A familiar lineup will be on the floor of the coliseum for the Irish when they battle the Mountaineers.
On the front line, big Torin Francis (6-11, 250) and Jordan Cornette (6-10, 235) will provide tough obstacles to overcome in the lane. Francis, who has recuperated nicely from spinal disc surgery, averages 8.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, while Cornette chips in with mirror image 4.9 point and rebound averages. Cornette has 26 blocks on the season, and just recently returned to the starting lineup against St. John's after coming off the bench in the five previous contests.
The backcourt is once again keyed by Chris Thomas (6-1, 190 lbs.), who again bypassed the NBA Draft last year. Thomas, the Irish career leader in several categories, leads the team in scoring with 14.4 points per game, snares an excellent 4.9 boards per contest, and deals out 6.6 assists per outing. He is also averaging 36.4 minutes, a number that took a hit when he sat out several minutes after suffering a concussion against St. John's.
Teaming with Thomas is three point sniper Colin Falls (6-4, 205 lbs.) and all around scorer Chris Quinn 6-2, 285 lbs.). Falls, who threw in a shot to steal a win from WVU in the Big East tournament last year, has made just five field goals from inside the arc all season. He doesn't need to venture inside the line, however, as he is hitting 46.6% from outside. Quinn, second on the team with a 12.3 points per game average, is a penetrator who can score off the dribble or from behind the line.
Dennis Latimore (6-9, 240 lbs.) provides front court help off the bench after starting for much of the season. The Arizona transfer averages 9.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, and the Irish won't miss much when he checks in for Francis or Cornette. Forward Rick Cornett (6-8, 255 lbs.) also provides bulk up front.
Russell Carter (6-4, 225 lbs.) is the sole guard with appreciable time off the bench, averaging 4.0 points per game in almost ten minutes of action per contest.
West Virginia defense vs. Notre Dame guard Chris Quinn
While Thomas gets most of the publicity, and Falls is a dangerous long-range sniper, defending Quinn is the key to defeating the Irish.
|Wed 7:00 p.m.|
WVU 11-3, 1-2
ND 11-3, 3-1
WVU - 74
ND - 91
In some respects, Quinn resembles WVU forward Mike Gansey. Although Gansey is a better leaper and rebounder, and Quinn the better outside shooter, both have an excellent understanding of the game that allows them to take advantage of weaknesses and soft spots in opposing defenses. The Irish junior sees to always find an open spot just when his team needs a big shot, and he's usually there to deliver.
Slowing Quinn is not an easy task. West Virginia's best hope is probably to deny him the ball, because when he gets it in his hands, he's dangerous. That tactic, of course, means WVU would have to allow Thomas to handle the ball more freely, but that might not be a bad thing, as Thomas is the poorest shooter among the three Notre Dame guards. Once Quinn gets the ball, the Mountaineers will have to get a hand in his face, but also have help on the way in order to defend against his dribble penetration. And as noted above, Quinn isn't driving just for effect. He gets to the free throw line more than Thomas does, which shows that he's taking the ball to the basket aggressively.
WVU: Mike Gansey (Thigh) Questionable, J.D. Collins (Ribs, Foot) Probable
ND: Chris Thomas (Concussion) Probable
West Virginia has lost games to Notre Dame in just about every way imaginable. Last second shots, blowouts, and all manner of game scenarios have played out over the last ten contests, but in the end, the result has been an Irish victory. To turn that around, WVU has to put the mental demons aside that come with facing the ballyhooed South Benders, and simply play its game.
Of course, that means making shots, which has been the Mountaineers problem over the main couple of weeks. That story angle has been covered ad nauseum, so we won't turn over that same ground again. However, another thing that West Virginia has to do better is protect the basketball – an area that also has been lacking in recent contests.
While a bit of credit for the increase in turnovers has to go to opponents, the fact is that many of WVU's miscues have been self-inflicted. Players lose the handle driving to the basket and passes slip through outstretched hands, all without the distraction of much defensive pressure. Head coach John Beilein himself said he was mystified by this bad stretch, as this team has always been good at dribbling, passing, and holding the ball.
The thought here is that WVU's shooting woes are affecting the team in other ways as well. While there does seem to be a certain amount of fatigue in evidence, perhaps the fact that shots aren't going down is having a big effect as well. A few made shots might do as much mentally for the team as three or four days off would physically. If West Virginia can get out of the gate well, and make a few three pointers in the first ten minutes, the effects could be far-reaching.
Notre Dame has won the last three games at the Coliseum by a total of seven points.
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Notre Dame's Chris Thomas needs just 15 points to become the sixth player in Notre Dame history to score 2,000 points. He trails Austin Carr (2,560), Adrian Dantley (2,223), Pat Garrity (2,085), David Rivers (2,058) and Troy Murphy (2,011). Carr still holds the opponent scoring record at the WVU Coliseum, where he poured in 55 on Feb. 21, 1970.
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The Irish are one of 13 teams in the country celebrating their 100th season this year. WVU is in its 96th season of play.
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We all expect there to be differences in statistics between games that a team wins versus the games it loses, but this one is a whopper. WVU's 3-point field goal percentage in its 12 wins is 37.7%. In its three losses, that figure falls to 16.9%.
You can probably draw a line about the 35% mark in that stat and neatly divide WVU's wins and losses for the entire season.
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Notre Dame is one of only two Big East teams to post winning conference records in each of the past four seasons. Can you guess the other? It's Syracuse.