year, with eight games already under their belts outside the Joyce Center.
For the Mountaineers to win, they need to identify a rotation that works, then keep the best players ont he floor for long stretches. That's easier said than done, as the coaching staff has been searching for such a combination since the start of the season.
Keep an eye on WVU's substitution pattern in this game. If there's another parade up and down the sideline to the scorer's table, the Mountaineers are probably in for another struggle.
Lionel Armstead is five points away from breaking the 1,000 mark for his career. He will be the 38th Mountaineer on the list.
* * *
Notre Dame freshman point guard Chris Thomas is the first player in the 96-year history of the Notre Dame men's basketball program to wear jersey #1.
* * *
Thomas is also the only player in Notre Dame history to record a triple double. Thomas scored 24 points, dished off 11 assists and made 11 steals against New Hampshire.