While WVU's last two opponents have been backcourt-centric, Notre Dame presents a much more balanced challenge.
The Irish front line, which was a question mark after big graduation losses, has been every bit as good as last year's unit.
Freshman Torin Francis (10.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg) has been a dominant force in the paint. Paired with enforcer Jordan Cornette (4.4 rpg, 50 blocked shots) and sometime starter Tom Timmermans, and the Irish have frontcourt muscle to spare.
The scoring bulk comes from swingman Dan Miller, whose 14.1 points per game come from positions all over the court. Miller presents a unique defensive challenge, as he must be defended from the block all the way to the three-point line.
The backcourt duo has been superb. Sophomore Chris Thomas (17.7 ppg, 135 assists) and sharpshooting senior Matt Carroll (20.5 ppg) are the ideal penetrator/jumpshoot combination. Thomas excels at penetrating and finding open teammates, while Carroll relocates and finds open spots in the defense with ease.
Also seeing a good bit of time in the Irish rotation are guards Torrian Jones and Chris Quinn, who combine to chip in almost ten points per contest.
There's just not a weak spot in the Notre Dame lineup. The eight players in the rotation know their roles and perform them well, and as a result the Irish are again one of the top teams in the country.
West Virginia guard Joe Herber vs. Notre Dame forward Dan Miller
Herber has been a vital, if somewhat under publicized, cog on the Mountaineer team this year. Since he doesn't pile up big scoring numbers or make many ESPN type highlight plays, he tends to fade into the background.
|Wed 1/29 7:00 p.m.|
WVU 11-6, 2-3
ND 16-3, 4-1
ND leads 17-7
Big East Local
WVU - 101
ND - 8
|Line: ND -14|
Herber will match up with either Miller or forward Jordan Cornette when the Mountaineers are in man-to-man defense, and as usual he'll be giving up 4-5 inches and 20-30 pounds to his opponents. Herber will have to battle the Notre Dame forwards to a standstill if WVU is going to be in this game, and that's easier said than done.
Miller is an excellent inside-outside combination player, and defending him both on the perimeter and in the paint will be a tough job, even for a player as fundamental as Herber. If Herber can figure out a way to make Miller one dimensional, WVU might be able to disrupt the Irish offense a bit. However, it will probably take several such performances in order to give the Mountaineers a chance at springing the upset.
Notre Dame exhibits many of the qualities that West Virginia has shown, but the difference is that the Irish have a great deal more experience than the Mountaineers. Notre Dame has gotten everyone involved in the offense, putting four players in double figures in scoring average and forcing opponents to defend just about the enitre halfcourt.
For WVU to stay in the game, they have to take away a segment of the Irish offense, and hope that another part isn't clicking. Against a multitalented team, that usually involves trying to take away the inside game and hoping that the outside shots aren't falling. With the Irish shooting 38.1% from three point range, though, that might be a risky strategy.
The Mountaineers might attempt to mix in a little of the 3-2 defense they have shown briefly this year, as that look provides a bit, if not much, more help along the baseline than the 1-3-1 does. No matter what WVU's defensive strategy, however, the Mountaineers must execute it to perfection in order to hang with one of the top teams in the country.
Despite front line players measuring 6-6, 6-9, 6-10 and 6-11, Notre Dame has given up 87 more offensive rebounds than they have grabbed.
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The Irish have scored 127 more points than their opponents from the free throw line. That's an average of 6.6 points per game, which is a nice margin to have in any contest.
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While WVU's shot blocker sits on the bench as a transfer, Notre Dame's is on the court. Jordan Cornette set a new Notre Dame record with 11 blocks in a game earlier this season, and has 50 on the year. WVU has 64 as a team.
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Of those 64 rejections, Jarmon Durisseau-Collins is the proud owner of four stuffs. His position on the bottom of the 1-3-1 zone has a lot to do with that statistic, but it's still a surprising number to see from a player who has to stretch to match his listed 5-10 program height.